In one Irish diocese, the number of active priests may halve in fewer than 15 years. As a result, Bishop Francis Duffy of Ardagh and Clonmacnois has aimed to prepare his flock to take on more active roles.
“This ongoing development will impact every parish in the diocese and will bring about considerable change in how the parishes are organized and also in the way the Good News of Jesus Christ is passed on to succeeding generations,” he said in a new pastoral letter. “Critically, there will also be an impact on the workload of priests and their welfare is our concern in this changing context.”
Duffy’s March 24 pastoral letter focused on sustaining the Catholic faith community in the diocese.
“Many of you will fondly remember when there were two or three priests working in your parish and where now there is only one. Three of our parishes do not have a resident priest,” he said. “This trend of a declining number of clergy is set to continue.”
The diocese is located in the northern area of the Republic of Ireland. At present, its 53 diocesan priests serve 41 parishes. The diocese has four priests serving from abroad and from missionary congregations.
The diocese has no seminarians in formation. By 2030, 28 of the diocese’s 53 diocesan priests will have reached the retirement age of 75.
Duffy said that soon parishes may lack a resident priest or have to share a priest with a neighboring parish. This will affect every parish in the diocese and bring “considerable change.”
He offered his blessing and “heartfelt gratitude” to deacons, parish catechists, religious educators, lay ministers, and volunteers and workers in parish support roles.
These are “positive developments” amid the decline in the numbers of priests, Duffy said.
But the decline in priests’ numbers make it important that some responsibilities of the clergy will be shared with parishioners “even more so than at present.”
“At this time you and our priests have a unique and precious opportunity to serve the Lord by encouraging and engaging with each other to prepare for and take on responsibility for the formation, promotion and practice of the faith at the local level in changing circumstances,” Duffy continued.
“We continue to pray for and promote vocations to priesthood and religious life. A time of decline in one area can be an opportunity for growth in other areas. I firmly believe the Lord is with us in change and will provide opportunities for the local church communities to continue to flourish in new ways.”