I am the youngest Kildare priest
I REMEMBER nervously beginning to minister in Newbridge parish 11 years ago.
During my first visit to a local community event, I recall a comment by a
parishioner who said: “Not another young priest being sent to us here in
I happened to be just gone 26 years of age and was wearing a badge that I
never anticipated I would still hold: I am still the youngest diocesan
priest at 38.
In fact, today, that same parish one of the largest in the country has
just three full-time diocesan clergy ministering.
I recall this memory in the context of the startling statistic that some
weeks ago just 12 men began their formal studies for priesthood for the
entire country, none of whom come from our own diocese.
These are most challenging times for the Catholic Church in Ireland a time
for honest reflection, open conversation and humble listening.
As a Church, I suggest we discern and articulate a vision of Church that
continues to be deeply relevant, based on the spirit of the Second Vatican
Council and inspired by the living presence of Jesus Christ, following his
compassionate and courageous example, as told through the Gospels.
This is not a time to silence conversation or retreat to the ‘good old days’
of ‘black-and-white’ clerical certainty.
There is an obvious tension within the Church at this time.
Tension can be a positive fuel that brings an open and frank conversation,
which often leads to a creative dialogue.
Recent attempts to silence and censor progressive voices within the Church
are deeply worrying examples of an institution that seems to be fearful, and
removed from many of its members.
The language and direction of renewal within our Church, I suggest, should
be much greater than the liturgical gestures, postures and responses that we
use when we gather for worship.
It is obvious that the present reality of priesthood is a totally
unattractive life option for the vast majority of young graduates in this
country, including many who are committed to their faith.
In order for the priesthood to be rejuvenated in Ireland, we must listen to
the reasons for its diminishing numbers and ageing profile.
I have no doubt that the clerical child abuse scandals and subsequent
cover-ups have and will continue to deservedly undermine the value and
integrity of our vocation.
This is a time that we cannot just get over; this reality that will be felt
for many years to come.
Priestly celibacy prohibits so many good people from entering into ministry.
Many fantastic priests who left their clerical lives to marry would
willingly embrace ministry as married clergy.
The question of ordination of women has been totally banished, even in terms
I am certain that within the life of every faith community, priesthood has
an important role and, in my experience, a positive and fulfilling one.
Priesthood is mingled with the wonderful values of generosity, compassion
In a time when many vulnerable people actively seek out hope and light, the
Gospel message confronts us with profound opportunity.
It would be a great pity if I still hold the title of the youngest priest in
the diocese at 50 in 12 years time and that could well be possible!