01May I know my 2261.06?

There are two tables at the end of the Annual Report 2013 of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. The report can be downloaded from http://www.safeguarding.ie/annual-report-2013/. The tables give statistics for all the dioceses in Ireland. The source of the information is given as: Diocesan returns, Irish Catholic Directory 2014, Veritas Publications, 2014.

With a total Catholic population in Ireland of 4,635,178, there are 2050 priests active. This means that, on average, there is one priest for every 2,261.06 Catholics. In Dublin diocese where I serve, the Catholic population is given as 1,154,296, with 271 active priests. This is one priest for every 4,259.39 Catholics.

The diocese of Achonry has the lowest number of Catholics, at 34,826, over 23 parishes, with 32 active priests. The diocese of Dromore has the lowest number of active priests, at 27, spread over 22 parishes, with 63,400 Catholics.

The tables do not supply the current age range of priests. Perhaps someone can supply up-to-date information. Recently, Brendan Hoban in What disenchants the Irish diocesan clergy on the ACP website wrote: “… incredibly 65 is the average age of priests in Ireland today.”

A “Report on the age profile of Diocesan priests currently working in Ireland’s Dioceses” in October 2007 from the Council for Research & Development, a Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference gives data for 25 of the 26 dioceses of Ireland, as follows:
Ages 25 – 34:  89.
Ages 35 – 44:  373
Ages 45 – 54:  510
Ages 55 – 64:  586
Ages 65 – 74:  611
Ages 75 – 84:  233
Ages 85+:        62
Total:                2464 (that figure is for just 25 dioceses)

The total number of priests serving has reduced by over 400 in the seven years since 2007.

For what is usually called “Good Shepherd Sunday” on 11 May, it may be useful to consider:
1) Who will be the true shepherds in the coming years? How will those shepherds carry out the mission to those outside the fold?
2) What needs to change in the church in Ireland (and worldwide) to ensure that each Christian Eucharistic community will be able to have a full celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday?

We must remember that there is no such thing as a priestless parish. There may not be an ordained priest as is the practice at present, but the parish is a priestly people. How will this take flesh in the coming decades? Are there factors which had value in the past which now are an obstacle to the mission of the church? What new model of ministerial priesthood is called for?

Pádraig McCarthy

6 Responses

  1. Con Devree

    Reminds one of the early days of mission in Nigeria. Evangelisation + prayer + God is a useful mechanism.

  2. Shaun

    Look at the few orders which are doing well and see what they are doing that works. The ability to attract the young (and keep them) is a good indicator.

  3. Teresa Mee

    I would like to pose three further questions.

    1.In the current circumstances or in the foreseeable future, can we realistically require that a priest be available weekly for Sunday Mass in every parish in Ireland?

    2.In the event of married priests having their faculties restored,
    of marriage becoming an option for candidates to priesthood, and of ordination becoming an option open to women,would the problem of the ‘shortage of priests’ in Ireland be resolved?

    I think not.

    3.Has the time come for getting together to address the viable alternatives?

  4. Peter Shore

    While the number of people who declare themselves to be Catholic may be a useful statistic for some purposes, it doesn’t make sense when computing the workload of the clergy. Weekly mass attendances are in the single digit percentages in many parts, especially Dublin. So you can reduce the priest-parishioner ratio by a factor of more than ten. It takes no more than a casual look around the pews to see there is less ministering to do. I find it striking that the priest now often spends more time on the logistics of managing extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist than they collectively do on actually distributing communion. I don’t think there is going to be any problem matching the numbers of priests and parishioners who remain faithful to the teaching and magisterium of the Catholic church. The rest is just a temporary demographic that will look after itself in due course.

  5. Padraig McCarthy

    I see now that a report on the age profile of diocesan priests from the website of the Catholic bishops gives the total of priests assigned to ministry in November 2013 as 2067. The age profile ha advanced as might be expected. The Report can be downloaded from the website.


  6. Pádraig McCarthy

    Re Comment 5:
    There’s an error in a table in the 2013 document on age profiles of diocesan priests – they give the 2011 profile by mistake. I’ve notified it, so it should be corrected soon.
    The big question is how there are 102 more diocesan priests in service than in 2011, so I’m looking forward to finding the answer to that. Loaves and fishes?
    Meantime, Tom O’Loughlin has an interesting article on How Many Priests Do We Need?
    It’s at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0028-4289.2005.00118.x/full

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