Roman Catholic Church faces new crisis — Ireland is running out of priests

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Ireland, a country that used to export its Catholic clergy around the world, is running out of priests at such a rate that their numbers will have dropped by two thirds in the next 20 years, leaving parishes up and down the land vacant.

The decline of Catholic Ireland, for decades the Pope’s favourite bastion of faith in Europe, has been regularly predicted, as the economic successes of the Celtic Tiger brought growing secularisation. But new figures have starkly set out the fate of the Irish priesthood if action is not taken by the Church to reverse the trend.

One-hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained. Figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows for service in religious life.

Read it all.

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryEngland / UK* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

13 Comments
Posted February 28, 2008 at 5:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

One-hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained.

I have said that Christianity is dying on the North American Continent; and others have added my assessment to Europe. I see Ireland is by no means the exception.

The Rabbit.

February 28, 7:35 am | [comment link]
2. CharlesB wrote:

Probably because drinking too much is no longer politically correct.  We all know the one about the new and nervous Catholic priest who inadvertently put vodka in the water glass before delivering his first sermon.

February 28, 8:08 am | [comment link]
3. Dan Crawford wrote:

Given the precipitous decline in Catholic church attendance in Ireland, it would seem that they wouldn’t need much more than nine new priests a year.

February 28, 9:21 am | [comment link]
4. Anonymous Layperson wrote:

Is not the same thing happening in the US?  Here in Pittsburgh the numbers are slowly reaching crisis proportions, with some priests beginning to serve two parishes.  In 1988 Pittsburgh had 467 active priests, in 1998 it was 371 and as of 2006, the latest year the website has stats for, it was 282.  In 2006 one priest was ordained.

February 28, 9:27 am | [comment link]
5. evan miller wrote:

Very sad.

February 28, 10:39 am | [comment link]
6. Terry Tee wrote:

But .... the overall number of priests correlative to the population remains high.  The US Catholic Almanac 2008 p 314 tells us that Ireland has 5,249 priests for a Catholic population of 4.9 million.  Friends, that is one of the highest priest-people ratios in the world.  Even with an aging cadre of priests the end is not yet. 

I tire of journalistic cliches.  If I hear one more reference to the Polish influx it will make me scream.  Even in Ireland, there are many other migrants, especially Catholics from West Africa.  Here in London, it is people from Latin America, the Philippines and yes West Africa and Eastern Europe. 

Small error:  unless the pound has strengthened dramatically overnight, one billion euros is a lot more than £750k.  In fact more like £750m.  But that figure is also weird because it is far, far more than the announced settlement which was negotiated through the Irish Government.

February 28, 2:53 pm | [comment link]
7. Didymus wrote:

#1 The decline of the Roman church and the death of Christianity are hardly synonomous.  A few (hundred) less Catholic priests doesn’t mean that Christianity is dying, but that Rome is perhaps putting stumbling blocks in the path to her priesthood.

How right Martin Luther was about mankind being like a drunk on a donkey, stumbling left and overcorrecting to the right.  Rome came down hard on the right, Canterbury overcorrected to the left.  This is what happens when church tradition over-reaches proper biblical teaching.  Very sensible guidelines for the choosing and lifestyle of priests and bishops were given to us by Paul, it is vanity to think that we know better, whether we be Roman or English.

February 28, 3:16 pm | [comment link]
8. Henry Greville wrote:

Comment deleted by elf.

February 28, 6:01 pm | [comment link]
9. Charles wrote:

Elves?  #8?

February 28, 6:10 pm | [comment link]
10. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

I am no expert on Irish Catholicism or Irish culture in general, but when the average age of Irish priests is 61, that is ominous indeed.  I suspect that this supplies further evidence of the collapse of the old Christendom style religion, i.e., not only the union of church and state, but the broader marriage of Christianity and western culture.  In so many places, that marriage has gone beyond the separation of church and state to the de facto divorce of Christianity and mainstream culture.  No western country is exempt.

But contrary to the language of Br_er Rabbit above, I think this reflects not so much the demise of Christianity itself, as the demise of Constantinian, Christendom-style Christianity, which is another matter entirely.  To me, the empirical data suggests that authentic Christianity is far from dying; it is going through a profound revival in many places.  But there is no doubt that certain kinds of Christianity are indeed dying throughout the western world; and generally they deserve to die.

As Pope Benedict XVI has aptly observed, western Christianity is going through a time of “pruning,” ala John 15.  Alas, as anyone who has actually seen how severely grapevines are often pruned back, that pruning can be harsh indeed.  This may be what is happening to the Irish Catholic Church, as well as to western Anglicanism.

And those branches that fail to abide in Christ and bear fruit are in grave danger of being permanently lopped off and thrown into the fire, as John says.  But still, when the Father as the master gardener lovingly prunes the vine, it is with the intention of making it bear more and better fruit.

David Handy+

February 28, 6:59 pm | [comment link]
11. libraryjim wrote:

When I was a wee lad in High School in West Palm Beach, at St. Jude’s Catholic Church, we had a priest from Ireland, Fr. Tim Lynch, who told me one day that priests in Ireland consider Florida to be mission territory and ask to be sent over as missionary priests.  Perhaps that could account for some of the shortage?

He tried his hardest to get me to enroll in seminary, but I was too stuborn, and also convinced that I did not have the gift of celibacy, and planned to marry some day.  Which I did.  grin

February 28, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
12. NewTrollObserver wrote:

#10, perhaps it’s the dawn of Christianness? To wit, Panikkar.

February 28, 9:48 pm | [comment link]
13. Steve Cavanaugh wrote:

The decline in the number of men willing to consider the priesthood or monastery and of women to consider the convent is, I think, not unrelated to the steep decline in the number of children in the average family. It has always been the case that most families want to perpetuate the family line and name; but when a family produced 4-8 children, having some enter religious life was not considered detrimental to that goal. With 1 or 2 children, there will be little support from parents for their children to enter into a celibate ministry or religious life. But I would be willing to bet that the majority of Catholic parents in Ireland, or the U.S. would, if surveyed, be found to not be very supportive of their children entering the priesthood or religious life. And that matters.

February 29, 3:09 pm | [comment link]
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