Crisis in Irish Catholic priesthood revealed at meetings of clergy

Meeting in Limerick hears call for confidential helpline for priests

Priests heard there were “too many Masses in near-empty churches”. Photograph: Getty Images

Priests heard there were “too many Masses in near-empty churches”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Eight priests have taken their own lives in the past 10 to 15 years in Ireland, a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Cavan has been told.

At another such meeting in Co Limerick, there was a call for the setting up of a national confidential priests’ helpline.

Minutes of the latter meeting in Caherconlish quote one attendee as saying: “Our morale is affected because we are on a sinking ship. When will the ‘counter-reformation’ take place? We’re like an All-Ireland team without a goalie. We need a national confidential priests’ helpline. We’re slow to look for help.”

Reports from both meetings appear on the ACP website.

Among reasons given at the Cavan town meeting for the crisis in the Irish Catholic priesthood were living alone, retirement, health issues, sexual abuse accusations, as well as “workload; being gay; clustering; priests rights; bullying; etc.”

There were also very poor welfare supports when a priest gets ill. “We are reluctant to talk and say we are tired, struggling, lonely or depressed. This can be very disheartening,” the meeting was told.

The Cavan meeting was attended by priests from the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Clogher, Kilmore, and Meath dioceses.

Motions of faith

As disheartening was that so much work by priests was “for people who have so little contact with the church from First Communions to funerals”, the meeting heard. Priests’ confidence “has been eroded when we see so many people going through the motions of faith”.

The Limerick meeting of priests from the Archdiocese of Cashel as well as Killaloe and Limerick dioceses was told there were “too many Masses in near-empty churches. The church has survived in other parts of the world without all the Masses.”

It was claimed priests were “in denial about vocations – not facing reality – we are part of a dying system,” and that “we need to unmask and say ‘I need help.’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone’.”

It was said the Bon Secours Sisters, who managed the controversial Tuam Mother and Baby Home, “did a disservice by not clarifying exactly what happened. They need to do so immediately. It makes our job impossible, especially as we face a storm on abortion next year.”

There was also criticism of how bishops dealt with media at both meetings.