Catholic priests in Ireland: A ‘lost tribe’

Guilt by association is unfair and unjust

 

The lot of the Irish Catholic priest has rarely been more difficult. It might be argued that even in the persecuted past they were in a better place. Then they were revered as heroic for bringing spiritual comfort to the faithful at the risk of dungeon, fire and sword. Not so today.

As Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests memorably put it at their annual general meeting in Athlone on Wednesday, they feel “reviled, insulted, disrespected”.

Among “the last priests in Ireland” with “a gale force wind in our faces”, he spoke of their loneliness, the high incidence of depression among them, the worrying levels of suicide.

They grow old, with an average age approaching 70. Increasingly they are isolated with few young curates or deacons to assist them even as the workload increases while colleague numbers dwindle. Entitled to retire at 75, many continue working out of loyalty, out of a sense of obligation or duty. Some feel pressured to do so. They work until they drop.

Ireland’s “lost tribe” of Catholic priests, as Fr Hoban put it, are traumatised. The contrast between the life of a priest when most entered more than 40 years ago and now might even be described as extreme. This is due in no small part to the scandal of child abuse in the Church and how it was systematically covered up at an institutional level by some bishops and religious superiors.

The vast majority of priests were as ignorant of the abuse activities of colleagues as can be the case in families with an abuser in their midst. But, unlike innocent family members, priests have suffered grievously because of the crimes of their brothers and superiors.

Guilt by association is unfair and unjust. Most entered the priesthood with the highest of ideals and have served their people accordingly. For many it is a personal tragedy to arrive in their latter years crushed by demands, lonely, and full of doubt about the worth of a lifetime’s commitment and effort.

They deserve compassion and support. For most have done their communities and our society tremendous service.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.