Declining number of priests is a ‘sign of the times,’ says Bishop of Ossory

Bishop warns the number of priests under the age of 75 will halve over the next decade

Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell is appealing to his diocese to heed the ‘signs of the times’ as he warns the number of priests under the age of 75 will halve over the next decade. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell is appealing to his diocese to heed the ‘signs of the times’ as he warns the number of priests under the age of 75 will halve over the next decade. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

A bishop is appealing to his diocese to heed the “signs of the times” as he warns the number of priests under the age of 75 will halve over the next decade.

Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell will tell parishioners this weekend that a slump in Mass goers and declining number of priests is “a challenge that cannot be ignored.”

“After two centuries of flourishing, the Catholic Church in Ireland has come into different times,” he says in a pastoral letter to be distributed to worshipers on Sunday in the Kilkenny-based diocese.

Citing the Gospel, he says: “Can you not read the signs of the times?”

Less than a quarter of the 86,000-strong population of the Diocese of Ossory attend Mass at the weekend, he says.

Some of the 142 Masses put on for them are attended “by several hundred people, others attended by just a few.”

“What we grew up with exists no more; we mourn that loss,” he says.

The diocese has 40 priests under the age of 75 and “age alone will see that number halved to 20 in the next ten years.”

The bishop said change is necessary in how the parishes are organised to cope with the fall-off, raising doubts over the continuation of smaller gatherings where “the full and active participation” of all “is not always possible”.

“We have a responsibility therefore to pool our talents and resources, in order to strengthen and encourage, and to console our sisters and brothers,” he says.

The bishop says it may surprise church-goers to discover that priests are generally not permitted to celebrate more than one Mass a day, and can do so

“only for very specific pastoral needs”.

After a year of planning by priests and lay people, the diocese is proposing the “reorganisation of parishes and collaboration among groups of parishes” which will require them to “work together in new ways”.

“It will inevitably lead to a change in the number and times of Masses,” he said.

The bishop vowed to consult with his congregation about the new changes.