‘Great change’ needed in Dublin’s ageing Catholic Archdiocese, says report

Pandemic highlighted priest shortages and greatly reduced income to church

The report concludes that ‘clergy and lay faithful together are ready for change, maybe more so than some might expect’. Photograph: iStock

Almost half of the 312 priests in Dublin’s Catholic Archdiocese are more than 70 years old, with just two students preparing for priesthood.

Catholic priests retire at 75, which means that the 139 now more than 70 will have retired by 2026, leaving 173 ageing clergy to serve Dublin’s 1.1 million Catholics.

According to the last census in 2016, 70 per cent of Dublin's 1.57 million population identified as Roman Catholic. Of those aged 25-29 then, just more than half identified as Roman Catholic, while a fifth of Dublin's total population recorded no religion.

A minority of marriages in Dublin are now church weddings while more than one in seven Catholics in Dublin were born outside the State, according to the 2016 census.


These are among the stark statistics published by the Building Hope Task Force, which was set up by Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell last March to plan for the church’s future in Dublin.

A total 3,000 people, mostly laity, shared their views with the taskforce over recent months.

In a new report, it highlights “the ageing and reducing population of priests and significantly reduced income of the archdiocese”.

Ready for change

The report concludes that “clergy and lay faithful together are ready for change, maybe more so than some might expect”.

It found that “the scale and duration of the scandal of abuse of children by clergy, and the legacy of the institutionalisation of women and children, have gravely eroded the credibility of the church”.

The coronavirus pandemic “accentuated systemic challenges facing the church in Dublin. The severe impact of Covid restrictions on attendance at Mass and on the associated collections impacted on the finances of every parish and damaged the financial sustainability of the archdiocese”.

This meant “many hard decisions cannot be avoided” and that “the archdiocese in Dublin is at a time of great change”.

As a strategy towards renewal in the archdiocese, the taskforce recommended that this begin with a "statement of mission" from Archbishop Farrell, followed by discussion at parish level where each parish would prepare a report on its future. Dr Farrell would then engage with parishes on their reports, leading to an overall pastoral plan for the future of the archdiocese.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times