Two Catholic dioceses in west soon to have just one bishop

Move seen as first step towards reduction by Vatican of number of bishops in Ireland

One Catholic bishop is to be appointed to two west of Ireland dioceses following a Vatican decision that could mean further reductions of such bishops in future.

In a joint message on Tuesday evening Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly, who is retiring, and Bishop of Clonfert in east Co Galway Michael Duignan, said they had been informed by the papal nuncio Archbishop Jude Okolo that "in the near future" Pope Francis "intends to appoint a single Bishop to the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora and the Diocese of Clonfert. "

They continued that “this form of union of two dioceses under one Bishop is not an amalgamation and does not suppress either of the two dioceses. Both dioceses will continue to maintain their own integrity and autonomy as is but will work closer together, where possible, through the person and ministry of a single Bishop.”

They would be “organising meetings at various levels in each diocese” to discuss the decision with the people, the Bishops said.

It follows a similar decision by the Church of Ireland which meant that on November 1st last its diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry became part of the larger new United Diocese of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe. It means the number of Church of Ireland bishops is reduced by one, to 11.

Currently there are 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland for a population of approximately 4.5 million faithful on the island as a whole. Currently each diocese has its own bishop with an additional Auxiliary Bishop in Armagh.

Allowing for vacancies now in Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Ossory, and Dromore, it means Ireland at the moment has 24 Catholic bishops for a population equivalent to the number of Catholics in the US Archdiocese of Los Angeles which has just six bishops, including an Archbishop.

It is widely believed Bishop Duignan (51) will be appointed by Rome as Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora and the Diocese of Clonfert. Appointed Bishop of Clonfert in 2019, he is from Bealnamulla near Athlone in Co Roscommon and the eldest in a family of six.Ordained in 1994 for his native Elphin diocese, he was Chancellor and Diocesan Secretary there before appointment to Clonfert.

One of the smallest Catholic diocese in Ireland, Clonfert has a population of 36,000 faithful in 24 parishes. The diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora has a population of 105,707 Catholics in 39 parishes.