The Irish Times view on Catholic priests cocooning: a tough reality

That Easter services were not possible this year will have left priests and the faithful experiencing ‘a void in their spirituality’

Reports that half of Dublin's Catholic priests, being over 70, are now cocooned due to the coronavirus pandemic underlines the acute personnel crisis facing that church. Dublin is not unique in this. Today the average age of the Irish Catholic diocesan priest is also 70. Allowing for variations in the 26 Catholic dioceses on the island, it means up to half of Catholic diocesan priests in Ireland are now also cocooned.

This too applies to priests who are members of religious congregations, where the average age is 73. None of these priests is available even for funerals or webcam Masses as they must stay at home. It may help currently that all churches are closed with the suspension of public Masses, confessions, marriages, baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations, but it highlights a grim reality for Catholic church authorities. Within the next decade their priests will become a comparative rarity in Ireland.

To add to the difficulty for those authorities, a more immediate issue is the fact Catholic priests retire at 75. Some, as now, will continue to serve in parishes but that is not a solution to the underlying problem. Measures taken to address this increasing shortage of priests include clustering of parishes, a reduction in Sunday and daily Masses, the assumption of more parish administrative roles by lay people, the ordination of permanent deacons who can assume most roles designated to a priest, and the increasing presence in Ireland of priests from abroad. But the trend remains unchanged.

For the faithful it is distressing, not least at Easter, when the Catholic Church traditionally celebrates priesthood and that central function reserved to a priest, celebration of the Eucharist.


That such public liturgy was not possible this year will have left priests and the faithful experiencing what Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has described as “a void in their spirituality”. It will be their first such experience in this strangest of Easters, that most important Christian feast of the year.