FEWER priests could mean the closure of some small parish churches in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin in the not-too-distant future.
That’s according to the bishop of the diocese Denis Nulty in his vocations address to parishioners on Sunday 7 May.
He made his comments following a visit to Rome in January to meet Pope Francis, where he presented a report and statistics on the diocese.
In his Sunday address, Bishop Nulty said that for the past four years since his ordination he has visited the 56 parishes and 90 priests in the diocese.
He said the average age of those in ordained ministry “continues to rise and the demands on lay people and priests who care deeply about their parish incrementally increase”.
Adding: “This new reality will see fewer priests in the not-too-distant future.”
He said: “At the moment, there are 90 priests ministering in our diocese. Twenty-seven of them are over 75. This stark figure points to the clear realisation that unless there is a radical reappraisal of what a parish community should be, how it should be organised, co-ordinated, funded and ministered, there can be no real progress.”
He then went on to pose some questions to the parishioners such as, should they welcome more priests from abroad? Should priests be willing to delegate to a team and not an individual leading the parish community?
He also raised the issue of revised Mass, funeral, wedding and baptism times.
Bishop Nulty also mentioned the possibility of looking at the ongoing viability of some churches in lesser-populated areas and their ability to continue holding weekly Masses.
However, he was greatly encouraged by the preliminary returns from census 2016, which suggests that 78% of the Irish population still class themselves as Catholic.
Arising from the clerical figures, a series of meetings will be held throughout the diocese in the coming months, culminating with an assembly at Mount St Anne’s in Killenard on Tuesday 20 June.