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Address of Bishop Denis at the Plenary Meeting for Clergy on Friday 17.6.22

Mount St. Anne’s: 11.00am – 3.00pm


It’s great to gather. I’m very conscious that the last large plenary we had was on January 28th and a few days earlier I contracted Covid and could only join you virtually. I’m delighted to be here today. I have apologies from a number priests who have other engagements today.

Over April and May I attended meetings as planned of the Seven Pastoral Areas. The engagement of priests and deacons was very good at 73%. Some were not in a position to attend because they were unwell, abroad or had concerns around Covid. The response to those initial clergy only Pastoral Area Meetings was very positive.  

Hopes I heardincluded:

  • the training of lay people to take on leadership in our church
  • the employment of someone to share administration in a Pastoral Area
  • the merit and value of the Diocesan Buildings & Property Commission including an assessment of perhaps the reducing of assets to go towards the mission of the parish.

Concerns I heard were around:

  • the rationalisation of Masses, the need to have everyone on the one ‘hymn sheet’ and the financial concerns around such a decision
  • religious houses in the diocese also coming into this conversation
  • that because a Pastoral Area wasn’t currently at crisis point, lethargy could set in, a kind of attitude that “it will see my time out
  • that some won’t engage “help me, but leave me alone” mindset
  • that these Pastoral Area meetings were happening without other members of the parish team present, (lay women and men and religious) the need to have all voices in these conversations.

Further Considerations included :

  • the taking in of foreign seminarians and training them in Maynooth
  • the drafting of a Diocesan Plan that would look at the situation in 5 years-time, ten years-time based on projected demographics
  • drafting a possible Pastoral Area ‘Summer Schedule’
  • reflecting on what is our mission today, what have we to say and are we saying it now from the peripheries?
  • deacon appointments, some Pastoral Areas have no deacon currently, should there be at least one deacon in every Pastoral Area?
  • should any clustering be more church centred than parish centred? (individual churches are closer to one another)
  • clustering involves more than Masses, what about a shared Newsletter, pulpit sharing, a duty phone? (the economies of scale that result from sharing administration).


My task is in a sense now to attempt to wrap up our days discussion. So delighted to hear Ger Godley’s presentation of the story of Kerry and its Pastoral Areas. Thirteen of their parishes no longer having a resident priest, putting their energy now into the twelve Pastoral Areas. Ossory has forty-two parishes; their future is very much in their thirteen Pastoral Areas. I also realise that the smaller Pastoral Areas, as distinct from the three deaneries here are more conducive to fraternity. I thank the Pastoral Area coordinators for the work they are doing to build up fraternity, and include in that the special group of priests serving from abroad.

Our Synodal Diocesan Synthesis makes for very good reading. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is published on It is not surprising to note that our diocese, our parishes, contain in a real way, those who are at opposite poles – those who feel we are not Catholic enough, in the sense of holding to traditional teachings, live alongside those who feel we would be more Catholic in embracing more modern approaches. These disparate groups must co-exist as Church, as neither can have complete satisfaction without the dissatisfaction of the other. There are many voices within our church, and it’s in the holding together of these voices that we are most fully Church. I spoke with priests last night from many dioceses across the country, the experience here is no different than anywhere else. Most dioceses including ourselves missed an opportunity of gathering priests and deacons together to reflect on the synod questions. That omission is noted in our own synthesis. The appreciation of the local priest shines through our report and many other ones. I witness this from my visits to parish, in the last week Clane, Kildare, Naas, Portlaoise and Mountrath. I look forward to being in Tullow twice over the weekend.

Questions all of us might personally consider, if not today, perhaps during the summer months, questions offered by Michael Drennan SJ:  

  • what must I do to change? – personal conversion
  • what is the Synod asking and wanting of me?
  • what has the Synod done for me at faith level?
  • our very presence as priests is prophetic – some say we are a prophetic minority within a secular society, how does this speak to me?
  • localising the Synod – what might happen at home, not in Rome? What might we cause to happen locally?

I am called, all of us are called to work in a synodal manner. I was delighted to be present at the seven Pastoral Area Meetings through April and May. In everything I am doing I am working very closely with the Council of Priests, the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Diocesan Consultors. These are the groups who advise me on the direction of travel. I very much agree with the comment that we need someone employed to drive this process on, this is a discussion I will have to progress at diocesan level with the Diocesan Finance Committee.

In September I will write the promised Pastoral Letter to every parish, to every religious community on what I’m hearing, the need to rationalize Masses, the need to work much more closely in cluster groupings and the need to think in terms of five years’ time rather than today. With the letter I will attach a draft map on where I feel the cluster groupings are emerging and ask each Pastoral Area to widen that discussion to include the lay faithful, partners in our parishes, to agree to those groupings. I would ask all Pastoral Areas to respond to the Draft Cluster map by October 15th. I then would hope that six weeks later by November 27th, the First Sunday of Advent every Pastoral Area will have agreement around rationalizing of Masses within the agreed cluster and a first step at sharing of services. So the key dates are:

  • September 5th: publication of Pastoral Letter with attached draft cluster groupings in each Pastoral Area with possibly some overlap.
  • October 15th: response to the draft map with any alteration to the plan.
  • November 27th: response to the Pastoral Letter regarding Mass Rationalisation & sharing of services within the cluster/Pastoral Area.  

I envisage that diocesan changes will be minimal over the next two years to allow the Pastoral Areas and cluster groupings to bed down. Conversations are at an early stage with Ossory and Ferns regarding the shared training of lay people for roles that would include administration, pastoral leadership, catechists. I know such roles would very much compliment the Pastoral Areas and cluster groupings. I have asked the Diocesan Commission for Liturgical Formation to commence the training of teams in the autumn for leading Prayer on Sundays in the sudden and unavoidable absence of a priest or to allow for holidays.

The Property & Buildings Commission are having their first meeting next week and they are being established to support you and your Finance Committee in your work with sometimes very complex issues around parish property.

Finally, blessings on those marking significant jubilees today. Every blessing to Tom Walshe & Sean Kelly both 60 years ordained today – their Diamond Jubilees. Also blessings to Matt Kelly, 66 years ordained today.

Also good wishes to Paddy Daly also sixty years ordained this year; PJ Somers, Liam Merrigan and Jimmy Kelly all forty years ordained; Mark Townsend and Brian Kavanagh both thirty years ordained; Rory Nolan, Seán Maher, Paul Dempsey and Brendan Howard all twenty-five years ordained.

I wish well to Gaspar Habara who leaves the Cathedral on Monday to return to Slovakia. Gaspar has made a great contribution to the diocese since his arrival here in 2008, and I very much look forward to his return hopefully in a year’s time. I also wish Paul O’Boyle well as he goes to Australia on July 1st for a well-earned five month sabbatical.

We continue to hold in our prayers PJ McEvoy and Ger O’Byrne and all our priests who are in Nursing Homes or unwell at this time. Many thanks for being here, it is very much appreciated and thanks to the team of Ger Ahern, Ger Breen, Liam Merrigan and Mícheál Murphy who kept todays proceedings moving.