In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy gives his thoughts on the reality of the diminishing numbers of clergy in Ireland.

RECENT changes within the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin highlight the diminishing numbers of clergy and its consequence in terms of parishes without resident priests.

This reality has been happening within this diocese and throughout the country for many years. As the age profile of clergy increases and ordinations are a rare event, priestless parishes will become the norm.

There is a growing awareness and urgency in terms of greater co-operation, sharing resources – both clerical and lay – and administrative skills between parishes.

“Pastoral areas” are a collection of parishes who share their skills and talents together.

This model of ministry and ‘being Church’ is not something new.

The Second Vatican Council detailed at great length the valuable and necessary role all God’s people have, both in ministry and within the life of the Church. It is regrettable that a greater focus on lay people’s responsibility and ‘call’ to service is only highlighted in the context of ‘fewer priests’.

I suggest that appealing for new recruits to priestly life in a time when the shortage of clergy is an issue, needs serious reflection.

I believe very few parents would encourage their son (not to mention the possibility of daughter!) to consider priesthood in the Catholic Church as a serious life choice.

The Catholic Church in Ireland finds itself in a real crisis.

Scandals, poor morale and apathy are symptoms of an institution that seems incapable of putting into practice its desire for renewal and healing.

Very few young people would seriously consider commitment to a priestly life that has an immense workload and can often be lonely, removed from the reality of a loving wife and the possibility of having your own family.

It is difficult to make sense of such restriction when most of a priest’s life is spent ministering to families and couples at key moments, from birth to death.

In the same manner, many Catholic priests in Britain do fantastic ministry as married family men.

Previously Anglican ministers, who now have joined the Catholic Church, are real people, fulfilled and effective. Why can’t this concession by Rome be made to many good married people who may feel called to priestly life?

On a personal level, I find it a great privilege being a priest.

The ‘local Church’ continues to be necessary, alive and relevant. There can be within us all a desire to resist change, to crave for certainty, summed up in the attitude ‘we always did it like this’.

I found the recent World Youth Day in Madrid a fantastic example of a living and vibrant faith.

More than 1.4 million young people gathered to worship with real enthusiasm and hope in their hearts. Our future as a Church continues to change, but in the direction of a brighter more hope-filled and Christ-centred reality.

The Church in crisis is a good model. This is not a time to despair but to imagine and reawaken the fantastic examples of the early Christian communities, whose life stories are contained within the New Testament and from which inspired the Second Vatican Council.

Crisis means opportunity.

May the Holy Spirit inspire and enlighten our faith communities.