THERE are three times as many men studying to become Catholic priests in England and Wales compared with Ireland, new figures reveal.
The Church in England and Wales, with just under four million Catholics, has 196 seminarians training for the priesthood for its 22 dioceses.
In Ireland, with an island-wide Catholic population of 4.4 million and 26 dioceses, just 64 men are in training in the Maynooth seminary.
Twelve new seminarians have just entered Maynooth, aged largely in their 20s and from a range of backgrounds.
The ratio in England and Wales of student priest to parishioner stands at 1: 20,581. In Ireland, the 64 seminarians means a ratio of 1: 69,527.
The number of entrants into the seminary in the Church in England and Wales has been increasing from a low of 22 in 2001, with between 45 and 60 men starting training annually in recent years.
Entrants to Maynooth have been mixed over the last five years, with 13 last year; 10 in 2010; 24 in 2009; 14 in 2008; and 18 in 2007.