Priest shortage sparks fears of lay ministers directing burials
FAMILIES are facing the prospect of priests no longer officiating at the graves of loved ones at funerals, as one Catholic diocese moves to deal with the shortage.
The prospect of priests not receiving remains at church or officiating at graves at funerals is contained in the Killaloe Pastoral Plan to 2020 as the church there grapples with the growing vocations crisis.
Against the background of declining numbers signing up to priesthood, the blueprint states that we have to plan for a situation where "members of the local community will lead liturgical celebrations on weekdays and also on Sundays when no priest is available".
It also indicates that on any given weekend Masses will not be held in all of the existing churches but will be scheduled for parish clusters.
The plan also states that roles previously performed by priests such as "visiting the sick, bringing communion to the housebound, receiving funerals at the church and officiating at graveside" will be done by lay ministers.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Ireland said liturgy groups have been formed in recent years by lay ministers to support priests in preparing families for the sacraments – including the funeral liturgy.
He said this move came as a result of an increasing workload being placed on fewer, older priests.
Currently, the diocese of Killaloe has only one seminarian who is due to be ordained a priest in the summer of 2015, while more than half of its 82 priests were aged 66 or over.
Diocesan spokesman Fr Brendan Quinlivan said: "After that we have no one, but I know that our Director of Vocations is in talks with a number of people who have expressed an interest in joining the priesthood."
Fr Quinlivan said that the number of serving priests in the diocese has fallen from 100 to 82 over the past decade "and if it continues at that rate, it will be a serious concern".
The steep drop in vocations in the diocese comes in spite of the church there having a cash pile of over €1m to promote vocations to the priesthood.
This followed a €1m bequest to the diocese, with the provision that the money be used to promote the priesthood and educating priests and not be for the day-to-day running of the diocese.
Fr Quinlivan said: "It is a reality of demographics that lay people are being asked to take on functions normally carried out by a priest."
The pastoral plan states: "There is a real urgency now for us to begin to prepare for a rather different kind of church, one where all of us will have to assume much more active roles in developing and supporting the faith life of our communities."
Fr Quinlivan said that the notion of lay people officiating at the graveside at funerals "is not going to happen in the immediate term, but in a few years it may be a reality".