I WANT to begin this week by saying a quick word about the Paralympics which are being held in London at the moment. Ireland has been well represented not only in terms of numbers of athletes competing, but also in terms of the medal haul.
These people are nothing less than heroes. Their success at these games is phenomenal, especially considering the obstacles they have had to overcome to be able to compete at the highest level of the Paralympics. Their fortitude and courage, in the face of their individual disabilities is truly inspirational.
Sadly, while these courageous men and women are doing their country proud, their country is not doing them proud at all, in fact their country is dishonouring them.
What I'm referring to is the fact that outside Leinster House this week hundreds of people with disabilities, and their Carers and family members, were forced to protest in order to stop the government from making cuts which would directly impact on their ability to live independently, receive education, obtain employment, travel and participate within their communities. Indeed, these cuts would certainly have impacted on the heroes and future heroes of the Paralympics. Thankfully since the protests, someone in government saw fit to row back at least some of the cuts, and those with disabilities won't be affected quite so badly. SHORTAGE OF PRIESTS
Last week the National Seminary at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, announced they had 12 new entrants commencing their studies for the priesthood this year. In light of the clerical abuse scandals of the past decade, and indeed the Audit reports which were published just last week into certain dioceses and religious orders, 12 seems like a fairly good number.
However, the truth is that Ireland is in a very precarious situation. Numbers are dropping drastically. The age profile of priests in increasing dramatically, and the future is far from clear. The latest survey of diocesan priests (2011) reveals that there are a total of just under 2,000 priests working in parishes in Ireland's 26 dioceses at present. Of these, 86% are over the age of 45, and one third are over the age of 65.
If we were to suppose that for the next 20 years there were 12 new priests ordained annually, all of whom were aged 25 upon ordination, then in the year 2032 there would be only 520 priests under the age of 65.
All these figures lead to only one conclusion: there will be a severe shortage of priests in Ireland in 20 years time. So what can be done, now, to help alleviate the inevitable dearth? Some dioceses are already clustering parishes, in an attempt to utilise the manpower available efficiently but it's not really a long-term solution.
The other side of the coin though is the question of whether there will be a need for as many priests in the future? A lot of people who simply don't believe in God or in organised religion are choosing to stay away from church and be authentic in their lack of belief rather than just turning up because 'it's the done thing'.
And of course there's always the option of empowering lay people to lead parishes and preside at liturgies and worship events. Perhaps even women might get a look-in?