Church crisis as number of priests to drop 66pc in 20 years
'It is impossible to argue with these statistics, and the situation really is very grave'
The Catholic Church in Ireland faces a catastrophic drop in the numbers of priests over the next two decades, new figures reveal.
The Church's vocation problem is already reaching crisis levels, as statistics show that 160 priests died in the last year, while only nine men were ordained.
In 2007, 228 nuns died but only two took final vows for service in religious life.
If current trends continue, the number of priests is set to plummet to just one-third over the next 20 years. Unless there is a miraculous upswing in vocation, the number of priests will drop from 4,752 priests, to just over 1,500 by 2028.
The problem is exacerbated by the ageing profile of the clergy. The current average age of priests is 61, which means that in the next 15 years the majority will have retired.
The situation with female religious is even more stark, with more than 100 nuns dying every year for each new sister professed.
The National Director of Vocations, Fr Paddy Rushe, commenting on the statistics, published in the 'Irish Catholic' newspaper, said: "Obviously it is a stark statistic, and it communicates to me, as a vocations promoter, the urgency there is in addressing the number of vocations".
Fr Eamonn Bourke, Director of Vocations for Dublin, said that "the statistics bring the problems we are facing into sharp focus".
"It's impossible to argue with statistics, and the situation is very grave."
He said that "for a long time people have failed to realise how much the decline is, hopefully with statistics like this people will realise their responsibility to come forward and do something".
Fr Bourke said he was "concerned that some priests are reluctant to offer priesthood to people as a valuable way of life".
"It will take a long time to increase this confidence," he said.