DIOCESES around the country face another crisis as they struggle to pay for nursing home care for retired priests.
Most dioceses have a fund in place to help to meet the cost of elderly care. But as the number of seminarians dwindles and an increasing number of priests reach retirement age, there are fewer 'working' priests to contribute to these funds.
An Irish Independent survey of 20 of the 26 dioceses countrywide has revealed that 450 priests have reached the age of retirement of 75, though some of these remain in active ministry.
Of the priests who have reached retirement age, 79 are no longer living independently and require full-time nursing home care.
By comparison, there are just 76 seminarians training for the priesthood in the 20 dioceses that participated in the survey.
Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy said the situation was "certainly" one of concern as nursing home fees cost the diocese more than €6,000 a week.
"It is, of course, a concern because the number of retired priests will be increasing and the number of seminarians is a lot lower and that is a problem," Bishop Murphy told the Irish Independent.
However, he added that care of the elderly was something the diocese always strove to look after so priests would not face the worry of it themselves.
"We have a number of diocesan houses where some priests live and some do have their own houses," he said.
"It is a concern but the last thing we'd want is for our priests to have any concerns about their future. They've given over 50 years of service and so we like to ensure they're comfortable in their final years."
The costs to the dioceses vary, with some paying the full cost of residential care while other dioceses have funds that priests contribute to during their working lives.
The first collection of the year in parishes in the Archdiocese of Dublin goes directly towards its common fund, which pays for nursing home care for the 20 retired priests who require it.
The Meath diocese imposes a levy on parishes to help towards the cost of care for nine priests in nursing homes.
The Archdiocese of Down and Connor faces a bill of £5,000 (€5,805) a week for the care of nine priests. The cost is met by diocesan funding and the retired priests' own funds.
In Kerry, the diocese spends €6,025 for seven priests in nursing home care.
This comes out of its Rathmore Fraternity Fund, a benevolent fund that priests contribute to weekly during their working lives and which is also the beneficiary of a collection at churches once a year.
Of the dioceses that responded to the survey, 19 of the 20 said they had some kind of benevolent fund in place for sick and retired priests.
Priest are also encouraged to plan for their own retirement and many own their own properties. Others qualify under the Fair Deal scheme, in which their estate is used to pay some of their nursing home expenses retrospectively after their death.
Bishop Murphy said that many people also leave a donation in their will for the retired priests' fund.