Wednesday 24 July 2019

Lay people to perform funeral duties as priest numbers decline

Members of public to be more involved as three parishes become priestless for first time in 'big change for diocese'

Learning exercise: Bishop-elect of Clogher Larry Duffy will hold talks on how to ‘fill the void’ of having fewer priests. Photo: Rory Geary/The Northern Standard
Learning exercise: Bishop-elect of Clogher Larry Duffy will hold talks on how to ‘fill the void’ of having fewer priests. Photo: Rory Geary/The Northern Standard

Sarah MacDonald

The new Bishop of Clogher intends to invite lay people to perform funeral duties as declining priest numbers will see three parishes become priestless for the first time from next week.

The radical move on funerals is part of a restructuring plan under way to offset the lack of priests.

Clogher's Diocesan Liturgy Commission is planning a series of workshops in Monaghan and Enniskillen beginning later this month, at which Bishop-elect Larry Duffy, as well as clergy and laity, will focus on those liturgies which are presently led by priests but could be led by lay people.

"Some elements of funeral liturgies may be part of this, such as the reception of remains at the church.

"This will be a learning exercise for us all, myself included," Bishop Duffy told the Irish Independent.

The new bishop explained that all of Clogher's parishes and pastoral areas - groups of parishes working together - will be holding discussions on "how we can fill the void when parishes are left with reduced numbers of priests or, increasingly, no priests and at all. This is now a reality for us here in Clogher".

The 67-year-old former parish priest of Carrickmacross will be installed at St Macartan's Cathedral in Monaghan tomorrow by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

He said the decline in priest numbers would be a priority for him and he acknowledged that parishes with no resident priest were "a big change for people and a big change for the diocese".

The Magheracloone native explained that due to the lack of priests and the ageing profile of those in ministry, it was becoming increasingly difficult for priests to even find the time to attend the wedding receptions of couples they marry.

"It is becoming more difficult now because many weddings can be on a Saturday and priests may have an evening Mass or maybe there is a funeral the same day or a baptism. There can be a lot on with less of us to cover the same ground as before."

The diocese is, he said, "looking for and praying for deacons. We have one permanent deacon in the diocese with the possibility of a second. But we need to do more work on that".

On morale in the Church, he said: "A lot of priests and people today have come through a rough 20 to 25 years. It is a great credit to so many that they have stayed with it."

Asked about recent incidents where politicians who supported a repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the introduction of abortion services have been refused communion by priests, Dr Duffy said: "If somebody comes for communion - I would never refuse them.

"If somebody speaks about it, we will engage in a chat and I would be prepared to listen and then advise, but I would never refuse communion."

However, he warned that promoting abortion was "a grave sin" and that "if we have sinned, such as helping to promote abortion, then we must examine ourselves".

Of the lessons the Irish Church has learned on safeguarding children, the bishop, who was ordained in 1976, added: "I think we have come a long way in Ireland. What happened was very wrong. If we have anything to teach anybody it is that it is a painful journey and that those who have been abused must be looked after as the number one priority."

Clogher Diocese straddles the Border, encompassing all of Co Monaghan, most of Fermanagh and portions of Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan with a Catholic population of 88,000 across 37 parishes.

On the issue of Brexit, which will affect most of his flock, Bishop Duffy encouraged politicians to "be prepared to compromise and work together" to achieve the best for everyone concerned. They "have got to come together to get a solution that is the best for people on both sides", he stressed.

The Catholic prelate, who described himself as having "a great regard for the work of nurses" and the many people who care for someone at home, said he was "keen to support Catholic schools" but that not every school had to be Catholic. "There has to be variety," he said.

He said it was significant that many parents, when they are asked if they wanted their local school to be divested to an alternative patron, by and large were very keen to maintain the Catholic ethos.

"The Church and Catholics put a lot into supporting Catholic schools. There are so many lay people who work on boards of management, in parents' associations - they help out in so many different ways just for the advancement of the school.

"It is a huge contribution to our nation and our country and that lovely value of volunteering isn't something we should easily lose," he said.

On the forthcoming referendum on divorce, which proposes a reduction in the amount of time couples must be separated before they can divorce, he said if politicians believe there is a good reason for this law, that can be debated. "My role is more a spiritual one," he said. "To encourage people when they get married to work at it as it needs to be for life. But you feel sorry for couples when it doesn't work out."

Irish Independent

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