More new bishops will be ordained in Ireland this year than new priests, amid a crisis in vocations, a well-known parish priest has warned.
Next Sunday, Archbishop Michael Neary will ordain Rev Shane Costello to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Tuam at Knock Basilica, Co Mayo.
It is understood that this will be the only ordination this year for the country's 26 dioceses.
"This is not sustainable - we have nobody coming after us," said Fr Paddy Byrne, parish priest of Abbeyleix and Ballyroan, Co Laois. He described the number of ordinations this year as "abysmal".
Fr Byrne, who at 46 is the second youngest priest in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin, told the Irish Independent that the Catholic Church was experiencing a "real vocations crisis" and that this had become clear as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. "In our diocese and in every diocese across the country priests continue to give selflessly and many of them are taking full responsibility of the management of parishes well into their 80s."
The lack of priests and ageing profile of clergy was accentuated by the coronavirus lockdown because the majority of clergy in many dioceses were over 70 and so had to cocoon.
Fr Byrne stressed that his comments were made as an individual who was "passionate about my ministry, and very worried about my future".
Describing priesthood as "deeply fulfilling", the parish priest who will shortly mark 20 years since his own ordination, said this summer he had taken on responsibility for a third parish.
In the past, seven priests would have overseen the running of these parishes.
"In rural Ireland, we have seen the loss of the pub, the post offices and very soon we'll lose the priest," he said.
"The priest has, by and large, always been a good community activist and he meant something to people.
"We know, as a society, the cost of the thousands of funerals that haven't been able to be celebrated in the way that they were previously because of the pandemic. There is a real need for clergy in Irish society."
Admitting that many priests were "blue in the face talking about the vocations crisis", he called for "a radical reappraisal and an honest dialogue about what has gone wrong with vocations of priesthood".
Acknowledging that Church scandals and a more secularised society have contributed to the problem, he said church leaders now needed to "be honest, brave and courageous enough" to "name new realities", including the ordination of women as deacons, otherwise they risked being "foot soldiers at a graveyard".
"The Church has a huge opportunity to be present in the bits and pieces of people's broken lives and to do that with great fulfilment," Fr Byrne said.
"But it is very sad that we are coming to a moment where the presence of clergy will be no more unless we do something to bring about real change."
A spokesman for the Irish Bishops told the Irish Independent that the ordination of the new bishop of Achonry, Bishop Elect Paul Dempsey, is due to take place on August 30, while the new bishop of Kilmore, Bishop Elect Martin Hayes, is due to be ordained at the end of September.