The Catholic archdiocese of Dublin is introducing radical new measures, including appointing parish priests to oversee multiple parishes, in a bid to offset the impact of its declining and ageing clergy.
The situation in the country’s largest diocese has been described as “critical” by a senior Dublin priest, who warned that the new strategy would buy the church between five and 10 years at most.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Fr Aquinas Duffy warned: “Anybody who works in parishes can see the structures are collapsing around us. We are at a crossroads. The time for talk is over – concrete action needs to be taken.”
The parish priest of Cabinteely, who also holds the position of Vicar Forane for up to 15 parishes in the Bray Deanery in Dublin, spoke after it emerged that 34 priests in Dublin died since February 2020, the youngest of whom was just 52.
As part of its plans for radical change, a new strategy, ‘Building Hope’, has asked parishioners in Dublin to identify nearby parishes with whom they can share resources in terms of finances, personnel and volunteers.
According to Fr Duffy, the future will see major changes such as priestless funerals, with parishes relying increasingly on lay-led liturgies.
He explained that parish priests in some areas of Dublin would currently perform up to 500 funerals a year between two parishes. “There is no way one priest can do 500 funerals the way we do them now. So we have to go down the road of lay people being trained to lead funeral services and burials.”
Under this proposal, a priest would perform a month’s mind mass for all the people who had died.
“People will get very upset by that and will give out, but that is the reality of the situation that is about to hit parishes.”
He said this summer the diocese started appointing parish priests to multiple parishes. The parish priest of Donnybrook will now also serve as the parish priest of Booterstown, which will have no resident priest for the first time. A similar structure is being introduced in the parishes of Foxrock and Newtownpark Avenue.
“I think it is a shock still to people. There are a lot of lay people and priests who are still in denial about the reality of the situation that we are in.
“This crisis has been coming for many years, but Covid has pushed us further over the cliff. The crossroads we are at now will determine the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.”
He stressed that appointing a parish priest to multiple parishes would put huge pressure on the priests and that people had to face the deeper issues.
“We have to face the deeper questions that are coming out of the synodal pathway – like who is going to provide the Eucharist in the future? We have to try and find solutions.
If we don’t consider issues like women priests and married clergy, we are only fooling ourselves. If we miss this opportunity now, it is a decision to let it all collapse.”