'Pastoral units' and 'baptismal teams' to tackle shortage of Catholic priests
A new 'Team Ministry' strategy aims to tackle a shortage of priests and involve more lay people in ministry.
On Sunday, Mass-goers in parishes across Limerick learned of the new arrangements in a pastoral letter from Bishop Brendan Leahy.
The Bishop of Limerick said that the establishment of the Team Ministry Units had been necessitated by the "considerable decline in the number of priests", and the increasing age profile of priests.
It noted the increasing demands, bureaucratic and otherwise, on priests today.
The proposed changes will see existing parishes operate together within new Pastoral Units. Teams of two or three priests will minister together to meet the pastoral needs of these parishes.
Each of the priests will be titled a 'co-parish priest' and will move around the pastoral unit, resulting in different priests saying Masses in parishes week on week. But existing parishes will retain their own identity.
The Team Ministry strategy will also see one baptismal team for each unit offering preparation to parents who are bringing their child for baptism. The baptisms will take place in the parents' local church.
Dr Leahy acknowledged that the radical new changes come at a challenging time for the Catholic Church.
Revelations of clerical abuse scandals had "shocked many" while the result of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment had also been a difficult moment.
While change wasn't easy, the Church constantly needed to reform and renew itself, he stressed.
"Priests will always be necessary," he said, but he added that the new arrangements for Limerick were not just about responding to the decline in the number of priests.
"We need to promote arrangements that encourage greater co-operation and exchange between parishes," Bishop Leahy said.