Priest shortage will mean end of regular weekend Masses - bishop
Warning that vocations crisis is worsening
The regular weekend Mass and full-time resident parish priest will soon both be a thing of the past, a Catholic bishop has warned.
Amid the ongoing shortage of priests, the Bishop of Kerry told his flock that weekend Masses in every parish in the diocese will not be viable "in a short few years".
And in a statement announcing clerical changes in the diocese, Bishop Ray Browne said that due to the decline in priest numbers, there were now six parishes out of 53 without a resident priest.
"Soon it will not be possible to have a weekend Mass in every church in the diocese. That day is not far off," he warned.
In all, there are 111 churches in Kerry's 53 parishes. Most parishes have two or three churches, a small number have one church, and one parish has four churches.
In the past, all of these churches would have hosted Sunday Masses for small rural communities every weekend.
The parish of Knocknagoshel is the latest to be hit by the vocations crisis. It has lost its resident priest and planning is under way to help parishioners deal with this.
"In a short few years this will be the situation in all 12 pastoral areas," the Bishop of Kerry said. He added that in many cases, priests in rural parishes were already helping out with ministry in the local town.
The lack of resident full-time priests in Kerry's churches will mean parishioners will have to attend Sunday Mass in neighbouring churches and share transport to ensure everyone has the opportunity to attend Mass, the bishop said.
Referring to the crisis caused by the decline in priest numbers, Dr Browne paid tribute to those retired priests who were helping to ease the situation by continuing to help out despite their age. "What other group has a retirement age of 75 or 76?" he asked.
The Diocese of Kerry is not the only parish experiencing this crisis. The neighbouring diocese of Cork and Ross is also concerned about an ageing and declining cohort of priests.
Elsewhere, Bishop Brendan Leahy, of Limerick, told the Irish Independent that there were 10 parishes in his diocese without a resident priest in active ministry, though four of these had retired priests living in them.
However, Dr Leahy said Limerick's parishioners had decided to move towards a model where "teams" of priests looked after a number of parishes.
Last April, the diocese of Limerick held a day of lay-led liturgies in all its parishes.
Announcing the move, Bishop Leahy said: "We are facing many challenges due to the decline in vocations but we must view these as opportunities. Increasingly, we will see lay people lead prayers in funeral homes, and at the reception of the remains in the Church or other moments when public prayers are required."
But Fr Diarmuid Hogan, of the diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, believes the focus on the shortage of priests is wrong and the real problem is too many churches.
"The churches in Ireland were planned and built long before modern infrastructure and transportation; therefore, in rural areas, they are small and close together."
He believes that in the years ahead parishes will have to be "consolidated with larger congregations at fewer Masses in fewer, larger buildings".
Separately, Archbishop Eamon Martin hit out at the "velvet-gloved" persecution of Christians which is "cloaked in politeness". At the annual St Oliver Plunkett celebration in Drogheda at the weekend, the Archbishop of Armagh said standing up for your faith in Ireland demanded courage in an "aggressively secular culture".