The appointment of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's successor has been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis and won't be made until later in the year, priests in the diocese of Dublin have been told.
In a confidential memorandum sent to priests, deacons and pastoral workers in Dublin, and seen by the Irish Independent, Archbishop Martin told them: "It now appears likely that the appointment of my successor will not take place until later this year."
The delay in the appointment is linked to the Covid-19 crisis, which has also stalled the annual appointment process of priests to new parishes.
In his memorandum, Dr Martin explained the process of making new appointments was already under way when the coronavirus outbreak began. The uncertainties caused by the lockdown had resulted in this process being suspended.
The archbishop said he was concerned that he "might be making appointments just at the moment in which my successor could be appointed. I felt that this would be unfair to him and to those who would have been changed".
As it now appears likely the appointment of his successor will not take place until later this year, the Archbishop has decided that parish changes will be kept to a minimum and those who are due to retire or who are at the end of their period of appointment will be asked to remain in their position for a year or at most two years.
"This would allow my successor sufficient time to come to grips with the emerging situation," he said.
The leader of the largest Catholic diocese in the country told his priests, deacons and pastoral workers: "We are witnessing an extraordinary moment in the life of our parishes and our diocese. The renewal of normal parish life is only beginning."
He said preparations for the delayed celebration of Confirmation, First Holy Communion and the reopening of schools will continue well into the autumn.
Dr Martin turned 75, the age when bishops are required to submit their resignation to Pope Francis, in April and told the Irish Independent then that he had submitted his resignation a number of months previously.
Asked about the next archbishop of Dublin, he said in April that it needed to be someone who is a competent administrator, a man who can provide spiritual guidance to people in a very secularised world, and somebody who has a great sensitivity to the realities of the poor because parts of Dublin "are by far the poorest in our society".
The Archdiocese of Dublin has 199 parishes and over 300 diocesan clergy serving a population of over a million Catholics.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the diocese's finances with priests having to take a 25pc pay cut while a third of its lay staff are being invited to take voluntary redundancy.