Killaloe Clergy Forced To Double up Due to Shortages

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

A shortage of priests is forcing change in the manning of parishes in a number of dioceses with priests now being asked accept responsibility for a multiple of parishes.

In the Diocese of Killaloe there has been an increase in the number of priest taking on responsibility for more than one parish.  The pattern of placing emphasis on clusters of parishes working closely together became one of the features of the Killaloe diocesan plan in 2004.  According to the appointments announced by the outgoing Bishop of Killaloe Bishop Willie Walsh, two priests returning home from abroad will each take on responsibility for two parishes.

Fr Donagh O'Meara who is returning from Port Elizabeth in South Africa is to become parish priest of Bodyke and of Ogenelloe.  Meanwhile Fr Colm Hogan who is returning from Ecuador after a number of years is to become parish priest of Colmeen and of Kildsyart.

Bishop Walsh said that arising from the appointments the diocese would have 95 priests in fulltime parish ministry in either parish priest or curate capacity and five priests who are engaged in full time school chaplaincy, teaching diocesan administration and other pastoral work.  A further eight Killaloe priests will be serving overseas in various ministries while seven priests from the diocese will be fully retired from active ministry.  There are currently four priests studying for the priesthood from the Diocese of Killaloe.

Meanwhile, echoing the situation in Killaloe, the diocese of Derry has expressed concern at its developing clerical manpower crisis among its clergy as it is forced to assign two of the city's largest parishes to a single priest.

The parishes of St Eugene's Cathedral and St Columba's Church, Long Tower will have a single administrator from now on following the retirement of three of Derry’s priests who are all 75, and the withdrawal of a fourth from ministry.

Diocese spokesman Fr. Michael Canny said “new imaginative thinking” was needed to deal with the shortage of working clergy as the dearth of vocations over recent decades begins to bite.  Fr Canny said that there were now fewer and fewer priests available to fill posts and before long many parishes would be sharing a single priest between them.

“This year the Bishop had three priests retiring having reached the age of 75 years and as was reported in the press in recent days, a parish priest is taking administrative leave because of safeguarding concerns,” he explained in the Derry Journal newspaper.

“This in practice means four vacancies and no new priests to replace them and the result is that three parishes have been reduced to one priest and the administration of St. Eugene's Cathedral and St. Columba's Long Tower will be done by one person.”

Fr Canny said the number of working priests in the diocese had plummeted from 147 in 1990 to 83 today.  Furthermore, many priests in active ministry now were already over seventy, five were only on loan to the diocese, which has fifty parishes.  As for replacements, there was currently a sole deacon and a small number in seminary and a single new student had entered this year, said Fr Canny.

"It is impossible to argue with the figures, the situation is serious and new imaginative thinking is needed.  Some describe it as a crisis and for parishes and parishioners who are seeing their parishes reduced the situation is very real.”

But he said Mass attendances had also dropped sharply and less than one in four people in Derry city now attended regularly.

Fr Canny said he believed the biggest single factor in this trend was that many people no longer believed in God or live their lives today as if God does not exist and this crisis of faith was “the real crisis.”

The situation in Killaloe and Derry dioceses is likely to be repeated more and more often in other dioceses around the country in the months and years to come.

by Sean Ryan / Fintan Deere