By 2030, there may only be 25 priests to serve 41 parishes in the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Diocese.
That's according to Bishop Frances Duffy, who wrote a pastoral letter to parishioners entitled 'Sustaining our Faith Community in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise'.
“At the moment, we have 53 very dedicated diocesan priests in our parishes but sadly no seminarians preparing for ordination,” writes Bishop Francis.
“By 2030, over the next 13 years, 28 of our 53 diocesan priests will reach the retirement age of 75 years.
“By the time children baptised this year reach Confirmation, our diocese will be a very different place.”
As priests in the diocese retire, there will be no younger priests to replace them, meaning many parishes will be without a resident priest.
Those parishes that do have a resident priest may have to share him with neighbouring parishes that are without a parish priest.
“Critically, there will also be an impact on the workload of priests and their welfare is our concern in this changing context,” says the Bishop.
The Sunday Eucharist and the celebration of the sacraments and the pastoral care of the people are of central importance for every parish, the Bishop goes on to say.
“As a consequence, consideration needs to be given to developing and enabling parish faith development and pastoral care to continue and to flourish with fewer priests and with greater involvement of parishionors,” he says.
“This is not about closing churches but about reimagining how we worship and pass on our Christian faith.”
A time of decline in one area can be an opportunity for growth in other areas, he adds.
“I firmly believe the Lord is with us in change and will provide opportunities for the local church communities to continue to flourish in new ways.”
The Bishop concludes his letter by inviting parishioners' support in preparing for “a future that will differ greatly from the past in terms of how we worship as a faith community”.
“I would greatly welcome your input and suggestions directly or through your Parish Pastoral Councils, as we seek to meet this challenge under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Bishop Francis can be contacted via post at St. Michael's, Longford, Co. Longford, or via email at: