LONGFORD, Ireland - (ChurchMilitant.com) - Ireland is preparing for a serious priest shortage. In a pastoral letter issued by Abp. Francis Duffy of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, read to congregations March 24, he predicts by 2030 there will only be 25 priests left to serve the 41 parishes in the diocese.
With a large number of priests reaching retirement age and not enough new priests to take their place, Ireland is experiencing a steep decline in the number of clergy.
"This is not about closing churches but about reimagining how we worship and pass on our Christian faith," Duffy said.
Emphasizing an increased role for the laity, he said that "it is important that responsibilities our clergy now carry are shared with parishioners even more so than at present."
He's also calling on all Irish Catholics to prepare for a future that is "greatly different" from how they have worshipped in the past.
Although he appealed for continued prayers for vocations, he offered no assurances regarding scandal-ridden Maynooth College, Ireland's oldest seminary. Built to house and educate 500 students, the number of new applicants for the Maynooth Seminary for the past five years has hovered between only 12 and 20, with around 40 currently in residence and none preparing for ordination this year.
The seminary has been embroiled in controversy for years. From tolerance and support of homosexuals, to being hostile to theologically conservative seminarians, some accuse the trustees of the seminaryof fostering a culture opposed to the Faith. Seminarians have complained for being kicked out for defending the theology of the Real Presence or merely for kneeling during the consecration at Mass.
In January, a homosexual scandal erupted allegedly involving seminarian Michael Jack Byrne and a gay dating app. Instead of removing the deacon from candicacy, his ordinary, Abp. Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, with knowledge of pending charges, transferred him to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where he remains to this day. The Pontifical Irish College in Rome is the last Irish seminary abroad from the period when British occupation forbade Ireland from educating priests.
And in 2015, police were brought in to determine if criminal charges could be brought against a spiritual advisor for sexual improprities, allegedly abusing his power and position over a seminarian. The former seminarian claimed, "My faith was severely shaken after my experience in Maynooth," and he said he would "definitely not suggest Maynooth to any young man currently considering a vocation."