Aging clergy, shrinking numbers pose problems for Irish Church
Dublin, Oct. 25, 2007 (CWNews.com) - The falling numbers and aging profile of Catholic priests in Ireland may be a cause of concern in the future, according to the bishops' Council for Research and Development (CRD)
Overall, the numbers of diocesan priests in Ireland last year dropped by 51 to 3,078. Since 2000, the number of diocesan priests has declined by 10.6%.
The average priest is also becoming older: in 2001, 3% were aged between 25 and 29. Last year, only 0.9% of priests were in this age group.
Last year 30 applicants were accepted to study for the Ireland's 26 dioceses-- a slight rise on the 27 in 2005 and 28 in 2004.
According to new figures from the CRD, 48 men applied to study for the priesthood last year, of whom 62% were accepted. This compares with an acceptance rate of 50% in 2005 and 47% in 2004.
The successful applicants included former teachers, civil servants, farmers, and workers in information technology and engineering. Of the 26 for whom data was available, six were aged 18 to 21, 11 between 22 and 24 and the remainder were 25 or older.
There are currently 74 students for the priesthood in Ireland's remaining two seminaries, St Patrick's Maynooth and St Malachy's Belfast. The average age at ordination is 34 years.
Based on the 2006 census figures for the Republic and the 2004 population projections for the North, there is now one active diocesan priest for every 1,862 Catholics in Ireland.
"The current older age profile of diocesan priests may be a cause for concern in the years ahead," said Eoin O'Mahony of the CRD. "The largest proportion of single males in the Republic is aged 30 to 39 years old. For diocesan priests in Ireland, it is 60 to 69 years old."
The council also produced statistics on religious. In the year to September 2006, there were 8,891 women in women’s religious orders, a fall of 351 on 2005. The number of nuns dropped from 10,059 in 2001 to 8,891 in 2006. The average age of the six women who took final vows last year was 41, and the average age of Irish nuns overall is now 56.
The number of men in clerical religious orders in September 2006 was 3,278, of whom 93% were priests and 7% brothers. This represents a 10.8% decrease in five years. Four men applied to brothers' orders -- up from just one in the previous year, and the highest number of applicants since 2002. But of the four, three applications were not followed through.
What Melancholius finds most remarkable about this situation is that, despite the best efforts of the clergy, young men are still presenting themselves to the Church for possible ordination and a sacrificial life of service devoted to Christ and His faithful at the altar of God.
I say “despite the best efforts of the clergy” for a reason. The catastrophic decline in the number of vocations may be in part attributed to the secularisation of Ireland in the last few decades of the twentieth century, as well as to a coarsening of the moral fibre of Irish society generally. The priesthood is no longer an attractive career option to the majority for whom worldly standards like ‘status’ and ‘success’ will determine many of their life choices.
But it is the clergy themselves who have placed the most corrosive obstacles in the path of those young men who may have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Owing to the transformation of the sacred liturgy into an undignified community circus, the current mania for “collaborative ministry” with its simultaneous elevation of the status of the laity and its degradation of the status of the priest, the feminization of the Church with its proliferation of female-led “ministries”, the “reform” of the seminaries (or should that latter word now be in the singular?) such that prayer and penance are out, and “self-fulfilment” and “self-actualization” are in — not to mention the replacement of traditional Catholic philosophy and theology with the latest fads and the heretical ramblings of modernist theologians — and the refusal to acknowledge that a crisis exists, or if it is acknowledged, the remedy prescribed for the situation is to have still greater recourse to the same medicine that precipitated the crisis in the first place — how on earth, given this dire set of circumstances, are sound vocations to the Catholic priesthood to be fostered from the beginning, never mind brought to fruition in the sacrament of orders?
The process is stymied from the very start owing to the proliferation of inadequate and even heretical catechetical material in Catholic schools, such that an entire generation of Catholic youth grows up and leaves school without the slightest knowledge of their religion, or else believing many things that are quite wrong or irrelevant at best. The bishops have been warned — repeatedly — about this situation in the schools, but they have turned a deaf ear and sat upon their hands. Do they want vocations, or don’t they? If they don’t, their measures have succeeded admirably, beyond all expectations. If they do, why don’t they do something about it? Let them clean up the schools, the seminaries, and the parishes, and the vocations will come — little by little, but the change will happen and it will gather momentum. For what we are dealing with here is a manufactured priest shortage, and as such it is not beyond the ability of the powers that be to reverse the situation — all they lack is the will to make the necessary reforms and boot out the revolutionaries from all the positions of authority they have co-opted over the last forty years. This of course would take guts, and since when have the Irish bishops displayed any kind of fortitude in these weak, post-conciliar times? Read this article on how the post-conciliar shortage of vocations has deliberately been engineered by the ecclesiastical establishment. The article concerns the United States specifically, but it is equally germane to the state of affairs in Ireland.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging that the small number of vocations appears to be increasing, even if only slightly. Melancholicus would like to think that today’s applicant would be of a more traditional and conservative bent than his counterpart of the 1980s. He would like to think that since new life has been breathed into the ailing Church by Pope Benedict XVI, that young Catholic men have noticed it and are feeling somewhat invigorated. He would like to think that more of today’s applicants would have an interest in celebrating the traditional Latin Mass than heretofore. He would like to think that they would likewise have firmer views on moral aberrations, views in line with the perennial Magisterium, and would be less likely to wink at such abominations as contraception, adultery, concubinage, abortion and of course “gay marriage”.
And that they would be less likely to concelebrate Mass with ministers of the Church of Ireland.
Furthermore, Melancholicus does not see the brothers’ orders recovering from the effects of the 1960s cataclysm. The religious orders have been corrupted by modernism to an even worse extent than the dioceses, and I do not think they have either the numbers or the resources, much less the will, to effect a recovery.
Howbeit, time will tell.