The number of men in Ireland who have taken the first step to becoming a priest has dropped to just 14 in the last year, according to a survey by The Irish Catholic.
That is far fewer than the 57 in England and Wales, even though Ireland has a higher Catholic population. There are 4 million Catholics living in England and Wales while Ireland has 4.65 million.
The Association for Catholic Priests (ACP) is worried that with so few people studying for the priesthood, there could soon be a time when some parishes do not have their own priest.
Sean McDonagh of the ACP told the Irish Journal: “We have been talking about this since our inception in 2009 – we have come up with proposals that we have presented to the hierarchy as temporary solutions. Anyone who has been in the ministry and has got married and wants to return should be allowed to do so.
“The second thing we think is that the ordination of married men should be introduced.”
He also suggested that it could be time for the church to move into the 21st century and provide more opportunities for women.
He said: “We do not see the future of ministry only in the male world. Women have to be brought into the structure of the Church. Into the very heart of the population… historically women were on the outside of culture generally – women did not have leadership roles. That has all changed into the twenty first century.”
The Catholic Church has had a steadily declining influence over the people of Ireland for the past few decades. The results of the survey could be seen as further proof that Irish people have new priorities as they look to the future.