Ireland could face a shortage of Catholic priests within the next ten to twenty years as fewer and fewer young men are answering the calling.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) believe this could result in sacraments such as marriages and baptisms coming to an end in some parishes.
The ACP represents over 1,000 holy men in Ireland. The organisation is calling for reform in the way new priests are recruited.
Fr Tim Hazelwood, of the ACP, said: “We’re facing a catastrophic situation in the next 10 to 20 years because there are not enough male celibate vocations to keep our parishes alive.
“We’re facing a situation where the sacraments could disappear in some parishes, because our priests are all getting older and no one is coming through to replace them.
“In maybe 10, but definitely 20 years, priests in Ireland are going to be an endangered species unless things change. We’re facing a really bleak future unless new measures are brought in.”
The ACP believe that the time has come to allow women to become ordained and also relax celibacy rules which would open the door for married men to take up the priesthood.
They also want to provide an opportunity to return for priests who left the Church in order to marry.
Fr Hazelwood told attendants at the ACP’s annual general meeting about the age of 23 clerics working in his own parish.
He said: “The age profile of the priests gives food for thought.
“There is one over 80, two over 70, nine over 60, 10 over 50, and two over 40.
“Fast forward 15 years and the very best you could hope for is 10 priests for all that area and, even if healthy, they will all be elderly men. That is the stark reality.”
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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling