DUBLIN, Ireland – New figures on vocations published in the 2008 Irish Catholic Directory indicate how quickly the country is headed toward a major shortage of priests.
According to the directory, the country lost 160 priests last year – mostly because of death in old age – and had only nine new ordinations. Currently there are about 4,750 priests in Ireland but, if current trends continue, by 2028 Ireland will have fewer than 1,500 priests.
“It’s a trend that priests would have known about for some time,” said Father Eamonn Bourke, Dublin diocesan vocations director. “But many laypeople are only beginning to become aware of the implications and the dramatic effect that the fall in vocations will have.
“It will mean parish amalgamations, it will mean some parishes not having daily Masses and it will probably mean some parishes not having a Mass every Sunday,” he told Catholic News Service. “Couples will not be able to get married on their own – it’s more likely that they will make their wedding vows with at least another couple sharing the ceremony. The same will apply to funeral Masses.”
Father Bourke said that the decline in vocations was demoralizing to priests, who already were disheartened by the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse and an overall decline in faith among the general population.
However, he noted that once students enter an Irish seminary they are far more likely to stay the course and be ordained than they were 20 or 30 years ago.
“The seminary entrance requirements are much tougher than they used to be,” he said, adding that the dropout rate is lower than 20 percent and “that is a result of the discernment process.”
Meanwhile, the statistics for female vocations in the 2008 Irish Catholic Directory are even bleaker than those for men: The number of woman religious declined by 228 last year, chiefly because of death in old age, but the number of new religious sisters taking final vows in 2007 was only two.