As Ireland, a country that exports its Catholic clergy around the world, is running out of priests. One hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained and the figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows for service in religious life. Based upon these figures it is predicted that the number of priests will drop from the current 4 752 to about 1 500 by 2028.
Holy facts, Batman:
— Priests in Ireland work six days a week. They are encouraged to take one day off. In quieter parishes, some priests also get Sunday afternoons to themselves
— They receive the statutory 21 days’ holiday every year, although they are expected to work on Bank Holidays
— Priests are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and will respond immediately to midnight phone calls summoning them to the bedsides of seriously ill patients
— Would-be priests who enter seminary spend seven years training. The retention rate of those who enter compared with those who get ordained is about 60%
— Priests are self-employed and receive a stipend of 1 000€ (~£750) a month. This grows dependent on years of service and can also increase if priests take on extra jobs outside their parish responsibilities
— Retirement age for priests is 75 but most continue if they are in good health. Older priests give up their parish administrative duties but continue to celebrate Mass and the sacraments
— On 13th April a national year of vocation begins in Ireland that will try to boost the numbers of young men entering seminaries
The decline in vocations is attributed to the loss of the Church’s authority after a string of sex-abuse scandals. In 1994 the Government collapsed over the mishandling of the case of a paedophile priest Brendan Smyth. The scandals broke a code of silence, prompting apologies from both the Church and the Government for the abuse of children and women who passed through religious institutions. An estimated 1€ billion (~£750,000) are being paid out in compensation to victims.
Regular church attendance, which was at 90% at the start of the 1990s, has suffered a collapse, mitigated partially in recent years by the mass influx of Polish workers, and a further concern is that most priests are already close to normal retirement age- the average age of Irish priests is currently 61.