What will happen when the last priest dies? It depends on the nature of our Christian hope

06 December 2017 | by Werner G. Jeanrond


The debate – it goes back to the days of the first followers of Jesus – about the shape and governance of the Church has never lacked drama: and today we are at a moment when the anxious defence of her (real or imagined) glorious past clashes particularly sharply with prophecies of doom if she does not modernise at once. But change of some sort, almost certainly momentous, has now become inevitable.

The reason? The rapidly decreasing number of celibate male priests in most Western countries. In Ireland, for example, the average age of priests is pushing 70. What will happen when the last priest in a diocese dies or leaves? 

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