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Numbers of active priests in Ireland have fallen by some 16 per cent in six years, according to the latest report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
The new figures show that there are 2,050 active clergy serving a Catholic population of 4,635,178 in Ireland, which averages out as one priest for every 2,261 Catholics.
In 2007, a report by the Council for Research and Development, a commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, showed there were 2,464 active diocesan priests in 25 out of the 26 dioceses of Ireland.
Against the backdrop of the latest figures, the Association of Catholic Priests has chosen “Priestless Parishes: What Pope Francis Needs to be Told” as the theme of its annual general meeting in October. It will examine the present crisis in priest numbers as well as current strategies for maintaining access to the Eucharist.
Despite the decline, Fr Willie Purcell, the National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations in Ireland, said there seems to be “a new awakening in vocation discernment and awareness at the moment”. He said the number of students entering the seminary at Maynooth is increasing along with enquiries about the priesthood.
In Fr Purcell’s own diocese of Ossory, where the last ordination to the priesthood took place in 2001, there are currently four men discerning vocations to the priesthood and one man who will be ordained to the diaconate this summer.
Meanwhile, figures from the safeguarding office show that 164 allegations against secular priests and Religious were received for the period April 2013 to the end of March 2014, with most of the alleged incidents occurring between 1960 and 1990. The figure is down from last year’s total of 242.