17 January 2022, The Tablet

New plans to improve treatment of clergy

New plans to improve treatment of clergy

The bishops of Ireland, pictured here on pilgrimage to the international Eucharistic and Marian Shrine in Knock last November.
John McElroy

The Association of Catholic Priests has said it is hoping to work with the four archdioceses in the Irish Church to set up a structure to deal with priests’ complaints about bishops’ treatment of clergy. 

Spokesman for the ACP, Fr Tim Hazelwood, told the Tablet that what the association was asking for and working towards was establishing a system for engaging with the problems highlighted to the group by priests. 

Last November the leadership of the ACP issued a statement in which they warned that some priests are being bullied by some bishops. The issue was discussed at the ACP’s AGM, which also addressed the fact that many priests are working long past the normal retirement age of 75.

“On the ground, priests who are older are being asked to take on extra parishes. I don't think that is fair. Some are enthusiastically doing it, but realistically, they are told to do it. It is playing on their generosity,” Fr Hazelwood said. 

He told The Tablet that the new structure might take the form of a dedicated committee in each archdioceses. This committee could be made up of a representative of the diocese, such as a canon lawyer, as well as a human resources expert or mediator, and a lay person. The priest would meet the group and collectively they would try and resolve the problem, rather than the priest having to face the bishop by himself. 

“The problem is that the priest has nobody with him when he meets the bishop and we are not entitled to have a union,” Fr Hazelwood explained.  

He said the ACP would also welcome a central national database which would show transparently the reality of the number of priests working in Irish dioceses and their age profile. 

“You can’t prepare for the future unless you know what the figures are and what the reality is. We would gladly welcome the publication of these figures and parishioners deserve to know as well. It would be transparent.” 

He warned that the shortage of priests and the ageing profile of clergy is going to hit the Church in Ireland “like a brick” in the next few years. 

The parish priest of Killeagh-Inch in Co Cork said, “a huge overhaul” needs to happen otherwise, “the whole thing is going to crumble around us” because of declining numbers. “It is going to become a crisis.” 

Separately, a report published by the Irish Examiner newspaper has claimed that over 20 per cent of priests and Religious in Ireland died over a three-year period. 

According to the statistics, 174 nuns and 166 priests and brothers died in 2019 and a further 191 nuns and 223 priests and brothers died in 2020. 

In 2014, the number of serving diocesan priests was officially recorded as 2,067 and by the end of 2018, there were an estimated 1,800 serving priests and around 720 retired priests, some of which were helping out for holiday and sickness cover.

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