According to various reports the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference will discuss radical new proposals to tackle the vocations crisis – including the ordination of women and inviting back men who left the priesthood to marry.
A spokesman for the ACP told the Irish Independent: “There is a train coming down the track and in 10-20 years’ time it is going to absolutely devastate the Irish Catholic Church unless we have a strategy in place to prepare for it.”
According to Fr Brendan Hoban, a solution cannot be achieved “on a male-only basis”.
Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe, Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway and Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, who met with the ACP recently, agreed to convey the group’s concerns and proposals to the full conference of the Catholic bishops at their meeting next week in Maynooth.
The ACP has also requested their proposals be brought to the attention of the Vatican.
According to Fr Hoban, the issue of clustering a number of parishes under one priest is causing “huge concern among priests”.
“Many see it as loading more work rather than less work on them as they get older,” the ACP spokesman warned
He told the Irish Independent that the bishops’ strategy of praying for vocations, inviting young men to consider the priesthood and clustering parishes is a short-term solution and won’t solve the “crisis”.
“This is a critical situation and the church won’t be able to provide Mass for people due to the scarcity of priests.”
The ACP leadership also warned that “women of faith are more and more distancing themselves from the Catholic Church” because it seems unable to integrate their gifts into its wider service.
Fr Hoban told the bishops that there has been a priest in his Co Mayo parish of Moygowagh since the 8th century but, if things continue the way they are going, he will be the last priest to serve that parish.
Currently, there are over 30 priests in parish work in his diocese of Killala.
“In 15 to 20 years’ time we will have seven and most of those will be in their 60s or 70s,” he warned.
During the meeting, the ACP also drew the bishops’ attention to the findings of a new survey, which polled Irish priests on the new translation of the missal, which was introduced by Rome in 2012.
Over 60pc of priests said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the missal. Over 80pc want it revised or replaced. The use of “obscure and sexist language” was “heavily criticised”.
The ACP also told the representatives of the Irish hierarchy that its members were “very unhappy” with the way the Vatican’s watchdog on orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), had treated a number of priests in Ireland.