The Catholic Church in Ireland has denied reports it is about to allow services to be conducted by lay people in an effort to solve the drop-off in priest numbers.
The Irish Catholic newspaper has claimed that the church hierarchy have drawn up plans to allow parishes to hold Sunday services led by lay people due to a lack of priests.
The paper’s lead story claims: “The Catholic bishops are drawing up radical new plans for parishes to hold Sunday services led by lay people, as more and more communities are set to be left without a priest for the first time.”
The article continues: “A ‘discussion document’ will be circulated to senior Church leaders in coming weeks, which will set out plans for what parishioners can do when there is no priest to say Mass.
“Lay people will be expected to take a lead role. However, married deacons, eight of whom have already been ordained, will also coordinate liturgies in the absence of a priest.”
A spokesman for the Church has since rubbished the story in an article printed by the Irish Times.
The spokesman told the Irish Times in a statement: “The claim that Sunday services would be led by lay people is incorrect.
“Rather, over the last number of years, in relation to weekday liturgy when Mass is not celebrated, bishops have been discussing this important issue.
“In these discussions there is a distinction between the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist on a Sunday, and Eucharist celebrated on a weekday.
“Bishops are always concerned to ensure the adequate provision of opportunities for communities to gather for worship, especially in the aftermath of this year’s International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland and given the centrality of the Eucharist to the Catholic faith.
“In the absence of a priest to preside at the celebration of the Mass, the church still gathers to worship God.”
The Irish Catholic article also stated that a spokeswoman for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin had confirmed to the newspaper that Dr Martin had not given permission for a nun to lead a Communion service in a Co Wicklow parish last weekend ‘when no priest turned up’.
The newspaper quoted a spokeswoman as saying the incident was ‘unprecedented’ and a ‘one-off event’.