A stark warning has been issued by some of Ireland’s leading voices in the Catholic church. The message is clear it’s time to start ordaining married men before the church is left without priests to say mass.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said the ordination of married men could be part of the answer to the massive shortage of priests which is about to "afflict the church in Ireland".
The International Catholic News Weekly reported recently that Pope Francis said married men could be ordained – if world's bishops agree.
A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way.
According to Bishop Erwin Krautler of Brazil, Pope Francis appeared open to the idea of changing the rules on mandatory celibacy for priests in view of the shortage of priests in many communities.
Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities.
“The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation.”
In its statement, the Association of Catholic Priests warned that the crisis in vocations also demanded "strong leadership" from the bishops here in Ireland to ensure that priest numbers were adequate to meet the needs of the people.
They called on the Irish hierarchy to respond "with courage and conviction" to the possibility of ordaining married men.
The ACP, which represents more than 1,000 priests in Ireland, warned that within the next two decades priest numbers in Ireland would plummet, with a tiny, aging cohort of clergy struggling to say Mass in multiple parishes.
"This narrow window of opportunity of ordaining married men, of proven faith, wisdom and quality of life needs to be grasped with vigour and imagination," the priests' group warned.