While the church is still at the heart of Irish parishes, they are not as strong as they once were according to Rev Dr Eugene Duffy, the editor of Parishes in Transition.
He warned that the end of parishes is imminent, unless creative thinking emerges on the shortage of priests.
“There is significant change afoot. The cohort of Catholic priests is ageing and declining, so soon many will no longer have a resident priest. This will mark a dramatic change in a country that once had one of the best ratios of priests to parishioners,” he wrote in the Irish Times.
The parish is about people rather than territory, buildings or clergy, the emphasis is on the community. If people want to contribute to the redevelopment of parish life then they must reflect “seriously on their faith”.
The decline in the numbers attending seminaries in Ireland has been substantial over the past ten years however Fr Duffy insists that the true impact is not yet evident.
“The real shortage of priests has not yet impacted on Ireland. When it does, more radical solutions must be addressed.”
The decrease in the number of parish priests will see the layperson take on a greater role within the parish.
“A deacon or lay person alone may exercise the leadership of the parish under the direction of a priest. Often, a priest may only be available to a parish to celebrate the sacraments,” he said.
Ireland faces two main challenges says Fr Duffy. “Priests and parishioners will have to be re-educated to engage with these realities. Secondly, parishes will have to be prepared to generate the funding to finance this change. Neither task is to be underestimated,” he reflected.
These issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later, “if the parish as a viable reality is to be sustained,” he concluded.