There are barely enough priests to preach in Dublin's 199 parishes.

According to Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who spoke about the challenges the Church faces at Dublin's Pro-Cathedral on Saturday, “We have 46 priests over 80 and only two less than 35 years of age. In a very short time we will just have the bare number of priests required to have one active priest for each of our 199 parishes."

Highlighting that an aging clergy was the biggest challenge the Church faced, he said that priests over 70 years of age outnumbered priests under 40 by 10 to one.

Several members of the clergy have voiced their concerns about the declining number of priests in recent months.

Father Brendan Hoban, parish priest at St. Muredach's Cathedral in Ballina, County Mayo, said there will be only eight priests out of the current 34 with only two or three of them under the age of 60.

"The difficult truth is that priests will have effectively disappeared in Ireland in two to three decades," Hoban said.

Martin also hinted at having to ration Masses if the problem worsens.

“The future will require different structures and different planning,” he said. “Parishes will have to work more closely with each other and share facilities. The number of Masses will have to be rationed. Some of these changes will cause pain.”

Ireland was renowned for having a massive priest population, but since the 1980s there has been a marked decline in those wishing to join the priesthood. The revelations of child abuse and the issue of celibacy have contributed to a lack of interest in the priesthood and a declining congregation.

Acknowledging that the child abuse scandals have had a detrimental effect on the Church's congregation, Martin says the Church has “to repent for the failings of its own members who betrayed their mission of shepherd.

“Shepherds have failed through a sheer lukewarmness, through negligence, through lack of real commitment to Jesus and His message. The abuse of children is a heinous crime, especially when it was perpetrated by those entrusted with the mission of the Good Shepherd.

“The Church and its institutions must repent, but that repentance must result in renewal, and in a renewal which may not produce conformity and symbioses with the thought patterns of the day,” he said.