A leading County Derry priest predicts that in less than 15 years “at least a dozen parishes” in his diocese could have no parish priests. His calculations were made after examining the considerable reduction in the numbers of men entering the priesthood in recent years.

Father Michael Canny, the Templemore administrator and the diocese media liaison officer observed that in 1990 the diocese had just under 150 priests. Now there are 50 parish priests, 22 curates (under the age of 75) and 14 retired priests who “help out”.

Put simply he explained to the Derry Journal that his diocese is running out of priests. By 2025 there will only be 41 priests in the diocese of Templemore under the age of 75.

Canny said “In that scenario, given that some will be involved in hospital and other specialized ministries, we will have at least a dozen parishes without a resident priest.”

The numbers of Catholics attending Mass has also plummeted over the last decade. Canny said “We estimate that in rural or country areas attendances are no more than 35 percent generally while in the city areas the attendance are as low as 10 percent.

“So maybe in 15 years time 40 priests in active ministry in the diocese will be more than enough in proportion to the numbers who will be worshipping regularly.”

The priest also said that Mass-goers will “no doubt” be shocked by the news that they will have no fulltime parish priest. He added “That said I am of the opinion that when the Bishop announces that a parish is to be without a resident priest there will be pandemonium.”

He continued to say that the identity of “the parish” and the presence of the parish priest “have been part of the Irish thinking” for many generations in Ireland’s history.