Two Nigerian priests will arrive in Ireland this autumn to serve in the Catholic diocese of Kilmore as vocations in the country continue to dwindle.

The priests have been invited by Bishop Leo O’Reilly who has also suggested the possibility of married priests and female deacons in an attempt to combat the dwindling numbers.

Speaking to Shannonside Radio, Bishop O’Reilly said, “There was a time when we sent missionaries to Nigeria, now the wheel has come full circle and they are sending missionaries back to us.”

The diocese of Kilmore, which includes almost all of Co. Cavan, as well as parts of Leitrim, Fermanagh, Meath and Sligo, recently launched its pastoral plan for 2015 t0 2020, in which it outlined its plan to cope with the continual falling number in vocations.

The plan outlines that Bishop O’Reilly will “liaise with the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference to explore the establishment of a commission akin to the one in Brazil under the leadership of Bishop Erwin Kräutler and Cardinal Claudio Hummes to study the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood as well as appointing women deacons.”

“This is a direct response to Pope Francis’s words to Bishop Kräutler that ‘the bishops, the regional bishops’ conferences, should make brave, courageous suggestions’.”

The plan also confirmed the dangerously low number of priests, especially younger priests in the area, confirming the need for some kind of reform to boost numbers once again. Of the 77 priests in the diocese, a massive 52 are over the age of 60. Just four priests are under 40 with 10 coming in under 50 years of age and the remaining 25 under 60 years old.

The plan was compiled following an 18-month listening survey throughout the diocese which was further discussed at a two-day diocesan assembly late last year. Speaking of the low figures the plan reveals, Fr Enda Murphy, diocesan director of pastoral services and youth ministry, said “the tectonic plates of faith and culture have shifted and the ground which once appeared so solid under our feet has been shaken.”

Bishop O’Reilly is not the first to suggest the introduction of married or female priests. Following disappointing figures revealed by the Vatican library in the summer of 2014, leading cleric Fr Brendan Hoban suggested that Irish priests will have virtually disappeared in 20 years time unless the Church considered married clergy members and female clerics.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number serving as diocesan priests in Ireland dropped by 13 per cent (from 3,203 in 2002 to 2,800) and Irish nuns dropped by 23 per cent (8,953 in 2002 to 6,912).

Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) leadership team said at the time, “The crisis is now mathematically certain. If we keep going the way we are, the future of the Irish priesthood is now unsustainable.”

In a three-point strategy, Fr Hoban suggested “that we can ordain married men of proven responsibility and virtue, there are thousands available in the parishes of Ireland.

“Secondly we can invite priests who left the priesthood to get married to return to ministry. Many would be happy to respond to the call.

“Thirdly, we could extend to women ordination to the permanent diaconate.

“However we knew we were pressing buttons that the bishops would prefer we left untouched, he continued. “If the bishops don’t bite the bullet on this one, we will really know who is to blame.

“Doing nothing is not just irresponsible but a counsel of despair. Denial is no longer an option.”

H/T: The Irish Times.

Bishop Leo O'Reilly invited two Nigerian priests to serve in Ireland to combat dwindling numbers.Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland