At the direction of Pope Francis, a number of changes were announced for diocesean leadership and organization of the Catholic Church in the West of Ireland on Wednesday, April 10.

Two dioceses in Ireland - Killala and Anchory - will no longer have a bishop and could be absorbed by other dioceses in the West.

“To meet the evolving needs of the Church in the ecclesiastical Province of Tuam, it is necessary to envisage a gradual process of reorganisation, which will, it is hoped, give added impetus and vitality to the communities concerned,” Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, said during a Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, Co Galway on Wednesday.

“Today, His Holiness Pope Francis has appointed the Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop Francis Duffy, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Killala, and he has likewise appointed the Bishop of Elphin, Bishop Kevin Doran, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Achonry.

“Due to the retirement of Bishop John Fleming, by reason of age, and due to the episcopal reassignment of Bishop Paul Dempsey, who will now become Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Dublin, the Dioceses of Killala and Achonry have become vacant Episcopal Sees entrusted to the pastoral care of their respective Apostolic Administrator.

“In due time, and following careful assessment and consultation, the present Dioceses of Tuam and Killala on the one hand, and Elphin and Achonry on the other, may be governed by one Bishop in each case, just as the Dioceses of Galway and Clonfert are today governed by one Bishop.

“If this process evolves still further, the associated Dioceses may then merge fully under their Bishop, and, in this way, the six Dioceses in the Province of Tuam will eventually become three.”

As the Irish Independent notes, the Catholic Church on the island of Ireland is divided into 26 dioceses, the boundaries of which have remained essentially unchanged since the 12th century.

Some ecclesiastical experts have called for a streamlining of this number in light of falling mass attendance and the decline in vocations.

Discussing the changes, Archbishop of Tuam Francis Duffy told RTÉ Radio on Wednesday: “It is a new development but it’s not a sudden development.

"This has been talked about for quite some time among bishops and among people in parishes, pastoral councils, and so on.

“It’s really the Catholic Church in the West of Ireland, and in Ireland, responding to the signs of the times, looking at what we have, our resources, our structures, and are these adequate for the situation in which we find ourselves.

“We feel that these changes are important and valuable and will allow us to continue into the 21st century, in the West of Ireland in particular, responding to those challenges.”

When asked if the changes are a prelude to some of the dioceses in the West of Ireland being united, Duffy said: “Yes, well, the aim is that eventually the dioceses will be united and we move towards that in various stages.

“There already has been quite an amount of consultation between the Apostolic Nuncio and bishops, and priests, and representatives of the laity. That has been going on for a year or so and that consultation has resulted in what has happened today.”

Duffy added that he felt the announcements were “good news” and that he was “hopeful” about them.

“It is a good sign of the Church, particularly in the West of Ireland, responding to the needs of the times, pooling our resources, and trying to provide as good of services as we can to the people.”

Last year, Ireland's Central Statistics Office (CSO) published data gathered during Ireland's 2022 Census that showed the percentage of the Irish population who identified as Roman Catholic fell from 79% (3,696,644 people) in 2016 to 69% (3,515,861 people) in 2022.

Despite the decline, Roman Catholicism remained far and away the most popular religion in the Irish State, according to the 2022 Census, with more than 3.5 million respondents saying it is their religion.

The Catholic News Agency separately reported last year that there were 2,116 priests serving a total of 2,650 churches in Ireland, while more than a third of the priests in the country were over the age of 60.