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25% of Ireland’s Catholic priests will age out in next 15 years

IRISH CROSS

Jennifer Boyer | CC BY 2.0

J-P Mauro - published on 11/08/22

The data, which shows only 2.5% of Irish priests are below the age of 40, has people wondering how the clergy will handle the work load.

A survey taken by Ireland’s Association for Catholic Priests (ACP) has revealed that about a quarter of the nation’s clergymen will reach or surpass the age of 75 within the next 15 years. Furthermore, it was found that only an estimated 2.5% of active Catholic priests in Ireland are below the age of 40. The data was shared at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), in October.

Retirement

While a Catholic diocesan priest is allowed to seek retirement at 70, those who are able and willing to continue are encouraged to maintain their ministries until 75. In Ireland, however, the shortage of priests and seminarians has resulted in a general understanding that all priests will continue their duties until the maximum age. This can be surmised by the ACP’s data, which only referenced 75 as the age of retirement. 

In fact, many Irish priests are continuing their ministries beyond the maximum age of retirement. The Tablet reports that ACP members were informed that of the country’s 2,100 working priests, 300 (15%) of them are above the age of 75. In the group aged 61 to 75, who will be reaching the age of retirement within the next 15 years, there are 547 (~26%) active priests. 

It is also suggested that those priests who have reached or are approaching retirement age are sorely overworked. The 847 (41%) Irish priests aged from 61 to 75 or above are tending to the flocks of 1,355 parishes and 2,652 churches or Mass centers across Ireland. This suggests that many of the longest serving priests are pulling double duties, and serving in multiple churches per week.

Younger priests

The Catholic dioceses of Ireland may know how many priests they stand to lose in the next 15 years, but they don’t seem to have a clear plan to replenish the ranks. Among all 26 dioceses of Ireland, the study found that only 52 (less than 2.5%) of active priests are below the age of 40. The figures don’t get any better at the seminary level, as there are only 47 seminarians studying to enter the clergy at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth. 

The ACP warned that the Church in Ireland needs to prepare for the priest shortage to get worse in the years to come. They noted that some Irish dioceses seem to be ignoring the problem, choosing to place more work on the shoulders of priests beyond the age of retirement.

Speaking to The Tablet, ACP spokesman Fr. Tim Hazelwood said: “We know it is going to happen. If these priests are no longer working, who will do the work?”

Tags:
Catholic ChurchIrelandPriest
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