Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin
Twenty-seven Catholic priests are now over the age of 75 in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, with 12 over 80 years of age.
These startling figures were revealed by Bishop Denis Nulty in a letter to parishioners at masses across the county last Sunday.
“Our major challenge is the falling number of priests. At present there are 90 priests ministering in our diocese: 27 of them are over 75. This stark figure reminds us that a radical reappraisal of what a parish community should be, how it should be organised, co-ordinated, funded and ministered, if necessary,” he said.
The Bishop is planning a number of meetings to discuss these challenges. The priest per population ratio in the diocese has increased by 46% since 2006 with one priest per 3,462 people. However, it is thought that figure is higher in the dioscese’s Kildare parishes.
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There are three deaneries — or clusters of parishes — in the diocese with Kildare falling under the umbrella of the Kildare and Leighlin North Deanery. Fr Paul Dempsey who is vicar of North Deanery and parish priest of Newbridge, points out Kildare parishes have a higher population compared to other areas in Laois and Carlow.
“If you look at Newbridge parish, it takes in Caragh and Prosperous and then you have Naas which includes Sallins and Two Mile House, you would have 50,000 people alone,” he said.
However, he is positive about the process and about lay people getting more involved in church administration.
“It’s about people taking responsibility in their own parishes and bringing the church into the future,” he said.
Fr Dempsey said each deanery faced different challenges with Kildare (north deanery) having more churches than other areas in the diocese.
There are 31 churches in Kildare with 33 priests (some retired).
Bishop Nulty warned parishoners that they could expect changes to religious services provided by priests.
“There will be changes for lay people who, for example, are perhaps used to having a Mass at a certain time and place. A revision of Mass times, funeral times, wedding and baptism times are obvious issues in our diocese, as is the ongoing viability of some churches in lesser populated areas continuing to have weekly Mass.”
In his letter the Bishop said; “There will be a meeting of all the priests in the three deanery areas during May, leading to a meeting in Mount St. Anne’s on June 20 for priests, involved lay people from each parish, religious and permanent deacons,” he said.
Further meetings are planned in the autumn to which all parishioners are invited.
The average age of priests in the diocese has risen from 56 in 2006 to 67 today.
There are currently eight deacons working in the diocese with four more due to be ordained in three years time.
At present there are 44 lay people on parish pastoral councils, 33 on baptism teams, 21 in liturgy groups and 11 parish funeral ministry teams. A total of 1,181 lay people serve on primary school boards of management.
A growing trend has seen priests return from the missions or priests from other countries coming to Ireland to take up their duties.
At present, there are five priests from abroad working in the diocese.