The data, which shows that just 2.5% of Irish priests are under 40, has people wondering how the clergy will handle the workload.
A survey by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has revealed that around a quarter of the country’s clergy will reach or exceed the age of 75 within the next 15 years. Furthermore, it has been found that only around 2.5% of active Catholic priests in Ireland are under the age of 40. The data was shared at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in October.
While a Catholic diocesan priest is allowed to retire at age 70, those who are able and willing to continue are encouraged to maintain their ministry until age 75. In Ireland, however, the shortage of priests and seminarians has resulted in a general understanding that all priests will continue in office until the maximum age. This can be inferred from the CPA data, which only referred to 75 as the retirement age.
In fact, many Irish priests continue their ministry beyond the maximum retirement age. The tablet pays that ACP members have been informed that of the 2,100 active priests in the country, 300 (15%) of them are over 75 years old. In the 61-75 age group, which will reach retirement age within the next 15 years, there are 547 (~26%) active priests.
It is also suggested that priests who have reached or are approaching retirement age are cruelly overworked. Ireland’s 847 (41%) priests aged 61 to 75 or over care for flocks in 1,355 parishes and 2,652 churches or mass centers across Ireland. This suggests that many of the senior priests hold dual office and serve in several churches per week.
Ireland’s Catholic dioceses may know how many priests they stand to lose over the next 15 years, but they don’t seem to have a clear plan to replenish the ranks. Of Ireland’s 26 dioceses, the study found that only 52 (less than 2.5%) of active priests are under the age of 40. The numbers are not improving at the seminary level, as there are only 47 seminarians studying to enter the clergy at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
The ACP has warned that the Church in Ireland must be prepared for the shortage of priests to worsen in the years to come. They noted that some Irish dioceses seem to ignore the problem, choose to place more work on the shoulders of priests beyond retirement age.
Talk to tablet, ACP spokesman Fr. Tim Hazelwood said, “We know this is going to happen. If these priests no longer work, who will do the work?