A priest in a church

Irish bishop cuts Masses by a third, says sceptical even married priests can plug vocations drain

An Irish bishop is cutting Masses in his diocese by a third in an effort to strengthen and enliven parishes in the face of the vocations crisis.

Driving the news

The Irish Catholic revealed Thursday that Bishop of Ossory Dermot Farrell has decided to cut Sunday Masses in the diocese from December 1 from 140 to 92.

The paper said the change would help ease the burden on stressed-out priests.

But Farrell told the publication, too, that the cut in Masses is also designed to pool talent and resources.

“We can’t keep multiplying the number of Masses, that doesn’t make for good liturgy”, the bishop said to The Irish Catholic.

He added that the other issue is “if you have a small congregation: having multiple small congregations can be demoralising, it’s much better from the point of view of people who walk into a church that there’s a decent congregation there”.

Go deeper

Farrell rejected the idea that parishioners in Ossory would oppose the new Mass schedule, and insisted that the changes had been worked out in “many conversations” with the faithful.

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“I think it will be challenging, and it is challenging at the moment. I can’t see that changing rapidly, there’s not going to be an exponential increase in vocations”, the bishop acknowledged.

“We’re trying to speak to that, we’re reading the signs of the times and trying to respond to that as best we can”.

Why it matters

Ireland, like many other countries around the world, is currently experiencing a vocations drought, with the nation’s main seminary accepting last year just five new candidates for the priesthood.

Farrell, who is the former president of that seminary – Maynooth – said that married priests were a possible solution to the vocations crisis, but that the problem in the Church really runs deeper.

“I think that [married priests] is a possibility yes, certainly something that could be considered in the future, but… you still have the problem: where are they going to come from?”, the bishop told The Irish Catholic.

“It is a faith issue fundamentally”, Farrell explained.

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“If you look at the shortage of vocations the issue there is the faith, because people say ‘why don’t we ordain married men?’ But if you look down the church on a Sunday, you say ‘well where are they going to come from?’

“It’s not going to be solved by just ordaining married men or even deacons. You look down the church and say ‘well where are the deacons going to come out of?’ It is a crisis of faith we’re dealing with fundamentally”.

For the record

Although the bishops at last month’s Amazon Synod in the Vatican voted to call on Pope Francis to consider the ordination of married men to the priesthood, Farrell said the Synod conclusions were not directly transferable to Ireland.

The Amazon, the bishop said, is “a completely different reality to what we have”.

“In the Amazon, you have whole tracks of territory the size of Ireland with one priest. We’re a long, long, long way from there.

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“We do not at the moment have a shortage of priests, what we have is a surplus of infrastructure and we can’t go on maintaining that infrastructure or providing services in all of it as we have here before – nor indeed do we need to.

“I suppose our problem is not the shortage of priests: the bigger issue is that we have far more infrastructure than we need”, Farrell concluded.

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