An Irish priest has said that the ban on married and female priests is driving young people away from the Church.

Driving the news

“As long as they hold onto a male, celibate priesthood, it’s not going to encourage younger people to become involved. You need younger leaders in the Church”, Father Roy Donovan, of the Association of Catholic Priests, said in comments reported by the Independent.

“Young people in their 20s and 30s need to see their age group involved. [They need to see priests] using their language and relating to their experiences”, Donovan explained.

The priest added that reserving the priesthood to an “elite group” of celibate men is sending out the wrong message to coming generations, whom he said could not related to “grey and white” priests.

“We’re sending out the wrong message, that religion and Christianity is only for older people. That’s sad, really”, Donovan deplored.

“It’s not good having all older people leading liturgies or leading Masses because when young people don’t see any of their own age group involved and they don’t know any priests anymore, the connections become weakened”.

Why it matters

Donovan was responding to the latest round of cuts to Sunday Masses in Ireland, announced last week by Ossory Bishop Dermot Farrell, who is reducing weekly services by a third, from 140 to 92.

Farrell said he was scaling down on Masses in the diocese – which takes in most of County Kilkenny and parts of Counties Laois and Offaly – because a surplus of churches had led to a shortage in resources.

“[The churches] were built in a different era when there were very poor roads and no transport, so people had to walk to Church and you had far more going”, Farrell explained.

“Practically everybody has access to a car. We’re celebrating Mass in these churches with small congregations. Therefore, you have a shortage of resources.

“You need Ministers of the Eucharist, you need readers, you need collectors. It doesn’t make sense to be splintering these things across multiple Masses that you don’t actually need to accommodate people”, the bishop said, adding that it was possible that not all of Ossory’s 42 parishes would continue to offer Sunday Masses in the future.

What’s next

Farrell was sceptical even ordaining married men would halt the Church’s decline, noting that there is hardly a surplus of men with families present in the pews.

But Donovan – who is in contrast in favour of married and women priests – said the desertion is only likely to continue, and worsen.

“There is a massive amount of churches, but some communities have no priests, which is going to happen more and more. That’s going to lead to churches closing and that’s sad”, Donovan lamented.

“We won’t certainly in the future be providing Mass in every church on Sunday”, the priest warned.

For the record

At its Annual General Meeting last month, the ACP – which represents over 1,000 priests in Ireland – said the Church needed to put more effort into meeting the needs of the members.

“This is what ministry is about and it’s irrelevant as to the gender, martial status, etc. of the minster”, ACP members reflected.

The Association also called for a rethinking of Holy Orders as currently constituted, since instead of raising more people to ordination, whether men or women, the Church should return to the common priesthood of all believers.

That point aside, the ACP did express its belief that the “ordination of women will come as there is now an unstoppable momentum concerning equality and the rights of women”.

That move to include women will come thanks to the “bottom up” change currently being wrought in the Church by the adoption of a widespread “synodal approach”, Association members said.

Next on Novena:

For Irish priest, “the clerical Church is dying and it’s not such a tragedy”

Irish seminary heads defy Vatican ban, welcome (celibate) gay men to priesthood