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Demands on priests ‘not sustainable’


PREPARING FOR CHANGE Fr John Kenny.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Changes to Mass schedules due across the county

Oisín McGovern

A PRIEST who ministers on Clare Island and Inishturk has said the current demands on priests are ‘not sustainable’.
Fr John Kenny, Parish Priest of Partry and Tuar Mhic Éadaigh, was speaking after it emerged that Clare Island will not have a priest to say Mass over the Christmas period.
This year, as it has done for several years, lay people on the island will lead church ceremonies on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.
Priest-led ceremonies are held on the island on three out of four weeks of the month on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Its last resident priest left the parish in 2001.
Fr Kenny, who organises a rota of priests who minister on Clare Island and Inishturk, said there will be more amalgamations of parishes as the number of priests continue to dwindle.
“It’s not sustainable. At the moment we have two students in college studying [for the priesthood]. As we’re aging, we’re getting older, and as we’re getting older we naturally won’t be as able to cover as many duties as we did in the past,” Fr Kenny told The Mayo News.
At present, the Tuam diocese has 41 diocesan priests under the retirement age of 75 working in 56 parishes.

Ceremonies ‘reimagined’
In his Advent pastoral letter, Archbishop of Tuam Francis Duffy said that church ceremonies in the diocese would need to be ‘reimagined’ to cope with the declining numbers.
It is understood that there are churches throughout Mayo that will have priests officiating at Mass on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, but not both.
Fr Kenny said that lifelong celibacy was one reason for the declining numbers of men joining the priesthood.
“It would appear to me that a life of commitment to celibacy is a difficulty for some. It’s too daunting to take on,” he said.
Fr Kenny said that allowing more lay people to get involved in ceremonies would be ‘a way forward’.
Three permanent deacons - James McLoughlin, Cathal Galligan and Julian Drapiewski - were ordained by former Archbishop Michael Neary at a ceremony in Tuam last November.
“A lay ministry seems to be a way forward for many. There’s also the option of deacons, but we have some married clergy, deacons with family commitments,” Fr Kenny said.
“The ordained priesthood seems to be harder and harder to be able to take on. That commitment is too much for the modern generations.”

Westport Mass times
Elsewhere, it has emerged that Westport will temporarily only hold one Sunday Mass service at 11am instead of a 10am and 12 noon service.
Westport Parish Priest Fr Charlie McDonnell told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday) that the arrangement will last until summer at least. Midweek masses are unaffected by the change.
Mass in Lecanvey church will move from Sunday morning to 8pm on Saturday evening as part of changes to the Masses in the Westport deanery.
Fr McDonnell said consultation would take place with local parish councils regarding how the deanery will operate with less priests.
There are currently seven priests under the age of 75 serving the Westport deanery, which includes Keem, Killeen and Louisburgh, Newport, Islandeady, Kilmeena, Westport and Aughagower.
Newly-appointed deacon James McLoughlin can officiate at weddings and baptism ceremonies in the Westport and Castlebar deaneries.
Fr McDonnell said that the Westport deanery will remain reliant on the ‘phenomenal’ work being carried by lay people.
“We’ll be operating with less priests going forward. There’s no question about that,” Fr McDonnell said.
“We now have to look at what the plan will be and how best to utilise the number of priests we have. So I would envisage that that will mean changes in churches. What those changes are, that’s only going to come about as a result of a process that’s going to take place in the next six months.
“There’s no question about it, there’s going to be rationalisation,” he added.
“What that rationalisation is going to look like very much depends on how we basically plan things and how we see things going forward, that’s the reality. We’re at the start of a process, rather than the middle or the end of it.”

Future changes
Fr Mike Murphy told The Mayo News that future changes to the running of churches will require ‘a lot of planning’.
“Sadly, there aren’t enough young priests coming through. That’s an awful shame that there aren’t more. But what can we do if they are not there except to do something different,” said Fr Murphy, who is Parish Priest of Robeen, Roundfort and Carras.
“It’ll be a different church, it will be a different way of looking at things.
“I’d be hopeful for the future, I’m always hopeful and I’d be hopeful that whatever takes place in the future will be something wonderful too,” he added.
“It’ll be very different to what’s there today. But that mightn’t be any harm. It’s hard to know.”


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