The Catholic Church in Ireland is planning a radical overhaul of its parish structures to ease pressure on its shrinking and ageing body of clergy, the Independent reports.
Bishops must cope with a vastly smaller number of vocations, a falling number of priests, and the ageing of available priests.
The reform aims to reduce the workload on clergy to allow them to focus on ministering the Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick. It will enhance community and laity involvement in church operations.
In 2006 there were only 30 men studying for the priesthood in Ireland, compared to 176 male vocations in 1981. In 1995 there were 3,659 diocesan priests. Their numbers declined to 3,078 in 2006.
The Diocese of Cork and Ross, whose 68 parishes serve almost 250,000 Catholics, will be revised into 16 pastoral zones. Twenty-five percent of Cork’s 118 priests are already aged 65 or over, while more than half the priests with full-time appointments are over 55 years old.
Changes across the nation include staggered Mass times to allow priests to cover several parishes, greater involvement of the laity in non-sacramental Church functions and pastoral care, and dedicated administrators to ease bureaucratic burdens on parish priests.
John Buckley, Bishop of Cork and Ross, said the reforms were part of the Church’s constant adaptation to local cultures.
"The Church has always adapted to changing cultures, whether it is 5th Century Ireland, 16th Century South America or 20th Century Africa. The reality is that there is no culture that is impervious to the Gospel," Bishop Buckley said, according to the Independent.
"We are challenged to find new pathways for our pilgrim journey -- new ways of communicating the faith to young and old, new structures that will enable us to make Christ present in the home and in the marketplace."