Fr. Roy Donovan, a spokesman for the ACP, told IrishCentral in May that besides the priests who are speaking up, he believes many more elderly churchmen are suffering in silence, and don’t know where to go for help.
The factors for the crisis in morale and mental health are several-fold, priests have said.
Like much of the world, Ireland, once a thriving Catholic country, is facing a serious vocations crisis. In 2004, Ireland had more than 3,100 priests. By 2014, the last year data is available, the number had declined by more than 500, with 2,627 priests in the country, though the number of active priests is likely closer to just 1,900.
This shortage leads to a phenomenon called clustering, where several parishes are combined into one for lack of leadership, increasing priests’ workload and subsequent stress, and forcing many priests to work well beyond retirement years because of the lack of new vocations.
“These men lived through a time when there were plenty of vocations and their churches were full at Mass, so there's a loss of esteem. Also, in the past they would have had live-in housekeepers. Now most don't and are on their own and so feeling a lot more isolated and lonely, as well as feeling nervous and more vulnerable,” Fr. Brendan Hoban, one of the founders of ACP, said during a meeting in November 2016.
Also, starting in the 1990s, the Catholic Church in Ireland was rocked by a sex abuse scandal that resulted in a massive decline in both vocations and in the faith of the laypeople.
Priests reported being disheartened by the declining faith in the people they serve, “who have so little contact with the church from First Communions to funerals,” according to minutes from the meetings.
Priests’ confidence “has been eroded when we see so many people going through the motions of faith,” they said.
Recently, the Church in Ireland has also been rocked by negative press regarding the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, and the Sisters there “did a disservice by not clarifying exactly what happened. They need to do so immediately. It makes our job impossible, especially as we face a storm on abortion next year,” the priests noted at a meeting.
Their requests included the hiring of a media person who could speak clearly for clergy and bishops in times of crisis. The country is also facing an ongoing, heated debate about whether or not to legalize abortion.
The priests also acknowledged that they need to be better about asking for help when they need it.
“We need to unmask and say ‘I need help!’ There is a great sense of ‘being alone,’ making our own way in the diocese. There is a lack of dialogue among priests in the diocese. Yet, people are fantastic and generous in parishes, if given half-a-chance.”
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.