Radical plan will see Masses cut by 1/3
Unveiling a new plan that will see Masses cut in a bid to enliven congregations and enhance liturgy, Bishop Dermot Farrell has said that the vocations crisis is really a crisis of faith that will not be solved by making celibacy optional.
Speaking exclusively to The Irish Catholic ahead of the launch of the plan, the Bishop of Ossory poured cold water on the idea of ordaining married men as a way to boost clerical numbers.
Dr Farrell warned that the issue facing parishes is much deeper than the shortage of priests. “It is a faith issue fundamentally. 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,” he said.
On the Amazon Synod – where the Pope was requested to look at the issue of ordaining married men – the bishop insists that there is no comparison. It is, he says, “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. 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”.
The former president of the national seminary at Maynooth says he is not hostile to the idea of married priests, but knows that it is not a magic wand. “I think that [married priests] is a possibility yes, certainly something that could be considered in the future, but as I said you still have the problem: where are they going to come from?
Bishop Farrell revealed that from December 1, Sunday Masses in Ossory will be cut by a third from 140 to 92 to ease the burden on hard-pressed priests.
The bishop is hopeful that the consolidation will also lead to improved liturgies with talent and resources pooled. “We can’t keep multiplying the number of Masses, that doesn’t make for good liturgy and also 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,” Bishop Farrell said.
He insisted that “I suppose our problem is not the shortage of priests: the bigger issue is that we have far more infrastructure than we need”.
Asked about potential resistance from parishioners, he stressed that the initiative has come from a grassroots listening process. “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.
“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,” he said.