Bishop Brendan Leahy, who is currently undertaking a review of the ministry structures of the Catholic Church across the Limerick Diocese Picture: Michael Cowhey
THE BISHOP of Limerick is currently rolling out contingency plans for parishes around the city and county for the future at a time “when there will be no priests available.”
The Limerick Diocese says it has accepted that the current ministry structure no longer meets the needs and challenges of our time, and is working towards putting a ‘team ministry’ model in place.
This future model will involve priests being shared between parishes and lay people taking on a far greater role.
More than 40% of priests working in Limerick are due to retire within the next ten years and it will be at least another four years until the next priest for the Diocese is ordained.
“We are faced with many challenges but these can also be opportunities for new ways and new life,” Bishop Brendan Leahy told the Limerick Leader.
According to the Bishop, the changes are in response to the Synod in 2016, which heard calls for a renewal in the Catholic Church in Limerick.
The team ministry model will involve parishes sharing resources and personnel in the future, including clergy, and the development of further roles for lay people including administrative roles, pastoral leaders, lay catechists, baptism teams and parishioners being trained in funeral prayers.
A Diocese-wide review is currently being conducted by the Bishop along with the Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Planning Fr Éamonn Fitzgibbon and the pastoral implementation manager Rose O’Connor.
Parishes are being gathered in their respective areas throughout the coming months for consultation on the best way to put this structure in place in each individual parish.
The needs and challenges of each parish will be different depending on their location and due to how many amenities they each have.
“For example, some parishes may have a number of primary schools and some have at least one secondary school; others have third level colleges or hospitals or nursing homes. Some parishes have more than one church and indeed, some have three,” the Bishop said.
The need for youth ministry leaders may also be identified as part of the review. Funding and income sources for parishes are also being reviewed as clergy members’ income was typically funded through weekly collections.
“With the fall-off in Mass attendance, the income source is no longer sufficient yet the number of services, from regular Mass to sacramental moments in life like weddings, funerals, christenings, has not declined.”
Limerick currently has 65 priests in active ministry; 27 are due to retire within the next ten years.
The last priest in Limerick was ordained in 2014 and it will be at least four more years until two students finish their priestly formation.
“I believe in Pope Francis’ dream of a missionary option,” the Bishop said.
“He says he prays every day for the whole Church that we may have joy, hope and an ability to keep going out, journeying with others. It’s true. We need to make sure we don’t get robbed of hope.
”God has a plan and we are co-operating with the unfolding of that plan every day.”