WHILE a number of elderly priests in Donegal continue to work well into their seventies there are no plans for merging parishes in the Raphoe Diocese.
The average age of all priests in the Diocese is 58 years with three – Fr Dan Carr (St Johnston), Fr Dinny McGettigan (Raphoe) and Fr Austin Laverty (Ardara) – still in active ministry beyond 75.
Bishop of Raphoe, Most Rev Philip Boyce, who has also reached the ‘retirement’ age of 75 years, remains Bishop until he is told otherwise by the Holy Father.
A spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), said elderly priests are being forced to work harder and longer, well into their seventies, as a way of dealing with a shortage of clergy.
Fr Brendan Hoban is one of over 30 signatories to a letter to Pope Francis by leaders of international Catholic reform groups imploring the Pontiff to do something about the trend of parish clustering or merging in Ireland and other countries.
“Priests are being spiritually manipulated and exploited and made to feel selfish unless they co-operate,” he said.
The merging of parishes has taken place in most dioceses in Ireland.
According to the County Mayo-based parish priest, clustering places increased administrative and managerial responsibility on the shoulders of older priests trying to run mega parishes.
“Clustering, for some priests, has become a form of spiritual blackmail,” he said.
The ACP leader, whose group represents over 1,000 Irish priests, described it as “a disrespectful, dishonest formula which allows bishops to pretend that the crisis can be dealt with.
“The reality is that no matter how you cluster parishes, ‘clusters’ will run out of priests within a decade or so.”
However, Bishop Philip Boyce said in his experience no priest was asked to stay on beyond 75, but that some priests did ask to remain in ministry for longer.
“We have three (beyond 75) who are in good health and who wish themselves to remain on in the parish,” he said.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Bishop Boyce added there were no plans at present for merging parishes.
“Parishes are encouraged to share resources and work together at local level. We have 33 parishes and 56 priests serving in parishes plus six others (from other Diocese or Religious Congregations).”
The issue of a declining number of priests has been of concern to the country’s bishops for some time.
In 1990, there were 525 students in Irish seminaries for diocesan priesthood. In 2013 there are 70. In 1984 there were 76 priests ordained for Irish dioceses. In 2006 there were just nine. Between 1980- 1989 there were 15 priests ordained for Raphoe Diocese.
The Raphoe Diocese has at present three students, two in Maynooth (one of whom is a Deacon) and one in Rome.
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