By Sarah Mac Donald - 06 July, 2016
New approach will see priests work across different parishes and while there won’t necessarily be a priest living in every parish, there will be a parish priest for every parish.
Due to the decline in priest numbers and the drop in vocations in the diocese of Limerick, the “evolving clerical landscape” will have to incorporate “teams of priests” who will minster across a number of parishes.
Announcing the 2016 clerical changes for Limerick on Tuesday, Bishop Brendan Leahy said that while the move towards ‘teams of priests’ is inevitable, there will be no change for parish structures or identity.
Teams of priests will work across different parishes and while there won’t necessarily be a priest living in every parish, there will be a parish priest for every parish.
“We have been saying for a number of years that we have to adapt for the fall-off in vocations and so far the changes we have implemented have managed this new landscape very well,” the bishop stated.
Having a parish priest for every parish, “enables us to retain the identity of a parish. The parish still has the service of a priest, its parish council, finance committee, etc.” But that parish priest could also be parish priest for a neighbouring parish, Dr Leahy explained.
The new landscape, he said, will be accompanied by greater lay involvement and that this was very much prescribed at the Diocesan Synod in April.
“One of the key reasons for holding our Synod was to look at how we can deliver the pastoral care going forward that the people of our diocese need and want as well as dealing with the reality of having less priests,” he said.
“The 400 Synod delegates very much instructed us that the way forward in terms of leadership in the diocese would be a combination of priests and laity.”
He added that the need for greater lay involvement was very much declared by delegates and welcomed by the diocese and the fall-off in vocations means that this will not only be desirable but inevitable.
“One proposal, which was strongly supported, at the Synod even suggested we would establish a Team Ministry Structure in each Pastoral Area, while delegates also believed that more supports should be given to foster and encourage more lay people, either individually or in pastoral councils, to come forward and get involved in leadership roles.”
The new reality in Limerick follows the Bishop of Kerry’s announcement that five parishes in the diocese of Kerry are now without a resident priest while just one priest in the diocese is under forty.
Announcing the clerical changes for 2016, Bishop Ray Browne said the appointments involve leaving two more parishes without a resident priest, bringing the total number of parishes without a resident priest to five.
“I realise that this in particular will cause upset and be unsettling for both priests and people,” the Bishop stated.
He said the challenge is to ensure that these parishes and all our parishes have the fullness of Church life in a time of “less and less priests”.
“If in a Pastoral Area there are four parishes and just three priests, then no priest is full-time in his own parish. A quarter of each priest’s time is dedicated to the fourth parish that is without a resident priest,” Bishop Browne said in a statement posted on the Diocese of Kerry website.