Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ireland Running Out of Priests

Ireland, once called the "most fruitful of mothers" as a breeding ground for Catholic priests, is now so short on priests that it's turning into a crisis. The Diocese of Dublin, the center of the country that Pope John XXIII once considered a bastion of Catholicism, now has 46% of its priests over 80 years old, and just two who are under 36 years old.

The reasons for this are obvious to anyone with a brain. The Church itself is focusing on the celibacy requirement; it doesn't take a genius to figure out that asking a young, intelligent man to be celibate isn't exactly a win. The Church leaders are actually contemplating a change in this requirement, which is amazing.

But I think the biggest problem facing the Catholic Church is all of the sexual abuse scandals over the last decade. It seems that every time we turn around, there's another horrifying story of a priest who molested 10, 50, 100 or even more children, and lately the stories have turned to how the Catholic Church itself was complicit in shielding these child abusers, and worse, placing them in positions where they could repeat their crimes.

It used to be that being a Catholic priest was an honor. Mothers would beam with pride when introducing their priest sons. Now, imagine Mom telling your friends that you decided to enter a seminary to become a priest – your Mom would be embarrassed. It's rather sad.

There's a third reason for the decline, too. Christianity, and religion in general, is in a massive decline throughout Europe, and Catholicism is just part of that general trend. But I don't think that fully explains the shortage of priests in Ireland. This one is the Catholics own fault.


  1. I don't think I'm alone in saying that this decline may be a good thing.
    In a similar vein, McCain's daughter, a political blogger, said that she wanted to relax the GOP's emphasis on not having pre-marital sex in an effort to appeal to young people. In other words, should the GOP bribe prospective members by saying it's OK if they have pre-marital sex?

  2. Priest are scarce in the Netherlands too... There haven't been as many scandals as in the US or Ireland.
    I guess here it's just the fact that there are hardly any roman catholic believers left. And surely not with children who are encouraged to become a priest.
    This has changed in about 70 years; when my great-uncle became a priest in the 1940s, it was celebrated by the whole family.

  3. In the Netherlands, there haven't been as many scandals as in the US or Ireland.
    Nonetheless, I guess there are only very few young priests left.

    I guess this is truly due to the fact that there are very little families left that are religious enough to encourage their sons to become priests.

    This has happened within the last 60 years, because when my great uncle became priest in the 1950s, it was celebrated by the whole family.

  4. I wonder if it doesn’t have a lot to do with present day education, also. Even a hundred years ago most of the population wouldn’t have received much formal education. Books would have been the main source of information, and but few would have been able to afford them. If your father were not a rich man, you would have to join the priesthood in order to get a higher education. Any woman who wanted any sort of a career would have to become a nun (ditto if her father thought her, shall we say, a little headstrong).Entire towns would have been held hostage by a pastor's spin on things.


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