Ireland Running Out of Priests

priestIreland, one of the most devoutly Catholic countries on the planet, is having serious problems recruiting the next generation of priests.

Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, made a grim prediction about the future of the church in Ireland: If more young priests aren’t found quickly, the country’s parishes may soon not have enough clergy to survive. He told the congregation at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin that his own diocese had 46 priests aged 80 or over, but only two under 35 years old. It’s a similar story all over the island. According to a 2007 study of Catholic dioceses in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, about half of all priests are between the ages of 55 and 74.

Ireland’s ties to the Catholic Church run deep. The ordination of a family member was once regarded as a moment of great prestige, especially in rural areas. Even as recently as 1990, over 80% of Irish people said they attended Mass at least once a week. But the country’s relationship with the church began to change dramatically in the mid-1990s when Ireland’s economy began to take off, ushering in years of unprecedented growth. Soon, disaffection replaced devotion among Ireland’s newly rich younger generation. Most devastating of all, however, were the sex-abuse scandals involving pedophile priests that surfaced around the same time.

[…]

But more was still to come. Last May, the government published the findings of a nine-year inquiry into child abuse at church-run schools, orphanages and hospitals from the 1930s to the 1990s. The report, which described “endemic sexual abuse” at boys’ schools and the “daily terror” of physical abuse at other institutions, shook Ireland to its core and left the reputation of the church and the religious orders that ran its schools in tatters. Then, this week, another government inquiry found that the church and police colluded to cover up numerous cases of child sex abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, prompting the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to apologize to the Irish people. “No one is above the law in this country,” he said. There are now calls for similar inquiries to be held in every diocese in Ireland. (Read: “For Ireland’s Catholic Schools, a Catalog of Horrors.”)

The scandals have undoubtedly made it difficult to bring new men into the priesthood. Father Brian D’Arcy, superior of the Passionist Monastery in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, says the only way to reverse the trend may be to relax the strict rules governing priests’ lifestyles. Top of his list? The vow of celibacy. “Of course it would be a big help if priests were allowed to marry or if we could ordain married men,” he says.

[…]

But some clerical leaders say that allowing married or female clergy won’t solve the problem. “They’re easy solutions on paper but the crisis is deeper,” says Father Patrick Rushe, vocations coordinator for the 26 dioceses in Ireland and Northern Ireland. He points out that the Anglican Church, which permits both married and female clergy, is also facing a shortage of vocations. “[Becoming a priest] is a lifetime commitment and a sacrifice. I think that’s what’s putting people off. It’s not just celibacy,” he says.

All of the above make for a brutal combination.   The sacrifices required for the priesthood are more starkly in contrast with everyday life than ever before and the status of priests is at an all-time low.

The Church’s reputation can be restored over time.  But absent radical changes in the conditions of service, the priesthood will become an artifact of the developing world.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ptfe says:

    Ireland is also — like the rest of the world — running out of young nuns, and only 50 percent of the population (down from about 90 percent in the early ’80s) now claims to attend church regularly. Even religions have “bubbles” — the most recent one burst about 15 years ago, and they’ve been undergoing a slow deflation ever since.

    Regardless, in my experience, the main reason few stay in clergy seems to be that priests and nuns are taking on a very specific occupation; if you don’t like most or all aspects of that occupation — just like at any other job — you start looking for something new that you think will be more fulfilling.

  2. sam says:

    the priesthood will become an artifact of the developing world

    As I argued here a while back, quoting George Will, capitalism destroys capitalist values. That’s to say, increasing material comfort has a secularizing effect on a society. I’ve seen this in my own family. My wife’s uncle was a monsignor, my sister-in-law’s uncle, a bishop. These men were second-generation, off-the-boat Irish. Their becoming priests was expected of them. I find it easier to imagine my nieces and nephews knocking over gas stations than taking holy orders. I don’t think this means we’ve become less spiritual, just less institutionally spiritual.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Since Father Ted died, what’s the fecking point?

  4. ptfe says:

    @John: That would be an ecumenical matter.

  5. Franklin says:

    As I argued here a while back, quoting George Will, capitalism destroys capitalist values. That’s to say, increasing material comfort has a secularizing effect on a society.

    I’m interested in the second statement here, but you seem to be equating capitalist values with religion.

  6. Capitalism and religion are antithetical at their core. Charity, sacrifice, love, self-denial, these are not exactly Lehman Brothers virtues.

    As for the lack of priests just think of the kids who will go un-molested and un-beaten. Not really very sad, is it?

  7. sam says:

    but you seem to be equating capitalist values with religion

    No. If anything, just the reverse, as Michael said. Will’s observation was contained in a column he wrote comparing the Republican and Democratic party platforms during the Bush-Dukakis election. The Republican platform extolled the virtues of free-market capitalism while simultaneously plumping for “traditional values”, among which was religion. These, the platform implied, were “capitalist” values. Will was intrigued that the corrosive effect of the former on the latter seemed to have escaped the writers of the platform. It still seems to escape some folks.

  8. JKB says:

    As for the lack of priests just think of the kids who will go un-molested and un-beaten.

    No worries, they’ll be molested and beaten by state run entities and employees.

    The question is whether these crimes will be ignored and covered up by true believers in government as the Catholic church’s crimes were ignored and covered up by “good” Catholics working in government. But fortunately, all good crimes come to light, eventually.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    @sam, I’m not familiar with the Will column, but it sounds like he disagrees with almost two-hundred years of American politics. The English Enlightenment always professed a concern that capitalism and liberalism without public morality would devolve into decadence and tyranny. The American Whig party and Abraham Lincoln, and thus the Republican Party, were good examples of this view. The party most associated with promoting capitalism was most interested in public morality: temperance, non-Protestant immigration, crime and slavery. Lincoln railed against the notion that pure self-interest provides the only right course of action. There could be things self-evidently wrong.

    Of course, these free market promoters, like Lincoln, were often not personally religious. Their embrace of religion was utilitarian, not impassioned. I’ve always assumed Will was in this group.

  10. sam says:

    PD, I’m not denying any of that. Will’s point, and I agree with it, is that modern Republicans, at least those who wrote that platform, seem not to notice that modern capitalism, because of its dynamism and success, is corrosive of tradition. And it is so because, as I’ve also argued here, it empowers individuals. Short version of that argument: Capitalism empowers individuals, and traditional social institutions that are seen as stifling of individuals, decline. Most particularly, they decline if they’re hierarchical and nondemocratic in structure.

  11. With the notable exception of the US, most of the economically successful nations on earth are quite secular: Europe, Japan.

    The US — probably because it never had a state-sponsored religion and therefore its religious institutions were less tainted by politics — held onto religion longer than France or Sweden or the UK.

    Of course many religious Americans are beavering away at collapsing the very feature that saved their religious institutions.

  12. Our Paul says:

    A similar problem exist in the US. One drain on the priesthood that has not been mentioned is the need to “refresh” the hierarchy as Cardinals and Bishops retire. I offer a modest proposal.

    The ten point purity test recently proposed by the GOP should be submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for review and possible modification (I doubt much revision is needed).

    Once unanimity on the purity test has been achieved, various members of the GOP who have shown fealty to the purity test but have failed in their political careers can be taken into the priesthood. If leadership qualities are present, an individual can be directly advanced into the hierarchy.

    Sprinkling of this new cadre into appropriate dioceses will serve a dual purpose of strengthening GOP areas that might be turning purple while relieving the manpower pressure on the Church.

    Other benefits are bound to occur. For example, the Church already has expertise and an hypertrophied sense of persecution by the press. A natural synergy between the GOP’s constant cry of the left leaning Main Street Media and the “godless” RC approach will occur. (Note: The acronym RC, normally interpreted as Roman Catholic, now can be understood as well as Republican Camp)

    This proposal may seem outrageous to some, but it would merely formalize and extend what has been an underground handshake in existence for some time. The only fly in the ointment is those Catholics who enter the political arena and who feel the Constitution trumps both ideology and theology…

  13. An Interested Party says:

    No worries, they’ll be molested and beaten by state run entities and employees.

    Oh really? Care to cite any examples, or is this just anti-government whining?

    The question is whether these crimes will be ignored and covered up by true believers in government as the Catholic church’s crimes were ignored and covered up by “good” Catholics working in government.

    Who were these “good” Catholics in government who “covered up” these crimes?

  14. Triumph says:

    The problem with the Priests is that you have had the expansion of the gay agenda over the past couple of decades.

    No longer do you have to be closeted to get a decent job. Before the gays took over, if you were gay and wanted a decent job being a priest was the way to go. It was the only profession that gives you a legitimate story for not knocking up babes.

    In fact, in many communities, Priests were actually LOOKED UP TO as pillars of the community. If you were gay, your ass would have been run outta town.

    Today, the gays can do whatever they want socially, so they are no longer drawn to closet-gay professions like preaching.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    My conclusion years ago was that the recruitment process for the Catholic Church is so corrupted that they pretty much look for pedophiles. So yeah, I can see why with all the scandals its getting harder and harder to find new recruits.

    Capitalism and religion are antithetical at their core. Charity, sacrifice, love, self-denial, these are not exactly Lehman Brothers virtues.

    Well…no. You can believe in capitalism and also engage i charity, sacrifice, love, etc. Capitalism is not a synonym for greed. I think Sam’s point about how capitalism is dynamic and corrosive to tradition is probably more apt in why capitalism and religion are often not compatible.

    Or let me put it this way, I think you can find many officials in the history of the Catholic Church (or any religion) who were greedy bastards. I’d hardly call them capitalists–i.e. promoting individuality, freedom to engage in trade with anyone they want, etc.

    Oh really? Care to cite any examples, or is this just anti-government whining?

    Here ya go. And what is really f*cking cool is that these government officials get absolute immunity. Neat eh? Too bad the Catholic Church couldn’t find a way to pull that one off.

    Who were these “good” Catholics in government who “covered up” these crimes?

    Are you kidding? That is part of the story James linked too, that there was massive amounts of child abuse, both physical and sexual that was covered up for decades.

    Linky

  16. David G. says:

    WANTED: Dedicated and pious employee. Advanced education and studies required. Requires adaptation to highly institutional and political environment. Also requires commitment to a lifetime of celibacy – ( opposite and of course to same sex). Modest pay with some potential for advancement and movement up the organizational ladder, with still modest pay and full celibacy. Stylish and attractive black uniforms furnished. Potential advancement to sharp cardinal colored red uniforms.

    How attractive does this job description sound for average young males?

  17. Our Paul says:

    sam my good man, let me add to this:

    I don’t think this means we’ve become less spiritual, just less institutionally spiritual. (November 30, 2009 | 10:34 am)

    If you have not read The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, it might give you a slightly different view of the currents that are sweeping us along.If you are unaware how close to 60 years after his death, Teilhard continues to roil the waters, the Wike link deserves a print out and careful read.

    You may wish to pass the Wike print out to your nieces and nephews, it may direct their thinking towards science and how it intertwines with a greater understanding of God; and, away from gas stations.

    I do quibble with this:

    Capitalism empowers individuals, and traditional social institutions that are seen as stifling of individuals, decline. Most particularly, they decline if they’re hierarchical and nondemocratic in structure. (November 30, 2009 | 12:52 pm)

    It is not capitalism as such that empowers individuals, if well regulated by government, it provides leisure time. The later, depending on how it is provided or used, opens the mind, freeing it from the pablum organized religion offers as future rewards.

  18. sam says:

    It is not capitalism as such that empowers individuals, if well regulated by government, it provides leisure time. The later, depending on how it is provided or used, opens the mind, freeing it from the pablum organized religion offers as future rewards.

    OK.