The Connacht Tribune of September 11, 2015 headlined the story that African priests will solve the shortage of priests in Galway. Elsewhere, we had stories of Indian priests in Waterford and Polish priests in Dublin. The priest shortage, parish clustering and ministry deficit is now becoming an acute crisis in Ireland. Eucharistic Famine has been a major issue in other countries for a long time. I wonder did Bishop Kirby conduct an open, honest consultation with the people and priests of Clonfert in order to ascertain their real pastoral needs and their common sense suggestions in regard to ministry deficit and priest shortage? Maybe the bishops want priesthood and clericalism to wither away in order to allow ministry and governance to be shared among all Catholics?
While the priests from developing countries are very welcome among us, I think that this unilateral tactic by the bishops has potential dangers in the short term and fails to deal with the root problems in the long term. In the short term, there may be problems to do with language, accent and a lack of understanding of Irish Catholic culture reeling from the dark revelations about sexual abuse, misogyny and cover-up over the past years committed by some clerics and married patriarchs in ostensibly holy Catholic Ireland. The priests from abroad may come from countries with negative attitudes towards women, homosexuals and democratic political systems.
For example, in my own parish post the referendum on marriage equality, I listened to a Nigerian bishop preaching as per “normal” to a respectful but voiceless congregation. He was very annoyed at the temerity of Irish Catholic sheep in daring to question or contradict the official clerical teaching on sexual issues by the episcopal shepherds. Those shepherds have the correct answers and must re-assert their authority over the sheep as a matter of urgency!!! Another example is in the Irish Times of October 6th 2015 which reports that Bishop Duffy of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise apologised for comments about the same-sex marriage referendum made recently by a Nigerian priest serving in Longford. The good priest was speaking honestly out of his culture which is somewhat homophobic. He was also only articulating the official teaching of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” plus that of his own Cardinal Sarah of Nigeria about the “intrinsic disorder” of homosexual acts. He was also only echoing the comments made in recent months by Cardinal Parolin of the Vatican about the vote in Ireland as a great setback for humanity!!!
The Nigerian priest may not have been aware of the huge gap which has developed over the past 50 years in Ireland between the official clerical teaching and the good common sense of a majority of Irish Catholics on issues such as contraception, homosexuality, divorce and the ordination of women. In the medium to long term, it seems that bishops are clutching at the stopgap straw of using priests from developing countries in order to avoid the truth, obvious to most Irish Catholics, that serious reform and change are needed urgently in our Catholic Church and that the artificial and outdated restrictions on priesthood, as being open only to male celibates, need to be lifted by the hierarchy. Irish Catholics are increasingly annoyed and insulted at being asked to pray for artificially restricted vocations. Irish Catholics know that there is no shortage of excellent women and men, single and married, homosexual and heterosexual persons in every parish who could be called by their local community and bishop to provide ministry, good news, leadership and governance.
However, it is clear from the dearth of numbers entering the seminary in Ireland that Irish Catholic parents are very reluctant to encourage their sons to submit to the unjust abuse of enforced celibacy or to swear absolute obedience within a patriarchal club which refuses to grant equality to women in terms of ministry, priesthood and governance. Worse still, the people realise that the hierarchy is blaming Jesus for their deeply ingrained sexism. Irish Catholic people are now sadly aware of some dark truths behind the pious facades of Irish Catholicism in earlier years at a time of overflowing seminaries and Magdalene laundries. It appears that African parents are operating in a very different culture and economic circumstances. They appear willing to encourage their sons to the exalted status of priesthood as our forebears did at a time of very large families and limited employment opportunities.
It is very wrong and deeply unchristian that parishes worldwide have been suffering Eucharistic Famine for centuries due to the outdated restrictions on priesthood. It is deeply abusive and unjust that the diminishing band of aging priests are now grossly overburdened and that there is limited availability of good pastoral ministry attuned to the real needs of Irish people. I think priesthood, ministry and leadership are very important in every parish for the good of all. It is now time for the Irish bishops to bring people together in every parish and diocese for open, honest dialogue leading to consensus and change on all the major issues confronting the Roman Catholic Church today.
Dundrum, Co. Dublin