Who Will Break Bread for Us?
In 1982, 46 priests of Killala diocese gathered for their annual retreat. That was 30 years ago. In less that 20 years time, in 2032, when we will be celebrating 1600 years since the coming of St. Patrcik, the statistics indicate that the number of priests in Killala will be the six.
'Who will Break Bread for Us?' isn't of course the only question that needs to be asked as our church faces a difficult future, but it is of immediate and critical concern. For, at most, we have a window of a decade or so to come to terms with the crisis. And, unless we do, a Eucharistic famine will prevail in Ireland as parishes without mass will lose their focus and resilience. Without priests, we will have no Mass and without Mass we will have no Church. For the first time in many centuries, we are facing the collapse of a scaffolding of worship that was sustained even during centuries of persecution.
Unlike other fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves as a Church, Who Will break Bread for Us, can't be obscured in a fog of waffle and distraction. Because the issue of priest - vocations is now embarrassingly quantifiable. Our priests are disappearing and we need to do something about it. Now.
The Catholic Church in Ireland is in denial about vocations to the priesthood, says Fr Brendan Hoban, a founder member of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).
“Ireland’s priests will have almost disappeared in 20 years,” he said. In his new book Who Will Break Bread for Us? he points out that in his native Killala diocese “ for 22 parishes, there are now seven priests under 55. Spool on for two decades and there will be seven (or thereabouts) under 75.”
The book is dedicated to six priests who have been silenced or threatened with silence by the Vatican, Fr Brian D’Arcy, Fr Seán Fagan, Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Gerard Moloney, Fr Iggy O’Donovan and Fr Owen O’Sullivan.
Studying for priesthood
Fr Hoban adds that in seven years Tuam archdiocese will have “50 priests for 55 parishes and 10 years on from that, in 2030, there will be just 30 Tuam priests, most of them elderly.” In 1990, he said, “there were 525 students studying for the diocesan priesthood in Ireland; in 2013 there are 70.”
When he entered in 1966 “of the 84 who went to Maynooth, 20 were from the western dioceses; of the 12 in first year in Maynooth none is from the west.”
He continues: “We don’t need to have 20-20 vision to see this particular train coming down the track. All we need to do is to be able to count . . . Ireland’s priests will have virtually disappeared in 20 years.”