The Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that rapid changes necessary to deal with the decline in clergy numbers means we must look towards lay leadership in parishes and work closer together in the Church.

Commenting as he published forthcoming clergy appointments, Bishop Leahy said that lay people will be leading a range services going forwards, from prayers at funerals to the parish preparation of children for the sacraments.

Outlining the changes, Bishop Leahy thanked clergy for their co-operation and helpfulness in the process of discerning new appointments. Three priests – Fathers Anthony O’Keefe, Frank Duhig and Ed Irwin – are retiring, while Father Séamus Madigan is returning to the Diocese after his years ministering with the chaplaincy services to the Defence Forces where he served in recent years as Head Chaplain.

As a result of the decline in priest numbers, a number of pastoral units will be losing a clergy member, Bishop Leahy said, “It’s not news any longer to say the numbers of clergy in active ministry is declining rapidly. The ageing profile of clergy is also now very evident. It is clear at this stage that we can no longer guarantee the celebration of a Mass in each church in the Diocese each Sunday.

“The rapid changes are calling us to envisage and work towards putting in place new forms of lay leadership in our parish communities. As per our Pastoral Plan that came out of our Limerick 2016 Synod, we have already begun formation programmes to help lay people assume new pastoral roles. We need to build on this. We are hopeful others will step forward to offer their services.

“We will need lay people to lead prayers at funerals, at gravesides, to visit schools on behalf of the parish, to be involved in pastoral councils and baptismal teams, to help with the practical administration of parishes.

“Thankfully, in the Diocese of Limerick there are many fine lay people with competencies and faith commitment and they will contribute much to the future shape of things”.

In his letter to clergy to announce the changes, Bishop Leahy noted that working closely together will be essential as the Church adapts. “We all need to work urgently to prepare for the new arrangements that are needed in the coming years. It is in working together, encouraging each other and facing challenges with peace of soul combined with realism and determination that we move forward,” he added.

For full details of the clerical changes see www.limerickdiocese.org

ENDS