The Derry Diocese is without a Catholic Bishop to carry out religious duties such as confirmation, it has emerged.
It is thought to be the first time the diocese is without a bishop in its history. The lack of a bishop is causing concern with no senor cleric to carry out certain sacraments. Discussions are under way about who will perform confirmations this year in the diocese with a final decision expected to be announced later this week.
Traditionally a bishop administers the sacrament, but following the resignation of Bishop Seamus Hegarty in November on health grounds and Auxiliary Bishop Francis Lagan who reached retirement age of 75 earlier last year, Derry is without a bishop.
Since Dr Hegarty stepped down on November 23 the diocese became a Vacant See and it could take up to two years before a successor is appointed.
In his final communications with the people of the diocese, Bishop Hegarty wrote that “due to a health condition which has been assessed to render me unable to fulfil the obligations of my office as Diocesan Bishop”.
He added: “The Holy Father has very kindly considered my letter, along with the medical reports provided by experts, and today graciously accepted my resignation.
“My resignation is effective from 11am GMT today, Wednesday 23 November 2011.”
With a total of 51 parishes spanning three counties, Derry Diocese is one of the largest in Ireland and in the past the two bishops divided the Confirmations between them equally.
Confirmations in the diocese are scheduled to begin at the end of January which leaves the See and the church wrestling with the dilemma of who will administer them.
Monsignor Eamon Martin was appointed Diocesan Administrator for a short time after Pope Benedict accepted Bishop Hegarty's resignation and is considered to be the most likely successor to Bishop Hegarty.
It is likely that Monsignor Martin will perform the Confirmations, possibly assisted by Monsignor Brian McCanny, who is currently Parish Priest of Limavady.
Fr Michael Canny, Diocesan spokesman, confirmed that discussions were ongoing, adding: “There is no reason why the parish priest could not administer or Monsignor Martin, assisted by Monsignor Brian McCanny is also a possibility.
“The issue is still being discussed and a final decision will be made before the Confirmations begin.”