More new Catholic priests in England than in Ireland
The number of ordinations to the Catholic priesthood in Ireland has dipped below England and Wales for the first time in living memory, new figures reveal.
The recruitment crisis is a clear indication of how low the Church has sunk in a country that once used to export Catholic missionaries to all corners of the globe.
According to new figures released by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Ireland, just 16 men will start training for the priesthood this autumn, compared with 39 last year. In the 1980s Ireland would regularly draw more than 150 new recruits every year.
The latest figures for England and Wales have yet to be released, but officials are confident they will see an increase on the 43 men who put themselves forward for the priesthood in 2009.
Difficulty attracting recruits is afflicting vast swathes of the Catholic Church, particularly in developed nations. But Ireland's problems will cause concern in Rome because it had always been regarded as a Catholic bastion in the heart of secular Europe. Fr Patrick Rushe, national co-ordinator for diocesan vocations |directors in Ireland, said revelations of sexual abuse had hampered recruiting.
“The recent difficulties with Church scandals mean that those thinking tentatively about priesthood are not going to be launching themselves forward,” he said.