WITHIN ten years, a significant number of existing Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Ossory, will be without a full-time priest. Not so long ago, the diocese boasted 140 clerics and that number is now down to 65 and will shrink further with a number of senior clerics expected to step down in the next two years.
The lack of vocations is already beginning to bite with less Masses, especially in rural areas with only one person in the last seven years opting for life in the clergy
And the failure of the Vatican to appoint a new Bishop in the adjacent Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin has fuelled speculation that the current Bishop of Ossory, Dr Seamus Freeman will be asked to take over the diocese that includes Paulstown, Graignamanagh, all of Co Carlow, Co. Kildare and parts of Co. Offaly.
Church leaders in Rome have already signalled in an official report from Rome that they want less dioceses in Ireland to take account of the falling number of practising Catholics.
Change has already been forced upon the diocese with the death of the popular parish priest of Windgap-Tullahought, Fr Martin Cleere. His duties have been take over by the parish priest of the adjoining parish, Dunamaggin, Fr Nicholas Flavin and there are no imminent plans for a replacement in Windgap.
And an important meeting for all those living in Windgap parish will take place in the Parish Hall tonight (Wednesday) at 8pm. With no priest in situ and the declining numbers of priests, the agenda will cover planning parish activities and the frequency and number of Masses in the years ahead.
The Bishop has already consulted with the clergy under him and a plan of action is currently bring drafted which will be unveiled later in the year.
And where pastoral councils have been set up, these too have been consulted by Dr Freeman and are drawing up their own proposals for a greater involvement in official duties by lay members of the parishes involved.
A senior figure in the diocese said that Catholics would see a difference in the way parishes are administered from now on. It is certain that parishes like St Canice’s and St Mary’s in the city will work more closely to maximise resources and offer as many Masses as possible.
However, no parish will lose its identity and that is one of the major pillars of any new plan.
Visits to sick people and those resident in nursing homes is also being examined with a greater role expected for Ministers of the Eucharist. And the possibility of priests from other countries coming to Ossory is also on the cards.