BISHOP Fintan Gavin has warned that the church would be ‘left with no choice’ in the future if radical changes aren’t made now, due to the declining number of priests.
This week the bishop outlined the details of his ‘Families of Parishes’ concept, which includes the transfer of several priests throughout the diocese.
The changes mean that several parishes – including Kilmichael, Caheragh, and Aughadown – will no longer have a resident priest.
A list of the new appointments was published this week in what was described as a ‘radical new start’ for the diocese. Outlining the major restructuring, Bishop Gavin said in his pastoral letter ‘Putting out into Deep Waters’ that they have a lot of work to do together to make these changes.
‘But if we are not proactive, we will be, in a short space of time, left with no choice. We have to embrace the opportunities while we still can,’ said Bishop Gavin.
The new changes come into effect next month and will see the diocese having 16 ‘families’ of parishes – each administered by a team of priests. Each priest will be resident in a particular parish, but ministering across the whole family of parishes.
For example, Mons Aidan O’Driscoll, who is currently in Clonakilty, will now take up a position as co-parish priest in the Carrigaline parish, while Fr Tom Hayes of Enniskeane parish will now be a co-parish priest, resident in Clonakilty parish.
Bishop Gavin added that the situation is not unique to his diocese alone, but is replicated throughout Ireland and Europe.
‘It is an invitation to our parishes to work more closely together,’ he said. The ‘families of parishes’ are groupings of parishes with a minimum of three, and a maximum of six parishes, geographically close to one another, where the priests work as part of a team across these parishes.
The teams will include lay leadership over time, and deacons will also be involved in these new groupings.
From September, several parishes, including Murragh/ Templemartin, Caheragh, Rossmore, Kilmichael and Aughadown, will no longer have a resident priest.
‘This change with have the greatest effect locally,’ said Bishop Gavin. ‘Our hope is that all the parishes in each of the families of parishes, including the parishes without a resident priest, will all be served equally by all the priests who will work across the parishes.’ Only one priest, Rev Ronan Sheehan from Templemartin, is being ordained in the Diocese of Cork and Ross this year, while 12 priests will be retiring.
Last year, retired parish priest Fr Pat McCarthy said that the church either needs to ordain married men, or bring in priests from abroad, to negate the declining numbers in vocations.