October 29, 2019

Irish priests call for celibacy rules to be relaxed and women to be ordained amid clergymen shortage
Ending forced celibacy and ordaining female priests are among the reforms needed to address the shortage of Catholic priests in Ireland, an influential lobby group has said. The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) warned that if the decline in the number of serving priests is not halted then members of the faith in Ireland face the prospect of being denied church weddings and christenings. The ACP, which has roughly 1,000 members, said that sacraments could disappear in some parishes as the retirement and death rate among priests far exceeds the recruitment of new clerics. Fr Tim Hazelwood, a spokesman for the ACP, said the Catholic Church “faced a catastrophic situation” and that priests were an “endangered species.” "We're facing a really bleak future unless new measures are brought in," he said ahead of the ACP’s annual meeting today (Wednesday). The ACP has said that the Catholic Church must embrace radical reforms such as allowing priests to marry and to admit female members as clerics. Women and married men are not allowed to become Catholic priests Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini Church attendance in Ireland has plummeted over the past few decades. In the early 1990s, over 90 per cent of the population identified as Catholic and 85 per cent said they went to mass at least once a week. In the last census in 2018, the rate of weekly mass goers had dropped to 35 per cent. The Catholic Church was once one of the most powerful institutions in Ireland but its authority was rocked by a series of child abuse scandals. Changing demographics has also put pressure on the church as young people are much less likely to practise their faith. Senior clerics in Ireland have struggled to make any impact in recent referendums on liberalising the country’s socially conservative laws. In May 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce same sex marriage through a popular vote and in May 2018 the ban on abortion was repealed by over two-thirds of voters. The ACP’s views do not chime with the church hierarchy in Ireland. In 2018, Josepha Madigan, a government minister, and a practising Catholic, helped say mass in her local church with the help of two other lay people when a priest failed to show up. Ms Madigan subsequently called for the ordination of women priests, which prompted an angry response from the Archbishop of Dublin who claimed the minister had been “deeply disrespectful to her parishioners.” Calls for reforms are gaining momentum not just in Ireland but in other traditional Catholic countries. Last weekend, Catholic bishops from across the Amazon called for the introduction of married priests.
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