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Cork, Ireland, Jan 14, 2022 / 05:15 am (CNA).
An Irish newspaper has reported that 1 in 5 of the country’s priests and religious brothers have died in the past three years.
The Irish Examiner said on Jan. 8 that “more than 21% of Ireland’s entire population of parish priests and brothers — both serving and retired — have died in just three years.”
The Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference was unable to confirm the figure as the statistics are recorded locally by Ireland’s 26 dioceses and its religious orders.
The Irish Examiner, a national daily newspaper based in Cork, said that at the end of 2018, there were around 1,800 active priests and 720 retired clergy in Ireland, or approximately 2,520 in total.
Referring to figures in the official Irish Catholic Directory, it noted that 166 priests and brothers died in 2019, 223 in 2020, and 131 up to September 2021. The figures added up to a total of 520 deceased priests and brothers.
The newspaper said that “the figures from the directories are likely to be conservative, because not every religious order or diocese reports the death of its clergy to Veritas,” the publisher of the directories.
Ireland, a country of almost five million people, has seen a decline in the number of citizens identifying as Catholic in recent years.
The 2011 census found that 84.2% of the population identified as Catholic. That figure fell to 78.3% in the 2016 census. The next census will take place in April.
The Irish Examiner reported last month that the number of active priests is likely to plummet when the country emerges from the pandemic.
Clergy postponed their retirements to support colleagues struggling to serve the Catholic community during the crisis, it said.
The newspaper gave the example of the Diocese of Cork and Ross, where nine out of 94 pastors are aged over 75.
But no newly ordained priest has joined the diocese in the last four years and only one is expected to in 2022.
Diocesan secretary Father Michael Keohane said: “Several factors, including the COVID pandemic, meant many of the priests who were due to retire in recent years continue to hold full-time appointments.”
“As a result, the number who have passed retirement age is higher, and it is hoped that many of these priests will be permitted to retire in the coming year.”