Diocesan spokesman Rev. Michael Canny has revealed that, at present, there are only 89 priests in active ministry in the Derry Diocese.
Twenty years ago, there were 147 priests in the Diocese.
Fr. Canny says that in 15 years time, more than twelve parishes in the Derry Diocese will have no resident priest.
It is now feared that, with many priests reaching retirement age - allied to a huge drop in the number of vocations - there could be as few as 41 priests under retirement age serving the entire Derry Diocese by 2025.
Writing in his regular column in Derry’s Sunday Journal newspaper Fr. Canny said, "To predict the future is sometimes tempting fate, but I am of the belief that, in 2020, the number of priests under the age of retirement will be 58 and, in 2025, that number will have reduced to 41 priests.”
“This prediction is not an exact science but should be close enough to give a picture of what lies ahead. In 15 years time, I believe it will be fair to say that more than 12 parishes will have no resident priest.”
The St. Eugene's parish priest says he believes there are a number of reasons for the decline in men joining the priesthood.
“The scandals and the weaknesses of priests and bishops are factors," he says.
“Celibacy and the concept of life-long commitment are also factors. But the single biggest factor I believe is that, for the majority of people in our western culture, the person of Jesus Christ is not relevant.”
He says recent revelations surrounding clerical abuse have left the Catholic Church in a "sorry situation.”
“These crimes, coupled with the failure of leadership to take appropriate action and stand up to the culture of the time, leave us in a sorry situation. As if the past was not bad enough, we are also, so to speak, trying to paddle against the current of western secular culture where life-long commitment and belief in the existence of a God is seen as something outdated."SIC: CIN