CW Editor Note: This article was originally published on May 5th. 2010 and here we are almost 7 years later and nothing has changed except a few faces - but the allegations rumble on and the bishops still do nothing - but one thing has changed - a different Pope....who will make a difference as it is needed!!
ONGOING, BEHIND-the-scenes discussions on the future of the Irish
Catholic Church have included a sharp focus on the number of dioceses on
the island, with general agreement that 26 is far too many.
A consensus is emerging that when it comes to structural reform of the church in Ireland, this situation cannot continue.
is considered excessive that this small island with its approximately
4.5 million Catholics should have so many dioceses when, for instance,
the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles with a population of 4.3
million Catholics has one archbishop and six auxiliary bishops.
There are, currently, four archbishops and 23 bishops in Catholic Ireland (3 dioceses await appointments due to ill health and others await replacement due to retirement age having been reached by at least 3 others).
reinforce the point, Austria has a Catholic population of a little
over six million but has just 12 dioceses while Belgium has eight
dioceses for a Catholic population of about eight million.
there is a bishop for 23 of Ireland’s 26 Catholic dioceses, plus 1
auxiliary bishop in Dublin, two now retired auxiliary bishops in Down and Connor
(Belfast), one auxiliary bishop in Armagh and one auxiliary bishop in
Derry (as well as retired bishop Hegarty).
Currently neither Galway, Ossory or Clogher dioceses have a bishop, following the recent resignations of
Bishops Drennan, Freeman and McDaid respectively.
diocesan structure of the Irish Catholic Church was established in
1111 at the Synod of Rathbreasail which moved the Irish church from a
monastic to a diocesan-based model. This was developed further at the
Synod of Kells in 1152.
Dioceses were, in the main, modelled on
political realities of the day.
In his book The End of Irish
Catholicism? (2003) retired professor of moral theology at St Patrick’s
College Maynooth, Dr Vincent Twomey, proposed that the number of
Catholic dioceses in Ireland be reduced to 12.
The church was
“burdened with an excess of bishops – and of dioceses”, he said.
Auxiliary bishops should be very much the exception, he said.
It is a view which appears to be shared by the current Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.
Since becoming archbishop in May 2004 he has not appointed a single auxiliary bishop in Dublin, and currently only has one remaining auxiliary - Éamonn Walsh.
of the strongest arguments for a lesser number of Catholic dioceses in
Ireland is that it would make for a smaller and so, more flexible and
effective, Irish Bishops Conference.
This should facilitate better quality decision-making as well as greater speed in arriving at decisions.
in a church where clergy numbers are predicted to fall rapidly in the
decades ahead, it should also help avoid both overstretching a
decreasing pool of talent and the promotion of mediocrity out of
The proposed 11 restructured Catholic dioceses
outlined below have been drawn up with an emphasis on causing as little
disturbance as possible.
Starting with the See of the Catholic
primate, Armagh, it is proposed that it and Clogher diocese be merged
giving a combined Catholic population of 314,521 in 98 parishes.
The primate would continue to reside in Armagh.
its east, Down and Connor diocese could be merged with Dromore giving a
combined Catholic population of 389,899 in 111 parishes. The bishop
there could reside in Belfast.
To the west, Derry and Raphoe
dioceses could be merged with a total Catholic population of 318,997 in
84 parishes. The bishop there could reside in Derry.
south, Kilmore diocese could be merged with the Ardagh part of the
current diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, as well as with the Elphin
and Achonry dioceses, giving a total Catholic population of 228,650 in
The bishop there could reside in Sligo.
archdiocese could be enlarged to include Killala, Clonfert, and Galway
dioceses, giving a total Catholic population of 302,774 in 141
parishes. The archbishop could reside in Galway.
Farther south, a
merging of Killaloe with Limerick and Cashel and Emly would produce a
combined Catholic population of 380,474 in 164 parishes.
instance the archbishop could reside in Limerick.
Kerry and Cork
dioceses could be combined to produce a Catholic population of 347,850
in 122 parishes, with the bishop residing in Cork.
be combined with Waterford and Lismore, making for a total Catholic
population of 287,740 in 91 parishes. The bishop could live in
Ferns, Ossory, Kildare and Leighlin dioceses could be
combined making for a total Catholic population of 390,673 in 147
parishes. Here the bishop could reside in Kilkenny.
diocese, with its 1.15 million Catholics in 199 parishes should remain
as it is with the archbishop continuing to reside in Drumcondra.
diocese might be combined with the Clonmacnoise part of Ardagh and
Clonmacnoise, giving a total Catholic population of 265,000 in 75
parishes. Here the bishop could continue to reside in Mullingar.
11 Catholic dioceses.
It can be argued that we could do with a smaller
number, eg one in Dublin, one for the rest of Leinster, and one each
covering Ulster, Connacht and Munster.
That would make for five
dioceses for a population of 4.5 million Catholics which is still far
more, proportionately, than is currently the case in Belgium, Austria,
and/or Los Angeles.
Retiring bishops: a dozen more to go within five years
THE AVERAGE age of Ireland’s 29 Catholic bishops is 68, three years over the State retirement age.
Of those, 22 are over 65.
Within 7 years, 12 have retired as they are now 70 or over; on
reaching 75, they must send a letter of resignation to Rome, and 3 alone in 2016 retired on health grounds.
Four of the bishops are already over 75 and have sent letters of resignation to Rome.
They are the Bishop of Clogher Joseph Duffy,
Auxiliary Bishop of Derry Francis Lagan, (since deceased)
Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Colm O’Reilly, (retired and replaced)
and Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh. (retired and replaced - twice!!)
The Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones will be 75 next March when he, too, will submit his resignation to Rome. (retired and replaced)
In June of next year it will be the turn of Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy. (retired and replaced)
There will then be a gap of two years before further resignations are expected.
The youngest Catholic bishop in Ireland is Bishop Noel Treanor (58) who was installed in Down and Connor two years ago. (now overtaken by Fintan Monahan in Diocese of Killaloe)
youngest, in ascending order, are Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor
Donal McKeown (60), Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey (61), Bishop of
Killala John Fleming (62), Bishop of Achonry Brendan Kelly (63),
Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary (64) and Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan
(64). (add 6-7 years to their ages now and the average age starts to climb a little)
Diarmuid Martin reached 71 and heading shortly for 72.