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THE IRISH Church faces large-scale parish
closures within 20 years unless married former
priests are permitted to serve again, a
spokesman for the Association of Catholic
Priests (ACP) has warned.
In his new book, Who Will Break Bread
For Us?, Fr Brendan Hoban calls on the
Church to rethink mandatory clerical celibacy.
He also suggests it should invite some of the
hundreds of men who left the priesthood, for
reasons such as to marry, to return to ministry.
“At one stroke, they could help solve the
eucharistic famine that is approaching us,”
said Fr Hoban. He added that a parish in the
west of Ireland has seven former priests
among its parishioners and some of these
would be very willing to serve again as priests
even in a part-time capacity.

 He also urged the Church to extend the
priesthood to permanent deacons. In his own
Diocese of Killala there are currently just
seven priests under the age of 55. By 2032,
there will be seven priests under 75 to serve
22 parishes. The overall number of seminarians in Ireland has declined 87 per cent over
23 years from 525 in 1990 to 70 in 2013.
“The Irish Church is in denial about the
level of vocations,” said Fr Hoban. “We are
sleepwalking towards the precipice and are
going to fall over in 10 to 20 years’ time.”
Meanwhile, a new Catholic group formed
to give laypeople a bigger say in the running
of the Irish Church is to join with the
Association of Catholic Priests in seeking a
meeting with the hierarchy over the priest
shortage. The Association of Catholics in
Ireland (ACI), which has committed itself to
reform and renewal of the Church, was formally launched in Dublin on Saturday.
According to ACI spokesman, Noel McCann,
“It is time for the hierarchy to engage in dialogue with groups such as the ACI and ACP