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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyA depressing picture

Ireland used to be a hotbed for vocations. However, the situation has changed greatly. Vocations have fallen off, seminaries have been closed, clergy abuse has turned people away from the church and secularism has become the new “religion.”

The sad result was reported in a recent Catholic News Service story.

The average age of Irish priests is now nearly 70; significant numbers are in their 80s; some in their 90s are still working.

These aging priests are increasingly falling victim to depression and mental health problems, leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests report.

Rev. Brendan Hoban, an association founder, said the problem has been fuelled by the increasing pressure priests face to continue working beyond the normal retirement age of 75. “Not so long ago,” he said, “priests would normally have expected to retire at 75, but that’s no longer the case. Because of the vocations crisis, most priests are being encouraged to continue working. So in effect, retirement is no longer an option. It’s almost as if it’s been abolished.”

With fewer priests, their workload has increased as well, he noted.

It’s not uncommon for pastors to celebrate four or five masses on a weekend, he said. This isn’t a problem for someone younger, but it is challenging for someone older. “Also 20 years ago, it was easy to get someone to fill in if the priest wanted to take a holiday. That’s now a lot more difficult and there would be some priests who don’t take a day off at all.”

Other factors facing Irish priests include a changed public perception.

“These men lived through a time when there were plenty of vocations and their churches were full at mass, so there’s a loss of esteem,” Hoban said.

Also in the past, most parish rectories had live-in housekeepers who cooked and kept a rectory clean. Today, most don’t and priests must tend to such duties themselves.

“These priests are what I describe as the lost tribe,” Hoban said. They’ve no longer any quality of life and they need our attention, because many are in a desperate situation. We’ve noticed there’s a high level of depression amongst the clergy and there are some who must be wondering if they’ll just be left to die alone in their homes.”

Ireland isn’t the only country facing this challenge, and the Catholic Church isn’t the only denomination facing a clergy shortage in the western world. However, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the church is not just the clergy; it includes all the People of God. And there are encouraging signs of new life among the baptised.

Strong words

Cardinal Charles Bo had strong words about the economy in Myanmar recently.

Myanmar is designated the “least-developed country” by the World Bank.

Bo told a Myanmar’s Resource Wealth conference that none of the wealth generated from natural resources such as gold and other extractive minerals has benefited the poor. He hit on the country’s thriving jade industry, which supplies more than two-thirds of the world’s jade, saying it has been overrun by “looters” and is the source of conflict.

Myanmar’s illicit jade trade reportedly generates $31 billion, nearly half the country’s gross domestic product. But it lines the pockets of former junta officials and other “elites.”

It’s a situation that cries out for strong words.