Wednesday, November 15, 2023: The difficulties of maintaining the great work of the Catholic Church in Limerick today has been laid bare in a Diocesan Overview that reveals a significant resources challenge, both people and financial.
Publishing the Limerick Diocesan Overview, Bishop Leahy said that the report, which has been distributed to parishes across the diocese, confirms the huge volume of positive activity of the Church today across clergy, parishioners, religious, staff and volunteers but at the same time is set against the backdrop of dwindling resources.
Bishop Leahy said, however, that we must look at the future as one of opportunity for a new Church to emerge at local level, one that has far greater lay involvement but one that will be “a true communion of people”.
The overview revealed that there are some 2,500 volunteers helping out in various ways across the 60 parishes and 16 pastoral units. Collectively, among other services, these provide for 436 masses weekly, 168 on weekends, as well as regular visitation of the sick and housebound, funerals and bereavement ministry, plus support of Limerick Social Services.
However, it reveals a changing Church across the next decade and more, not least in terms of clergy, with the average age of the 88 priests in the diocese today at 72 years, with just over half of them under 75 years. The Overview also reveals that in just 15 years’ time, there will be just 13 priests under 75 compared to 47 today. Conversely, there is just one seminarian in the diocese today.
The Overview reveals stark financial challenges, with the wide breadth of essential services provided by the diocese incurring losses over income in excess of €1m each year. The shortfall is currently funded through investments but, Bishop Leahy says, this is not sustainable in the long-term.
However, the Overview suggests a variety of new forms of financial supports for parishes will become available, including the Charitable Donation Scheme, standing orders, on-line donations, QR-code contributions and tap to help address the shortfall.
The financial challenges are compounded by a 37% drop in offertory collections – the primary source of income in parishes – since 2010. Funds from offertory collections go towards the maintenance and normal repair of church buildings and is the traditional way that parishes collect funds.
Current priest income is €30,000 per annum, with 26 of the 60 parishes in the diocese struggling to provide that. Priests serving in the 60 parishes receive a basic gross income from the four collections held in support of the clergy throughout the year but may receive additional offerings for the celebration of the sacraments and Mass intentions. This varies from parish to parish. Where a priest does not receive the basic income, he is helped to reach the basic income through support from his fellow clergy who have received more than the basic income in their parishes.
One area of significant strength revealed in the Diocesan Overview is its safeguarding programme, with 1,000 individuals vetted each year and 100 safeguarding representatives across the 16 pastoral units.
The overview also reveals the variation in weekend mass attendances, the largest of which is 882, with 42 the smallest mass attendance.
Bishop Leahy said that the Overview was a hugely important snapshot of the life of the Diocese and an invitation to the reader to consider their place within the family of this Diocese. “Throughout the overview we provide some of the statistics of where things are at today.
“As well as highlighting the good news of how much life there is in the Diocese and parishes, in outlining the practical facts and figures of the Diocese this overview helps us plan for the future and names some of the challenges,” he said.
Bishop Leahy continued: “Pope Francis has just completed the first part of the universal Synod in Rome and I was privileged to be part of it. Synod is about journeying together and this overview gives us a sense of the journey we have to undertake. We have to take a new direction, we have to work together to find that and I’ve every confidence we will do that.
“The overview illustrates the incredible work being done by so many, work that must be continued. Yes, there are challenges and change is always needed to meet challenges. But the Church is still an enormously powerful community of good in Ireland. So, I’ve every confidence that we will find that way forward and continue this amazing work.”
He added, “This overview comes at a right time. It’s an opportunity to show the amazing giving that happens week in and week out and also to issue an invitation to others to join in this wonderful mission of ours. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was patron saint of missions, said it is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love and to be love is our mission, it is the heart of the Church.”