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MAYNOOTH, Ireland (LifeSiteNews) —A nation-wide year of prayer for vocations is being launched in Ireland, as yet another Irish diocese has warned it has no seminarians currently in formation.

While for many years Ireland was renowned for its adherence to and practice of the Catholic faith, the vocations crisis which it has experienced in recent years is continuing apace. In a pastoral letter released for Lent, Bishop Paul Dempsey of the Diocese of Achonry warned that the diocese had not had any new priests for a decade – and has no seminarians currently in formation.

“For many years we have spoken about the impending crisis around vocations to the priesthood and religious life,” wrote Dempsey. “With very few following this path today, the crisis has become very real. The last ordination to the Priesthood in the Diocese was 2013. We currently have no student studying for the Priesthood.”

Dempsey added that due to the declining number of priests, there would no longer be a resident priest in every parish. Such an eventuality would only worsen, he warned, with the bishop predicting that in another ten years there would be only 12 priests for the 23 parishes in the diocese.

“It is important that we are fully aware of this reality and its implications,” he said. “We have never been here before.”

Archbishop Francis Duffy of Tuam also wrote about the dire situation of his diocesan clergy. In a December 2022 pastoral letter, Duffy revealed that there were only 41 diocesan priests under retirement age to serve the diocese’s 56 parishes. While the Tuam archdiocese has 2 seminarians, Duffy warned that “the trend is downward.”

As such, Duffy warned that Mass numbers would be reduced, and lay-led prayer services would be more numerous, including at weekends. 

The Diocese of Achonry is not alone in its future without any priests, however. Of the 26 dioceses in the island of Ireland, 10 of them have no seminarians in formation according to a September 2022 report by the Irish Catholic. 

Only 4 dioceses had men registered to enter seminary in the next year, and only 8 dioceses had men in the preparatory propaedeutic year prior to entering seminary. 

Maynooth seminary, built to house hundreds of men, had only 21 seminarians in residence studying for Irish dioceses, although there were 23 students  in residence. Additional seminarians studying in Pontifical seminaries abroad took the total number of seminarians for Irish dioceses up to just 39.

While the Irish Catholic’s report noted that just 9 men entered seminary in 2022, that number is in fact higher than the 2021 entrants: they numbered only 4. 

READ: Ireland’s last diocesan seminary hits new low, admits just 4 new men to study for priesthood 

At that time, there were only 8 instead of 10 dioceses without seminarians, and Maynooth was home to 26 seminarians, rather than the current 23.

With this in mind, the Irish bishops have launched a year of prayer for vocations, starting April 30 this year. As chair of the Council for Vocations, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore is spearheading the campaign and told the Irish Independent that it was “a battle” to promote vocations due to the fallout from the sex abuse crisis.

The downward spiral of Ireland’s vocations crisis has been noted by careful observers for many years. No fewer than eight diocesan seminaries have closed in Ireland since 1993 due to the steady erosion of the Catholic faith and vocations across the island.

However, while the sex abuse crisis is often pointed to as a catalyst for the decline of Catholic Ireland, the decline was underway years prior to the much hyped media reports. Writing in 2020, Catholic apologist James Bradshaw argued that Catholicism, particularly Mass attendance,  had become “as much a social outing as it is anything else.” 

“For many older Irish Catholics, regular Mass attendance has little to do with religious faith and more to do with routine, a routine which a few generations ago attracted virtually the entire Irish population to church each Sunday morning,” he wrote.

Indeed, Ireland’s vocational crisis comes in the midst of a larger global decline in seminarians, which has been markedly increasing since 2013. On March 3, the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published the latest statistics on the state of the Catholic Church across the world from 2021.

The total number of seminarians now stands at 109,895, the lowest it has been since 1999. As the newspaper noted, this is a decrease of 1.8 percent compared to the 2020 figures, meaning that the number of seminarians is decreasing at a faster rate than the number of priests. In fact, the 2021 figures show that seminarian numbers are declining at over three times the rate of priests.