THE Roman Catholic Church is drawing up radical plans for parishes to hold Sunday services led by laypeople in the growing number of churches without a priest, the Irish Catholic newspaper has claimed.
The extraordinary plans could see married deacons – eight of whom have already been ordained – co-ordinate liturgies at Catholic services in the absence of a priest, the paper said.
However, last night the church said that aspects of the report were wrong.
A spokesman for the church said that “in the absence of a priest to preside at the celebration of the Mass, the Church still gathers to worship God”.
However, he added that The Irish Catholic report about lay people leading Sunday services was “incorrect”.
He said: “Rather, over the last number of years, in relation to weekday liturgy when Mass is not celebrated, bishops have been discussing this important issue.
“In these discussions there is a distinction between the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist on a Sunday, and, Eucharist celebrated on a weekday.”
The Irish Catholic said that the problem of priest-less parishes would become acute as larger parishes used to having several priests were being left with only one priest to serve several churches.
The number of men entering the priesthood has for years been at critically low levels as the Catholic Church battled a succession of child abuse scandals and the church’s insistence that priests be celibate deterred potential recruits.
The Irish Catholic said that as the average age of priests has increased to 64 “Church leaders are being forced to take radical action that just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable”.
The paper quoted sources as confirming that the issue is to be discussed at a meeting of the hierarchy in Maynooth in October.
A ‘discussion document’ is to be circulated to senior Church leaders in coming weeks which will set out plans for what parishioners can do when there is no priest to officiate at Mass.
The paper also reported that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, did not give permission for a nun to lead a service in a Wicklow parish at the weekend where parishioners waited in vain for a priest to arrive.
Eventually a religious sister who was present led a liturgy, preached a homily and distributed Holy Communion to those present, the paper said.
A spokeswoman for Archbishop Martin said the liturgy in Blessington was “unprecedented” and described it as a “one-off event”.
She said that, for Sunday celebrations to take place in the absence of a priest, the explicit permission of the archbishop ought to have been sought.
However, such services are commonplace in parts of continental Europe where the shortage of priests has left many parishes with no other option but to allow lay people to take services.