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end of catholicisim is ireland?

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http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,784109,00.html Church in crisis as seminary shuts down

As an endangered species, Catholic bishops may need a rethink on celibacy

Nicola Byrne in Dublin

Sunday September 1, 2002

The Observer

They used to be one of Ireland's most familiar exports, but Roman Catholic priests are facing the prospect of extinction after the country's oldest seminary shut its doors last week because of its failure to attract a single new recruit.

Only a decade ago it seemed inconceivable that the Catholic Church would struggle to attract young men to what was considered one of the most prestigious of professions. But a wave of paedophile scandals and Ireland's fast-changing society - driven by a booming economy - has eroded church authority. In 1970 more than 160 men entered the priesthood in Ireland, with many later moving to run parishes in Britain, Africa, Australia and the United States. Twenty-five years later that figure was 52. Last year it was just 30.

In explaining the decision to stop training priests at St Patrick's College in Thurles, Co Tipperary, its president said the college had had just one inquiry about enrolment this year. Father Christy O'Dwyer said he hoped the college would reopen one day, but he was not too optimistic. 'There seems to be a lack of understanding and appreciation of the nature of the priesthood,' he added.

Once the pillars of Irish communities, priests have become marginalised to the point of being figures of fun or contempt. Several rural communities have bade farewell to their parish priests. In Co Mayo, Clare Island and Inishbofin - the inspiration for the comedy Father Ted - altars remain covered in the absence of anyone to say Mass.

Only one training facility remains in the republic. St Patrick's College in Maynooth, Co Kildare, has vowed to remain open, but statistics showing only 57 nuns and priests in Ireland under 30 are not encouraging. Twenty-three years ago a third of Ireland's population welcomed Pope John Paul II and almost 90 per cent attended Mass regularly. Attendance is now as low as 5 per cent in some areas.

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