BY A STAFF REPORTER
THERE has been a big de cline in the number of students for the priesthood in Ireland during the last ten years. and the Church there may face a critical shortage of priests unless something is done to. reverse the trend, according to a report published in Dublin.
The report, which was the result of a survey carried out by the research and development department of the Catholic Communication Centre last October, shows that the number of candidates dropped by half and that the number of Seminarians who finished the course and were ordained also declined noticeably.
So far the effects of this decline have not been felt very much in England. Although most English dioceses have a strong and traditional link with the Irish seminaries, there is no real worry yet abit the supply of Irish priests.
But the report gives figures which can leave no doubt that there has been a steady decline in vocations. In 1961 there were 417 priests ordained, which was a record. There were 3,409 students in the seminaries and the drop-out rate was about 20 per cent. But by 1969 there were only 2,235 seminarians and the drop-out rate had gone up.
DROP-OUT RATE Of the 1,267 who entered seminaries from 1965 to 1970, there are only 757 left, representing a drop-out rate of 45 per cent.
"These figures are of concern to every priest in Ireland," the Communications Centre report concluded, "Something needs to be done about the whole matter of vocations."
Today, dioceses in England and Wales do not seem to place as much reliance on obtaining priests on loan from Irish dioceses as formerly, though in at least two dioceses priests still come on loan to gain pastoral experience not readily available at home.
But though the needs may not be as great as formerly because of the increase in English vocations, all dioceses are concerned to maintain traditional links with Irish col leges and dioceses on whom they have relied so much in the past.
In the diocese of Shrewsbury. for instance, 11 out of the 53 senior seminarians are being trained in Irish colleges and, a spokesman said, the situation is improving rather than deteriorating.
Fr. Arthur Dutton, vocations director of the diocese of Middlesbrough, also spoke of the strong links with the Irish seminaries. Of the 48 seminarians belonging to the diocese, 16 were studying in Ireland, though proportionately more seniors were represented in this figure.
Ireland. said Fr. Dutton, was becoming industrialised and this was bound to affect the numbers of vocations. Whether it affected them permanently depended on the reaction in the seminaries there. Many people, he said, blamed the decline on the upheaval after the Vatican Council and it was true that seminaries had become more selective since then.