The Incredible Shrinking Irish Bishops Conference

Dec 6, 2021 | 1 comment

Now you see them, now you won’t – the Conference of Irish Bishops is set for shrinkage!

With every one of the twenty-six Irish dioceses having had at least one bishop in the past, the Irish Bishops Conference is set for downsizing – with the pending appointment of just one bishop to administer two adjoining dioceses.

On Tuesday November 16th, 2021 two bishops – the retiring Brendan Kelly of Galway and the younger Michael Duignan of Clonfert – released the joint message that “in the near future” Pope Francis intends to appoint just one bishop to administer both dioceses.

This is not an amalgamation of dioceses, however. Both dioceses will remain separate except for the fact of sharing just one bishop.

It is strongly believed that this will set a pattern for the future – with fewer bishops being appointed, each to administer two or even more dioceses.

For some years, especially since 2010, it has been argued by some senior Irish churchmen, that Ireland is ‘over-bishoped’.  It has roughly the same population as the diocese of Los Angeles, USA – but the latter has just six bishops in all, headed by an Archbishop.

Already there is a guessing game as to just how many bishops Ireland will wind up with eventually.

The reason for this ‘downsizing’ is believed to be partly the shrinking pool of ordained Irish clergy and of ‘talent’ overall – but the prospect of a more decisive and cohesive Irish Bishops Conference is also likely to be in play.

The emeritus Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, expressed exasperation with the ICBC in 2019, by asking publicly what had happened to a crucial projected reform of catechesis in Ireland in 2011 that never came ‘on stream’ (Share the Good News). It has also been reported that the ICBC is divided on issues of reform – for example on where and how the training of seminarians should happen, and whether marriage should be a disqualifying factor for ordination.

With a ‘flock’ of well over one million it is easy to see how an archbishop of Dublin might welcome ‘downsizing of the ICBC, and could become exasperated to be outvoted by just two or three of the smallest dioceses, with far less than half that number between them.

Fewer bishops should mean shorter and fewer meetings of the ICBC, quicker decisions and more rapid reform in the wake of the ‘synodal pathway’, but just how few would be too few? That’s anyone’s guess at present.

1 Comment

  1. Joseph McMahon

    Very good and clear presentation of the need to downsize. At present there seems to be an alarming lack of awareness and interest among Bishops in the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland and a corresponding zeal in being compliant with every restrictive measure that secular authorities dream up


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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