Religion: Catholic priesthood in decline

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The Dublin archdiocese of Ireland's Catholic church lost 19 priests last year, but ordained just two, according to a new survey.

The figures contained in the report, confirming a serious decline in recruitment to the Irish priesthood, also indicated that, throughout the country, the church was losing clergy at twice the rate at which they could be replaced.

The newspaper survey showed that religious vocations peaked in Ireland between 40 and 50 years ago and that priests ordained during that period are now retiring.

But it warned that an over-gloomy assessment of the present position could be misleading as the number of vocations, exceptionally high in the 1940s and 1950s, was now back a more normal level, at a time when population growth rate was stabilising.

But the figures highlighted the loss of 200 priests in Ireland's 26 diocese during the past two years, and the ordination of 97.

In a bid to attract men to the priesthood, the Dublin archdiocese last year launched an advertising campaign with the theme "Who are the Men in Black?".

Despite the loss of 35 Dublin clergy over a two-year period, there have been only eight ordinations, with the gap widening throughout 1997.