The Full Report – Proposals For the Future Serving of Parishes of the Archdiocese of Tuam

Proposals For the Future Serving of  Parishes of the Archdiocese of Tuam

April 2009
Proclaiming the Kingdom of God

As a faith community we, the Archdiocese of Tuam in our lay people, our religious, our priests and our Archbishop, seek to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to make known the Good News of Jesus Christ. We do this through the celebration of the Sacraments, the preaching of the Gospel, the building of Christian community and through giving witness to the living presence of Jesus in our world.

Faced with a changing pastoral reality and cognisant of the ‘signs of our times’ we together, under the leadership and guidance of our Archbishop, continue to strive to develop new and more effective ways to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

Diocesan Working Group

Following the May ‘08 meeting of the Diocesan Consulters the Archbishop brought to the attention of the Council of Priests the fact that within the next five years 15 priests who are currently in active ministry will have reached the age of retirement. It was proposed that we consider carefully what such a rapid reduction in the numbers priests will mean for us as a diocese. The Archbishop appointed a working group to make proposals to him on how the parishes of the Archdiocese might be served in the future.

This working group is made up of Frs. Dermot Moloney (Chair), Kieran Waldron, Tod Nolan, Pat Farragher and Charlie Mc Donnell.

The Working Group having consulted the priests of the Diocese presented an Interim Report to the Archbishop in October 2008. The Archbishop then invited the priests of the diocese, the Council of the Laity and the Diocesan Implementation Group to consider the Interim Report and to offer comment. A second draft of these proposals was then offered to priests and the Pastoral Councils of the diocese for their reflection. This is the third and final draft of these proposals.

Change within a Context – The ‘Signs Of Our Times’

Lay people are taking a more active role in parish life. The ‘signs of our times’ have prompted us, both lay and ordained to acknowledge, appreciate and value the role and ministry of all the baptised. If we are to continue to proclaim with conviction the Kingdom of God and to make known the good news of Jesus Christ we must acknowledge the gifts which all the baptised bring to the church.

Proposals on how best we can serve the needs of the diocese must be understood within the context of an overall approach to the pastoral challenges we face. Any response must go hand in hand with a renewed commitment to the education, formation and empowerment of every baptised person to fulfil their baptismal calling to be ‘priest, prophet and king’.

The Diocesan Pastoral Assembly held in November 2006 underlined this commitment. Over an eighteen month process the people of this diocese – lay, religious and ordained, identified four key areas which we as a diocese must address as we continue to proclaim the gospel into the future. Those key areas are;

  • the need for ongoing training and formation in liturgy,
  • the need to engage with young people in relevant and challenging ways,
  • the need to resource and support the work of Pastoral Councils and
  • the need to invite more lay people for pastoral and administrative leadership and ministries at local parish level.

While the Implementation Group fulfils its specific mandate in addressing these needs, parishes and indeed all the baptised continue to explore how they can best address at local level the needs identified by the Pastoral Assembly.

The Sacramental Life of the Church

The celebration of the sacraments and in particular the Sunday Eucharist lies at the very heart of parish life. The Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of all church activity. As such, in planning for the future, it is essential to ensure that the Sunday Eucharist is fittingly celebrated in each parish. A reduced number of priests together with the increasing age profile of those priests still ministering pose new challenges for us as a diocese.

  • Firstly, we must commit ourselves to the work of promoting and fostering vocations to the priesthood.

Much work is already being done in this area. Moreover, the recent consultation with Pastoral Councils on the content of this document indicates a growing awareness of the responsibility that each faith community has in the promotion of vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life.

  • Secondly, in order to ensure that the Sunday Eucharist continues to be meaningfully celebrated in each parish, priests and laity alike must be prepared for some change in present practice.
  • Thirdly, as already mentioned any change which takes place must take place as an integral element of the overall pastoral development of the diocese.

The Reality

There are 55 parishes in the Archdiocese of Tuam.

At present the Archdiocese has 102 priests in active ministry. Of this number 10 have passed the age of retirement (75) and 6 are in non parish ministry.

If present trends continue then by 2013 approximately 70 priests will be available to serve in the Archdiocese. There will be other ‘retired’ priests available to work in parishes but we believe that in planning for the future we cannot and should not take that as a given.

One quarter of the population resides in the four parishes of Athenry, Castlebar, Tuam and Westport and provision must be made to ensure that the pastoral needs of these larger urban parishes are attended to.

How are we to ensure the continued proclamation of the Kingdom of God in this new reality?

Courage and Generosity

Over the past ten years or so, many parishes have been faced with the inevitable changes which the loss of a priest entails. Although sometimes painful, parishes have responded to these changes with generosity and courage. Already a number of Island parishes have lost their resident priest. In many parishes the number of Masses has been reduced and some church areas no longer have a Sunday Mass. Priests from neighbouring parishes now take responsibility for the pastoral and sacramental care of parishes without a resident priest.

Similar courage and generosity will be required as we continue to face the challenge of proclaiming the Kingdom in the current pastoral reality

Clustering of Parishes.

This Working Group has been appointed by the Archbishop to make proposals to him on how the parishes of the Archdiocese might be served in the future.

Underpinning the proposals set out below is the ongoing need for priests and people to work in partnership together in the living out of the Gospel in their parish communities. We believe that a significant element in supporting this collaboration will be the grouping together of parishes into clusters.

The clustering of parishes will involve the bringing together of two or more parishes, which remain separate entities, for the purpose of:

    • sharing personnel, resources, training and formation, and
    • sharing of administrative tasks.

It is hoped that the grouping of parishes into clusters will not only provide each parish with the opportunity to share its own particular experience, gifts and talents within its cluster but also to benefit from the experience, gifts and talents of the other parishes in the cluster.

While the grouping of parishes into specific clusters is proposed as an important structure for the future serving of the parishes of the Diocese there will always be place for cooperation among larger groupings of parishes as pastoral need dictates.

Addressing the Task

In formulating the following proposals the Working Group has endeavoured to be thorough. We have consulted widely, studied diocesan statistics, we have looked at current trends and we have examined the responses made by other dioceses when faced with similar questions.


The Working Group proposes that:

  1. In facing the reality in which we find ourselves we do not place an undue workload on a diminishing number of priests.
  1. In general priests should not celebrate more than three weekend Masses. This proposal will have implications for the Sunday celebration of funerals and weddings.
  1. For as long as is practicable a resident priest be maintained in every parish.
  1. In making appointments the Archbishop will be guided by the expectation that by 2013 there will be no more than 70 priests available to serve in the Archdiocese.
  1. On this basis by 2013 most parishes will have just one resident priest. The following parishes will have more than one priest: Castlebar (4), Tuam (3), Westport (2), Athenry (2), Carnacon (2), Clifden (2), Cummer (2), An Cheathrú Rua (2), Achill (2) and Knock (2).
  1. In order to ensure that pastoral needs are met parishes will be grouped in ‘Clusters’.
  1. A ‘convenor’ be appointed by the Archbishop for each Cluster. The proposed Clusters (see Appendix 1) will meet at least three times in the first year to explore how working in clusters can be advanced. These meetings should be attended by the local priests and representatives from each Pastoral Council.
  1. A review and evaluation of the proposed clusters be undertaken after two years.
  1. Where necessary, on appointment, priests be given pastoral/sacramental duties in neighbouring parishes.
  1. Pastoral Councils/parishes be offered whatever supports that are needed as they prepare for this new reality.
  1. Consideration and preparation be made for the serving of Gaeltacht parishes. This will involve:
      • Dialogue with Galway Diocese with a view to furthering inter-diocesan clustering of Gaeltact parishes.
      • Developing and providing specially designed courses so that every priest is available to serve in a Gaeltacht parish.
  1. The Archdiocese looks again at how it can best minister to Island parishes.
  1. The Archdiocese gives serious consideration to the introduction of the permanent diaconate and to this end the Archbishop appoints a Working Group to explore how the permanent diaconate can best be utilised as a pastoral resource for the Archdiocese.
  1. The Archdiocese remains committed to Special Ministries.

Currently some special ministries are served by priests. Gradually more of these ministries may be undertaken by suitably qualified lay people. The Archdiocese will need to plan and prepare for this eventuality.

  1. Priests working in special ministries have specified sacramental duties where necessary.
  1. Having considered these proposals the Archbishop issues a Pastoral Letter on this topic in Spring 2009.

Unforeseen Absences

The provision of weekend Masses when a priest is absent due to illness or unforeseen circumstances, may not be possible within some of the proposed clusters.

While those parishes which will have more than one resident priest may be in a position to provide some cover for neighbouring parishes, the unavailability of a priest may indicate that in the case of emergency parishes temporarily cancel Masses.

However, in order to avoid unnecessary cancellation of Masses the Working Group recommends that the Archdiocese put in place a system which will ensure that cover is available for priests in the case of an emergency.

Beyond 2013

We consider these proposals to be a short term response to the current situation. When the number of priests goes below the figures we have been looking at other options will have to be considered. Such options will include;

  • The employment of lay personnel by Clusters.
  • One priest having responsibility for two parishes.
  • Smaller parishes being served by neighbouring urban parishes.  Castlebar, Tuam and Westport may offer possibilities here.
  • Where parishes border neighbouring dioceses, consideration will need to be given as to how cooperation across diocesan boundaries can be promoted. This conversation needs to take place at diocesan level.
  • Both priests and people need to be made aware that in the not too distant future there will not be a weekend Mass in every church. This will particularly be the case where there are three or more churches in a parish.


The brief of this Working Group was to make proposals to the Archbishop on the way in which the parishes of the Archdiocese of Tuam might be served in the future.

This document is the third and final draft of these proposals. This final draft has been informed by the considered views of the priests of the diocese together with the views of the Council of the Laity and of the Diocesan Implementation Group. We have also sought the views of every Pastoral Council throughout the diocese.

While we acknowledge and appreciate all contributions we recognise that the scope of this document is limited by the parameters set by current Church teaching and the general laws of the Church.

It is our hope that these proposals will provide a framework and guidelines as to how best the Kingdom of God may be proclaimed in our diocese in the future.


Appendix 1
Proposed Parish Clusters

Knock- Spiddal


Clare Island












Previous articleHomily for the Chrism Mass 2009
Next articleAn Tuairisc Iomlán – Moltaí Do Fhreastal sa Todhchaí