IRELAND IS facing a shortage of Catholic priests within the next 10 to 20 years.
That’s according to Association of Catholic Priest, which is predicting an end to basic sacraments like marriages and baptisms in some smaller parishes as a result.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph the group, which represents more than 1,000 men of the cloth from across the Emerald Isle, called for reform.
Fr Tim Hazelwood, ACP spokesman, said: "We're facing a catastrophic situation in the next 10 to 20 years because there are not enough male celibate vocations to keep our parishes alive.
"We're facing a situation where the sacraments could disappear in some parishes, because our priests are all getting older and no one is coming through to replace them.
"In maybe 10, but definitely 20 years, priests in Ireland are going to be an endangered species unless things change. We're facing a really bleak future unless new measures are brought in."
The ACP is calling for a relaxation of celibacy rules that would see married men ordained and a return for any clerics who previously left the church to wed.
They are also calling for women to be ordained to the diaconate.
Speaking on the weeks of the ACP’s annual general meeting, Fr Hazelwood also warned of the increased pressure being placed on those priests continuing to work well past retirement age.
"The age profile of the priests gives food for thought,” he said.
"There is one over 80, two over 70, nine over 60, 10 over 50, and two over 40.
"Fast forward 15 years and the very best you could hope for is 10 priests for all that area and, even if healthy, they will all be elderly men.
"That is the stark reality."
Earlier this month, Pope Francis confirmed the Catholic church was considering dropping celibacy requirements for some priests working in remote areas.