A proactive move to both deal with the decline in the number of priests and the need for the Church to work in a greater team spirit with greater lay involvement is set to emerge in the new ‘Team Ministry’ unveiled for the Diocese of Limerick this weekend.
Outlined by Bishop Leahy in a pastoral letter read out at all parishes across the diocese at the weekend, the move, which was signalled in the 2016 Limerick Diocesan Synod, will see existing parishes arranged into Pastoral Units.
Teams of clergy will minister in each unit but existing parish identity will be preserved.
The new units will involve a number of parishes operating together, with two or three priests ministering together as a team to the pastoral needs of these parishes. Each of the priests will be a “co-Parish Priest” and will move around the pastoral Unit, resulting in different priests saying Masses in parishes week on week.
The Team Ministry unit may also see one baptismal team for the whole unit offering preparation for parents bringing their child for baptism with the baptisms then taking place in the local parish church.
There will be one Pastoral Council per Pastoral Unit made up of members of each of the parishes of the Unit. Each parish then will have its own smaller working group.
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Leahy stated: “The main goal in establishing Pastoral Units and Team Ministry is greater co-operation between parishes. The hope is that there will be a greater critical Mass of energy, competencies and lay volunteers at the service of a number of parishes. As the Irish saying puts it, Ní neart go cur le chéile – our strength lies in unity.”
Bishop Leahy said that the establishment of the Team Ministry Units has been necessitated by the considerable decline in the number of priests, the increasing age profile of priests and increasing demands, bureaucratic and otherwise, on priests today.
“It is clear that on a practical level, something needs to be done,” he said.
“But our new arrangements are not just about responding to the decline in the number of priests. For the past fifty years, the Catholic Church throughout the world recognises we need to work more in a team spirit. It is something Pope Francis underlines when he speaks of “synodality”. We journey to God together. We need to promote arrangements that encourage greater co-operation and exchange between parishes.
“The steps we are taking together are in tune with the phenomenon the world over, that is, a realisation that there needs to be greater collaboration and togetherness than before, whether it be in dealing with the issue of global warming, peace-keeping or combatting social problems.”
Bishop Leahy continued: “In moving into the new arrangements, I believe God is at work. Change isn’t easy but just as it is necessary in our own personal lives, likewise in the Church we too constantly need to reform and renew our Church life.
“Priests will always be necessary. But it is also true that today we are seeing a deep discovery that every baptised person has a vocation. I believe that through all that is going on God is drawing out a new lay profile of the Church.”
Bishop Leahy also acknowledged that the changes come at a challenging time for the Church in other respects and thanked people for their continued support.
“The revelations of scandal and cover-up have shocked many and disturbed our faith. The result of the 8th Amendment Referendum was a difficult moment for many who come regularly to Church. I thank you for your continued commitment to the faith and to the Church despite the often negative comments we hear about the Church.”