The article "Priest shortage means dying lose access to sacraments" (News from Britain and Ireland, 22/29 December) highlights a very important problem for the Church which needs some radical thinking.


At the present minute the rule of compulsory celibacy of the clergy (in the Western Church), is over-riding all pastoral considerations. Congregations are being amalgamated, and in some areas that means dispersed, as the shortage of priests begins to bite more and more. In the early Church the process was for the apostle to evangelise a community and then establish a leader before passing on to another community. Now that order is reversed: first find a priest and then establish or continue a community. No priest, no community rather than no community, no priest. This makes the community in function of the priest rather than the priest in function of the community. I find it difficult to believe that this is a creative and pastorally sound way forward.

What has happened is that the discipline of compulsory celibacy is over-riding the proper right of the community to the Eucharist - and now the right of the dying to the sacraments. That second right is so overwhelming that even a laicised priest - one who is dispensed from the obligations of the priesthood - is allowed, and even encouraged, to give absolution to those in danger of death. How many such priests are living in Dublin, and elsewhere as in the article, who would be more than willing to attend and minister to those in their final need? It is time to start using this huge, but hidden and ignored, resource in a truly pastoral fashion.

Brian Hamill, Wakefiled

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