Priest shortage forces Catholic Church to train up parishioners

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A critical shortage of priests has forced the Catholic Church to train up parishioners so that they can carry out funeral services.

The plans which will help alleviate pressure on parish priests in Scotland were given the go-ahead.

And it means that in the Diocese of Galloway, which covers Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire, lay members can now carry out funeral services which would not involve communion.

Priests will still hold responsibility for carrying out funeral masses as the sacrament is performed.

The move reflects a process in the Church of Scotland where Kirk elders are able to carry out elements of funerals.

Last Wednesday, five lay Catholics - three women and two men - attended training for the new role at St Bride’s Church in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, following an appeal by parish priest Father Joe Boland.

In a recent bulletin, he said: “All over the world, lay men and women have been conducting funerals for years.

“Obviously they cannot say mass, but not every funeral involves mass, and in that case there is nothing a priest can do that a lay person cannot do.

“This will sound strange to many of you, but as the number of parishes covered by one priest grows, it will become more and more necessary.

“This is not the case here in West Kilbride at the moment, but the current situation will not last forever.

“Five individuals have now indicated an interest in finding out more about this ministry.

“The way forward is for them to attend the training sessions after which we and they will have a better idea if this work is for them.

“I am grateful and slightly amazed that so many have come forward.”

The Diocese of Galloway has been suffering from dwindling congregations for a number of years, and the amount of priests in the area has also been falling.

In 1990, it had 55 priests for 53 churches whereas it now only has 20 priests for 43 churches.

A spokesman for the Diocese said: “This is part of sensible pastoral planning on the part of the Diocese of Galloway intended to meet the needs the Diocese faces just now.”