A conference of Catholic Priests has heard that the Church needs "to reach out" for vocations.

19 Irish priest-directors for vocations were told that the creation of "parishes which are mission-minded" are essential to the promotion of vocations.

Fr Stephen Langridge, a priest of the Diocese of Southwark in England and former national vocations coordinator for the Bishops Conference of England and Wales said needs had changed.

"In today's culture, the need to belong is paramount", he said.

"If people feel that they belong then they may be inspired to seek what faith-filled people possess, namely belief."

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan who is chair of the Council for Vocations of the Irish Bishops’ Conference encouraged those attending the online conference to work to ascertain the best way for parishes, diocesan structures and practices "to adapt for evangelisation to be front and centre in the Church’s work".

Nine new seminarians began their 2021-2022 academic programme this month bringing to 64 the total number studying for the priesthood in Irish dioceses.

There are four stages of what is called initial priestly formation, three of which take place in a major seminary.
These three stages include studies in Philosophy, Theology and Pastoral Ministry.

The Propaedeutic Stage takes place in a recognised seminary approved by the Holy See and the relevant Bishops’ Conference after the Congregation for Clergy, in Rome issued a new revised programme for seminary formation in 2018.

Upon completion of this programme, the seminarian, with the nomination of his bishop, then applies to a seminary to continue his formation for an Irish diocese.

With a growing shortage of priests worldwide, there are increasing calls on the Catholic Church to allow the ordination of married men.

At the Amazon synod last year, Bishops backed the measure, due to a shortage of priests in the region.

The decision needed the Pope's approval, but he did not respond to the recommendation.

At the time, the Vatican said: "The Amazon challenges us, the Pope writes, to overcome limited perspectives and not to content ourselves with solutions that address only part of the situation."

Some in the Catholic Church - particularly in Europe and North America - have spoken out against the idea of married priests, arguing that this could lead to the abolition of celibacy.

Calls for women to become priests have been ruled out by the Pontiff.

Instead, he appointed a commission of study to examine whether women could be deacons.

A previous commission had been composed in 2016 but the Pope said their research was inconclusive.

In January, Pope Francis changed church law to allow women to be installed as lectors, to read Scripture, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers.

Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made.

Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the "precious contribution" women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptised Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.

However, he noted a distinction between "ordained" ministries such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries being open to qualified laity.

The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men, even though some historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.

A study by Dr Florence Craven of Trinity College Dublin 11 years ago found that 84% of Catholic and 95% of Protestant women were in favour of female clergy.

Advocates for the move argue that it would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages.