The move appears to be aimed at streamlining the Irish hierarchy without depriving any town of its cathedral.
It was announced by Bishop Michael Duignan of Clonfert and Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, both of whom currently oversee the two dioceses.
Bishop Kelly is 75 and has therefore reached the age of retirement. It is likely that Bishop Duignan will take up the role of Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora when Bishop Kelly retires.
In a letter to the faithful of their dioceses, the two church leaders said this form of union of two dioceses under one bishop is not an amalgamation and does not suppress either of the two dioceses.
“Both dioceses will continue to maintain their own integrity and autonomy as is, but will work closer together, where possible, through the person and ministry of a single bishop,” the letter read.
The diocesan structures and institutions such as cathedral churches, curial offices and officials, and diocesan pastoral councils, as well as diocesan lands, bank accounts, properties and charities in each of the respective dioceses will be left unaltered.
The only real change will be that one sole bishop exercises the pastoral governance of both dioceses equally.
The Vatican is holding consultations on the move and meetings are due to take place in each diocese to allow people to talk about it.
Currently, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh is also fulfilling the role of administrator in the Diocese of Dromore, while Bishop Denis Nulty of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlan is also acting as administrator of the Diocese of Ossory.
This announcement may pave the way for their roles in running a second diocese to be formalised as bishop.
In December 2019, the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, told the international Catholic weekly,
The Tablet, that he favoured a reduction in the number of dioceses in the Irish Church.
“I think there are good reasons now to rationalise the dioceses. The borders are there from the twelfth century and in some cases they work, and in other cases they don’t work,” he said.
Dr Martin pointed out that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2010 Letter to Irish Catholics, had said a rationalisation would proceed. “It has been a long time coming."
“There has been opposition,” Dr Martin revealed, explaining that “changing diocesan boundaries and depriving a town of its cathedral is a very sensitive thing”.