Ed. Note: On the weekend of March 24-25, Archbishop Bernard Longley (Archdiocese of Birmingham, England) released a pastoral letter about the need to discuss how best to deploy the diocese’s limited number of priests and deacons. The full text is available as an audio file here; portions are excerpted below. Below the excerpts is one parishioner’s response.
…I should first explain why I am asking these questions now and what has happened to make this a priority for me and for our diocese… I cannot ignore the diminishing number of priests we have to serve the present number of churches and parishes. These stand alongside those chaplaincies and other important ministries to which our clergy are dedicated. It is my duty to see that the energy, talents and enthusiasm of our deacons and priests are used to best effect for the preaching of the Gospel, the sacramental care and the spiritual nourishment of the people.
Changing patterns for our diocesan mission may in future require a different deployment of our priests and deacons. This may in turn mean that I cannot guarantee that every parish in the diocese will have its own resident priest. To help us face these challenges with confidence we need to reflect on them together at deanery level. I believe that this prayerful process of reflection will help me to fulfill my duty both to care for the wider mission and pastoral needs of the diocese and to appreciate and support the priests and deacons who are my closest co-workers in this task…
Our priests and deacons have been reflecting for some time on the bonds of communion that hold us together and on our mission. Those who have pastoral responsibility for our parishes and chaplaincies have begun exploring new ways of organising our mission and of providing pastoral care for all the faithful. I am now asking them, under the leadership of each local Dean, to take this discussion to its next stage and to provide opportunities for you, as the lay faithful of the diocese, and sharers in its mission, to meet and to discuss these issues over the coming months.
In order to move this process forward a discussion document has been prepared, highlighting areas for reflection and offering some questions for you to consider. The discussion document will be available on the diocesan website after Easter, and I would ask parishes to send their responses to the local Dean by the end of June…
Addressing the shrinking priesthood
Parishes in the Archdiocese of Birmingham received an important pastoral letter from our Archbishop, Bernard Longley during the weekend of 24-25 March.
It addressed the question of an ever-diminishing number of priests and the consequences for our parishes. Whatever we might be hearing about the increase of numbers of students in our seminaries, the age profile of current priests serving our communities is already high, and getting higher. I suspect that this may well be true in other dioceses in England and Wales.
If we move towards a grouping of parishes in order to meet the needs of the people, two issues arise. Firstly, would this actually meet the pastoral need of parishes and secondly, and I would suggest initially more importantly, what will be the pressure on priests given the increased workload?
We should welcome this pastoral letter and the discussion that has been initiated by our Archbishop, involving both priests and people.
Would it be too much to ask that any outcome from such discussion will recognise the existence of a significant number of men who left active ministry to marry? They should be invited back to resume their ministry if they so wish. Further, given the way that we have seen fit to welcome the establishment of the Ordinariate, is it not time that the hierarchy actively petition Rome for secular clergy to be given the option of celibacy or marriage in their service to the Church from the start, rather than wait for experience to catch up with them later?
It is wrong that we seek solutions to Eucharistic need by continuing the celibacy discipline currently imposed and loading ever more on to the backs of those hard-working priests who have served so faithfully over the years. I sincerely hope that the people of the archdiocese respond in good measure to this pastoral letter.
Chris McDonnell, Staffs