Where are the Priests?

This one really bothers me. Fr. Peter Schineller in America gives the data:

The priest-laity ratio in the U.S. in 1903 was 1- 870. The best ratio was 1942 with one priest for every 617 Catholics. Since then the growth of the Catholic population has exceeded  that of the priesthood. In 1962 it was 1 – 771. In 1985 it was 1 – 93. In  2000,  it was 1 – 1257. Now it is about  1-1500 and getting worse.

When my grandparents moved off the farm in southern Minnesota into town, they sought out a house close to the church so daily Mass would be close at hand. My parents have no less devotion to daily Mass and would make the similar plans… except, what little parish has daily Mass any more? Their pastor has charge of four parishes.

I suppose the commbox will rapidly fill with all the usual proposals and solutions. Fair enough. But could we all talk first about the liturgical implications of the dire priesthood shortage? What is going down the tubes right before our eyes? Daily Mass, house blessings, nursing home Masses, anointings, Friday Lenten stations with Benediction…  What does it do to our eucharistic piety and our liturgical sense of the common priesthood in relationship to ordained priesthood when the celebrant at Sunday Mass is an unknown figurehead to most of the 2,000 people in the nave of the newly built suburban church?

Some will seek solace in historical precedent, like this: “In colonial times the priest-people ratio was such-and-such, and the Faith survived.” I would refer them to the Second Vatican Council. There, we are given an ecclesiological and liturgical vision which makes historical precendent somewhat irrelevant, however interesting. What does the Church believe now about community and sacraments and liturgy and frequent Communion and all the rest?

At a recent Synod of Bishops, I believe it was Cardinal Scola of Venice who said that we don’t know what the ideal number of priests would be. So far so good. But his ergo didn’t follow, I don’t think:  therefore we can’t claim accurately that there is a priesthood shortage. Now, I don’t know whether we need twice as many priests or five times as many priests. My hunch is it’s closer to the latter. Either way, we have a very, very serious shortage.



  1. People in the pews are seriously asking which is more important…availability of daily Eucharist (which, I believe wasn’t a biggie historically) or a celibate & necessarily limited number of priests…even two bishops voiced that priests just dropping in, unknown, solely to celebrate Mass with a congregation (which does have ties among participants!) is kind of like a magic show…the priest comes in, says the magic words, and voila! the people can now receive communion…it’s far from ideal, but maybe it is more historical than we’d like to believe?

    A good part of ALL the problems/upheavals/changes, etc. in the 21st Century Roman Catholic Church is that no one has a good handle on all of Church history (including liturgy)…they have just enough to push their own agenda, but not enough to see that just about any “agenda” could be pushed based on past history…

    Just as the first Christian communities were quite different, we need to accept that uniformity is not our goal…unity is. Catechesis strives for uniformity…theology allows for unity.

  2. I believe this issue of a shortage of clergy is affecting all religions and denominations. I suspect secularism is a part of it and also pay. There are more choices today for getting ahead in the world and the priesthood is not a very prestigious career anymore nor does it pay much! If we were to ordain married men, what married man with a family wants to make the type of money that a Catholic parish can pay?
    I know in the larger Protestant Churches here, some Protestant pastors make up to $200,000 annually, have a home provided and other expenses.
    Perhaps as Catholics, we should be looking to those places in our country and elsewhere where vocations are flourishing and follow the model of being Church, celebrating the Liturgy and strengthening popular devotions such as Adoration, that seem to help facilitate vocations in a secularistic, materialistic world.

  3. There is no “clergy” shortage. There is a presbyter shortage. There are obviously enough bishops and many permanent deacons. Thus there is an ecclesiological-liturgical shortcircuit occuring in the ordering of the church. The colleges of presbyters cannot carry out their primary role as extensions of the episcopally rooted sacramental ministry (by their sheer lack of numbers) – and thus it is the bishop’s failure in ministry to the diocesan church. I fear that without sacramental care the baptized will continue to drift away and see the church even more as an institution with manegerial deficiencies. In some ways this attempt to survive on the part of the baptized will probably make the church all the more congregationalist. If it was more clear that the ordered church rises out of and enfolds into the baptized a healthy community may produce more presbyters to provide for its own care. I think a sense of ministerial “ownership” would go a long way.


    The “clergy” shortage is not denomination wide in the United States. It is a rural vs. urban problem. For example, the Episcopal diocese of Washington DC has at least one pastor per parish, more if the parish can afford it. The diocese has over 300 other liscensed ordained ministers. There are so many applications to the seminary system there is a multi-year holding pattern. The Episcopal diocese of Nebraska in comparison is mission territory – with fewer parishes and a shortage of pastors.

    1. Another solution for us in the Catholic tradition is ordaining married men like we do deacons, and allowing them to keep their secular jobs and minister part time. I think that I read somewhere that this might be possible for Anglican priests crossing the Tiber. This would be helpful in rural areas that can’t afford or really need a full time priest. But then, what jobs are there in rural areas? It is complex, but thinking outside the box might be needed. But again, in some places, celibate vocations are booming but in other areas these are not–what’s the difference? Have there been any studies?

      1. I think people need to consider the very practical details of the proferred solutions. And I don’t say this as a way to discourage such solutions. But so long as the discussion remains focused on concepts instead of details, we are avoiding necessary conversations.

        For example, just to illustrate with regard to married priests: For centuries, the Catholic faithful have relied on a structure that assumed that priests would be available 24/7/365 to minister to their needs, where the material needs of priests lacking dependents could be met with a measure of economy, and that where bishops were free to assign and transfer priests at will (pastors had more rights under pre-1983 canon law, but let’s put that aside for the time being). A shift towards married priests would create tensions with all those things, and not always in a way the faithful would welcome. There are many implications here that most people appear to gloss over on the Road to A New! Improved! Future (btw, I favor heading in its direction, but I know the road is a footpath up a very rocky hill).

        The faithful themselves have to have these conversations and prepare themselves for accepting changes in their expectations that they have yet to contemplate. That is difficult work, and the work of years. We don’t need to wait for the hierarchy to have the conversation, but we do need to stop thinking in such facile terms about ready solutions. All the solutions have costs and tough choices.

      2. Ordaining married men, before admitting women to the priesthood, is an invitation to disaster. It would say that any man is better than any woman. Instead of the married deacon analogy, how about men’s religious orders? Just as Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. have ordained and non-ordained members, women’s congregations could include ordained women.
        Additionally, I beleive we are headed for an over-supply of priests unless we can find a way to evangelize an increasing secular culture.

      3. Fr Edgar,

        In purely practical terms, ordaining celibate women would involve fewer demands on changing expectations of the faithful than ordaining married persons.

  4. I don’t think the shortage, if shortage it be, of the vocation to the priesthood can be discussed without reference to a general vocation shortage — for instance, (and perhaps more important,) the shortage of vocations to the married state.

    1. I agree. Many of the dynamics of contemporary culture – issues of dedication, credibility, committment, accountability, sacrifice, job satisfaction – are manifested across society and institutions.

      For my part I was trying to speak to Ruff’s point. That is, sacramental issues. Only the tripartite offices are ordered to manifest sacramental care with/to the baptized. Married, Sisters, Brothers, consecrated lay/virgins/widows – do not. Thus I think there is something particular to the disscussion when it comes to the number of presbyters and what that dynamic (high or low) does to the church sacramentaly.

    2. The shortage to the vocation of the Sacrament of Matrimony is a good point. If the family, the sacramental family, sees themselves as the “Church in miniature” then great things can happen and if they are open to life and large families, even greater things will happen. Strong Catholic identity is essential with clearly accepted teachings that are non-negotiable. When you look at the new movements in the Church, these are the places where a goodly number of vocations are coming in a greater percentage than in the average parish. In Augusta, a covenant charismatic Catholic community in existence since about 1970 has provided no less than 12 men to the priesthood since the 1990’s (a community of about 200 families I might add)and several women to religious life–it all stems from the classical Catholic identity, strong family life, strong community life and strong, strong prayer life and devotional life not to mention a moral and ethical life–isn’t that what worked in the 1950’s except parishes were able to pull it off instead of the new movements.

    1. Hard to say. I understand that Protestant churches who have long since ordained women and married people are having their own vocations crisis. As are teachers, police, fire, and other positions that serve the common good. Many people want their kids to grow up to be wealthy, powerful, and advantaged–not to be humble servants of society.

  5. The “priest shortage” is having a dramatic affect in the way parishes are organized. New parishes in our suburbs are designed for 10,000 people with churches resembling civic auditoriums in size. In the city, parishes are being consolidated left and right. While there are a variety of factors involved (including finances) the first reason cited for these decisions is the priest shortage.

    Pros: Larger parishes have what business folks would call an economy of scale. More time/talent/treasure in one place = more specialization of ministries and divisions of labor. This has its benefits. Musically you can do things with a 100 voice auditioned choir and orchestra that are not possible with a volunteer 8 voice choir and a nice lady who used to play the flute. And vice-versa.

    Cons: The mega-parish serving thousands is an unusual development in the history of pastoral care. There is a real danger that people will become nameless and faceless consumers of a myriad of programs while losing their identity as the Body of Christ.

    1. The mega-parish can also have the ability to draw people away from the smaller parishes, thus impoverishing them for talent.

      I think traditionally, the mega-parishes are in the suburbs, where we’ve generally seen the older Catholic population move. I have seen one instance where the improvement of various programs has drawn people to the old Cathedral. The result was that the smaller, old suburban parishes were impoverished, because everybody wanted to go to the Cathedral (and could, as long as they had a car).

      This might lead to a larger number of vocations being drawn in the mega parish who might be able to go out and eventually revitlalize the suburban and rural groups (the seminarians from the diocese came from that Cathedral). Even so, there might be some systemic damage just from people leaving for the bigger parish. It would be a lot easier to stay in the mega-parish than to “build up” the other parish, even if it’s closer.

    2. I am interested how large people would consider a “mega=parish.” That number would vary greatly depending on where one lived or what one’s experience was. My parish is roughly 5100 registered families give or take. Not small–but not large either by diocesan standards. To take our parish, for example, and divide it into 5 parishes of 1000 families would be counter-productive. You would now need at least 5 priests (5 parish staffs, 5 churches, etc).

      1. Congregation size is generally rising around the country, and not just among Catholics, largely for economy of scale reasons.

        The notion that there is some ideal size is not helpful. The random sample national study of congregations found many small ones both under 50 and under 100 people. Almost all had music and something like a sermon (e.g. witnessing, sharing). On the other hand, the mega churches are successful because they have so many small groups of different types.

        If you look at peoples talents, a smaller church often does not have enough opportunities. But as you get more people and opportunities, some are traded off for others. The parish where you have to audition to be in the choir, has to find another attractive ministry for the people who don’t make it. Even when choirs move from melody to four part, some people drop out while others are attracted.

        Stational churches in large cities where the bishop gathered many people for the principle liturgy was done in some places in past centuries. Laity in cities had a wide variety of monasteries shrines and chapels they could choose from. They may have had their own list of churches for certain feasts. It seems to me that Catholics today are too influenced by the Protestant notion that the local congregation is the ideal. When my parents were alive we shared two homes and one cabin across three dioceses and varied our attendance among six parishes and a cathedral.

      2. To take our parish, for example, and divide it into 5 parishes of 1000 families would be counter-productive.

        This seems question begging. It all depends on what it is that one wants to “produce.” If you think of a parish as providing the spiritual equivalents of “goods and services,” then, yes, it probably is counter productive. But if one thinks of a parish as a place that, e.g. forms character and fosters virtue, or produces something like a sense of community or some other value, then it might not be counter productive. My parish has about 350 families, and there are many things that a 5100 family parish can do that we cannot do. But I suspect that, conversely, there are things that we can do that a 5100 family parish cannot.

  6. Fr. Ruff, while I do believe that the priest shortage will lead to a further erosion of house blessings, Daily Masses, Anointings, etc., I also think that by and large much of the damage was already done. Most of the Catholics with whom I’ve talked from my parents’ generation view them as unimportant because they are unnecessary (with the exception of the Anointing, perhaps). Such a view has largely been instilled in the children of this generation.

    People of my own age have often grown up with a lack of familiarity with many of these liturgical practices. We might have known that there was a Daily Mass through the bulletin, but that didn’t necessarily mean that we were ever invited to go. In a sense, the “cultural Catholicism” might have been in our DNA, but it was dormant.

    I believe that this lack of familiarity with “what priests do” may also further lead to a priest shortage. My peers and I knew that priests would act “in persona Christi” to consecrate the Eucharist, but otherwise, I don’t think we had a good sense of the life of a priest.

    Interestingly, where I have seen Daily Masses, Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, etc., strongly and consistently promoted among the youth and college students, vocations have increased. This goes for whether we are talking about more liberal or conservative parishes or dioceses. Unfortunately, in order to gain vocations this way, this might mean that the rural areas may continue to suffer from lack of…

  7. According to Chaves Congregations in America, the first random sample study of congregations conducted in 1998, 7% of Protestant congregations (accounting for 5% of Protestant churchgoers) are without a clergyperson or religious leader (even part-time) in comparison to 1% of Catholic congregations (accounting for 2% of Catholic churchgoers)

    In terms of having a full time staff member, 39% of Protestant congregations (accounting for 18% of Protestants) have none; this compares to 33% of Catholic congregations (accounting for only 7% of Catholics church goers) that have none.

    The shortage of church professionals is far greater in Protestant congregations than in Catholic congregations whether measured in terms of part-time or full time professionals

    Chaves argues that the total number of ministers in Protestant churches generally exceeds the total number of congregations. For example in the Methodist Church in 1999 there were 35,609 congregations and 43,872 total clergy. However, only 24,988 clergy were serving in congregations.

    The problem, in Chaves words, is that “although there are sufficient qualified clergy to meet the labor needs of the congregations, there are substantial numbers of congregations unable to attract those clergy –mainly, it is safe to say, because they are unable to provide adequate compensation or because they are located in places where the clergy do not wish to live.”

    Thinking needs to be more attuned to data, this and other.

    1. Jack, two points. First, some of these Protestants have an ecclesiology and worship tradition which makes it somewhat less important to have an ordained minister. I know a former Methodist who grew up singing hymns with a piano in a tiny country church in Tennesee as regular Sunday worship. You can’t have Mass without a priest, though. The implications for us of our priesthood shortage are much more grave, based on what we say we believe about ourselves and our worship.
      2. This study is 12 years old. How do the numbers look now? What are the projections for 5 or 10 years hence? Pretty dire, much more dire than 1998.

      1. No doubt about the projections. Chaves also acknowledges the differences in ecclesiology means that Catholics experience a problem when Protestants don’t.

        But his point that Protestants find it very hard to fill vacancies in undesirable locations is a strong caution about a married priesthood as a staffing solution. Are we going to send celibate priests to staff undesirable locations? I suspect the nuns might be willing to go there. Probably some of them are already there.

  8. I don’t have evidence to back this, but I was once told by a theologian that America has one of the larger per capita number of priests in the world. If this theologian’s assertion is correct, we might think we have a priest shortage in the States–but we don’t. We have more priests per capita than many of the other countries in the world. If this is true–and it may or may not be–the fact still remains that there exists only 1 priest for every 1,500 people (or whatever the number may be.) That doesn’t seem to be enough. How is the rest of the Roman Catholic world handling things?

    For the record, I agree with Clarey and Fr. Edgar (and others, perhaps.) Fr. Edgar said that ordaining married men before any women would be a blow to women within the Church.

    1. Hi Cody, Good point, and yes, we do have one of the highest priest/people ratios in the world. From this I would not draw the conclusion that we don’t have a priesthood shortage in the US, but rather, as dire as our shortage is, it is even worse in other parts of the RC church.

  9. There are, of course, the thousands of resigned priests, many of whom are willing to help in priestly ministry in some capacity. Meanwhile they are treated as second-class citizens, even forbidden by our compassionate bishops to act as readers at the liturgy. What a waste…

    1. It should be noted that these men, on their own, went through a lengthy process of petitioning the personal favor of the Holy Father to be released from the obligations of the clerical state. This was not a quick decision where they did not know the consequences. Some may have been misled/lied to by seminary professors and others that the Church would change in a few years after they were ordained and so went into ordination without full knowledge, but they knew what they were doing when they petitioned to leave active ministry. It is completely dishonest for you to blame a bishop for simply carrying out what the man asked for himself.

  10. Whatever happened to the Bishop going to a parish and taking up residence until the folks in that parish community chose a man they thought qualified to be their pastor by experience and the example of his life? That would have worked in many of the rural parishes that got dumped in the trash. This diocese started a 3 year “diocesan leadership training program” that could have easily evolved into an education for the priesthood for local candidates who kept their jobs and traveled to the see city for weekly classes. The program died because the presbyterate resented sharing their power with “ordinary laymen”.

  11. Reality check guys: Pope John Paul II has reiterated clear Church teaching – the Church has no authority to ordain married women and ever one us reading this will go to graves without seeing them. Let’s look for realistic solutions – married clergy is one option but if the church cannot attract many celibate men it cannot afford to pay for many married men so we still have a likely numbers problem. Reduction in frequency of reception of Communion is not a solution but may be an inevitable effect. Is there precedent for increasing the powers of deacons? Would that help? (I know they cannot celebrate Mass but I meant possibly to have a clerical presence to lead Matins, Lauds or Vespers on Sundays when no Mass is possible.)

  12. Clarey-

    We already have plenty of married clergy in our deacons. Re. women: I don’t see how simulated sacraments would help our situation.
    We could invest in parish based instituted lectors and acolytes instead of discouraging them in preference to readers and emhcs.

  13. Projections of the priest shortage.

    Take these very seriously. Accept the projections for the next twenty years as reality and begin to make plans for dealing with that reality. The projections made by sociologists in the past have been very accurate.

    Even if this year a pope were elected who favored married priests, even if he was willing to accept priests back who are married, the reality is that it would take about ten years to go through processes in Rome, at the national Episcopal conference levels and at the local diocesan level before married priests started arriving in any significant numbers (while priests will still be retiring and dying), and maybe another ten years before the supply climbs up to where it is now (again because older priests will continue to retire and die). Just all pray we don’t have any major pandemic that kills a lot of elderly priests; things could get very bad.

    More likely it will be five, maybe even ten years before we have a new pope which moves the optimistic scenario above back.

    Will we get a lot of new celibate vocations? People have been working on this. Here and there it looks promising but nothing appears to be happening across the board. Again if it does take off across the board sometime in the next ten years, all the problems of balancing off those who continue to retire and die detailed above apply.

    The projections for the next twenty years will become reality. Plan for them, even if your bishop/pastor does not.

  14. Are the numbers of Catholics valid?

    1. Many Catholics are not registered in a parish. Some Catholics are registered in more than one parish. Many people “church shop” and attend Mass at more than one parish

    3. Few Catholics attend Mass on every Sunday (or Holy Day of Obligation).

    1. A good point.

      Data on church attendance is very difficult to come by. People generally over report their church attendance in surveys. The response “weekly” may actually mean half the Sundays even though there is another response “monthly or more often” that could have been checked. Some researchers have suggested that the over reporting may be twice the actual attendance. This has been widely debated among researchers.

      Registration may mean that they make an annual contribution although they never come to church. It may mean the parish has never taken them off the books. People may come weekly without ever registering because they are trying out the parish, or they just don’t contribute enough to justify registration for tax purposes.

      Efforts to get more accurate data have generally ended up in failure.

  15. Hold on! The thousands of priests who have left active ministry did not ask to be treated like second-class citizens. People who ask for annulments from marriages are not treated in the same way as priests who petition to be released from their clerical obligations. I blame the bishops who remain silent about this sort of treatment by the Vatican. The men who leave may know the consequences, but that does not mean the consequences are fair and just and reflect gospel love and graciousness. This “they get what they asked for” bromide comes from unbending commitment to rules and regulations, and from some measure of blindness to the church of grace and mercy. The men I know are not begging to have all their clerical rights restored, but are willing to help when there is serious need.

    1. That seems to be a vision of the priesthood that is solely functional. You are advocating having some men live “normal lives” but then come out from time to time to drop into a parish, confect the Eucharist, and then go back to what they were doing until the next time the bat phone rings. I think a large part of the diminished numbers of priests (I use that in the past tense purposely and the number of seminarians nationally is on the rise) results from a real crisis in priestly identity. That problem is certainly not helped by having men who do not want to “be priests,” but would be willing to “act like priests” from time to time.

  16. The Knoxville diocese during the 1985-95 era was held up as a model for other diocese looking for a successful way to attract candidates for the priesthood because it was a very small diocese and had a very large number of seminarians. What stood out in Knoxville was the fact that the bishop and the priests loved what their were doing, they were happy. Contrary to today’s model, Knoxville was pretty relaxed and might even have been called liberal. The bishop made every priest a “vocation director” and gave them the tools to be good salesmen for the priesthood. The priests “sold” the vocation to any young man who would listen. The success rate took personal contact. While those who live in ivory towers may look down on the concept of salesmanship, that’s what works. How many bishops make every priest in the diocese responsible for asking one young man per month if he’d ever thought of becoming a priest? How many priests have made themselves responsible for making the priesthood look like an attractive option? Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places. In the past the priesthood was a step up for a young man from a very poor family. Maybe we need to start looking for priests in those places where families are free from the slavery of having stuff, where the kids know what pain and sacrifice really mean, where they know their greatest wealth is in their relationships.

  17. Robert Dibdale said We could invest in parish based instituted lectors and acolytes instead of discouraging them in preference to readers and emhcs.

    You could, but you might prefer not to do so in light of the fact that under the present regulations these instituted ministries are not open to persons of the female gender.

  18. I must confess that when I first saw this topic, I thought we would be having a discussion about the liturgical implications, as Anthony suggested. So far, we seem to have been concentrating on the shortage of priests instead. So how about this?:

    Fewer priests means fewer Masses. Fewer Masses means that people who have never historically had to worship together will now find themselves in church at the same time. This has implications for liturgical style, and in particular musical style.

    Now you will have a Mass which has to cater both for those who like a more traditional style and a conventional choir, and those who prefer a more relaxed style and a contemporary ensemble. Multiply that scenario by the number of Mass styles in your community: the Latin Mass, the choir Mass, the family Mass, the Taizé-style Mass, the folk Mass, the monastic Mass, etc, and it is clear that some thought needs to be given to how this is managed.

    I believe that a useful way of realizing what this means is to think of colours: some people prefer/are used to red, some yellow, some blue, some green. Let’s say that those represent the four main styles in your community. I don’t think it is pastorally defensible, now that there is only one Mass here (because the priest is also supplying in two other churches), to say to people “Well, sorry, folks, your preferred colour is only going to come up one Sunday in four. The other three Sundays you’ll just have to suffer…” (ctd)

    1. (ctd) I repeat, that’s not pastorally defensible.

      We have to find ways of celebrating which are inclusive, not exclusive. We have to find ways of ensuring that everyone present can identify with at least some of what is going on and the way in which it is going on, so that all may have a stake in the celebration.

      And this is going to mean sacrifice — on the part of all, including even the priest. Everyone is going to have to give up something of their own particular liturgical preferences for the common good. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

      Now, I don’t see this problem biting in the US very much as yet, but in other parts of the world it’s already a reality. And so you find Masses which include several different colours of the rainbow at the same celebration, and the people in those communities have had to learn how to be hospitable to others whose tastes/backgrounds/expectations may be different from their own. It’s very Christian — Catholic, in fact.

      And the allocation of colours needs to be not random but systematic. One way of doing it is structurally: introductory rites, Word, Eucharist, Communion rite, mission, each with its own colour. Another way would be via liturgical form: litany-form one colour, acclamations another, hymns a third, etc.

      Finally, I would say don’t wait until this has to happen. We need to apprentice ourselves now to what the situation will become if the numbers of clergy do not keep pace with current requirements.

  19. The problems of the next 20 years are greater than music styles or translations.

    If your parish has only one priest now, chances are high that it will have none. Are you going to close? Be merged? Will you have a traveling pastor?

    If you have more than one priest now, you will likely have only one in the future. You are going to be taking in people from closed parishes around you.

    I have taken courses at the local seminary. The halls are lined with the pictures of the large ordination classes of past years. Those are the people who are retiring. There were few seminarians in the classes, a stark comparison with the pictures. Even if you added the equal numbers of women in the classes, it would not come close to making up the difference.

    Take a good hard look at all the proposed solutions: married priests, women priests, former priests, vocations strategies. They all have their holes.

    Take a long hard realistic look at how long it will take to even begin to turn this around.

    Our church is very poorly managed. The bishops never faced the sexual abuse problem until the media and now lawsuits have forced them. They have not faced the priest shortage and they are unlikely to do so until it gets very, very bad like the sex abuse scandal.

    I spent the last 20 years with the planning responsibility in the public mental health system. We faced a lot of tough problems. You don’t solve them by not facing the facts or by wishful thinking.

  20. The “functional vision of priesthood.” Canon law solidly supports such a vision, allowing for resigned priests to celebrate sacraments in emergency situations. The declining number of priests presents more of these emergency situations. I think in particular of an area of the northwest where it is often impossible to find a priest to celebrate the anointing of the sick, and several resigned priests are in the area. Priestly functions are required here, and concerns about a resigned priest’s career decisions ought to be secondary.

  21. Shortages cannot be measured solely by quantitative data…we need to look at the quality of those ordained…we are finding in our diocese that many (most?) of the newly ordained are miles to the right of the majority of parishioners, leading to additional departures of lay people.

    It doesn’t help that Canon Law has suddenly declared that bishops and priests are ordained to govern & deacons are ordained to serve…I though all clergy were to be servants of the People of God?? There is this constant pulling up of the ladder to create a further chasm amongst the baptized…

    While wringing hands over the very secular culture “out there”, I find that people are deeply spiritual, but don’t have a place or the knowledge to keep progressing in their spiritual lives; it is the Church which has abandoned them…never bringing the riches of spiritual writings & practices directly to the people, but leaving these practices to those who have been ordained or professed…there is such need for spiritual direction, but what busy pastor of a humongous (or even small!) parish has time to do any of this? Thank goodness for spiritual direction training for lay people springing up all across our country…the yeast from within is what leavens, not the pushing & pulling of the dough from without.

    1. It doesn’t help that Canon Law has suddenly declared that bishops and priests are ordained to govern & deacons are ordained to serve…I though all clergy were to be servants of the People of God?? There is this constant pulling up of the ladder to create a further chasm amongst the baptized…

      Lynne–decades before the 1983 Code of Canon Law something called the Second Vatican Council said exactly that.

    2. Lynne,

      Amen to “people are deeply spiritual, but don’t have a place or the knowledge to keep progressing in their spiritual lives” “the Church which has abandoned them…never bringing the riches of spiritual writings & practices directly to the people”

      Few parishes (even progressive ones) have the intellectual and spiritual riches (both progressive and traditional) of the Catholic Worker movement. It provided these and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to both college students and the homeless who lived together. All provided by lay people long before Vatican II!

      If our parishes will not become such rich communities to be a contrast and beacon to the world, then we laity will just have to create our own communities using the very flexible model of the Catholic Worker. Such communities will live in “high tension” with church management as well as with the secular world, as did the Catholic worker movement.

      The sociological literature suggests “high tension” is the path to growth and success. The USA bishops moved toward the Catholic Worker movement on social justice issues. Rome moved toward them on peace (approving conscience objection at Vatican II and now talking as if war is almost never justified in practice today).

      Opportunities for corporal and spiritual works of mercy are not limited to the inner city. Affluent suburbs have plenty of interesting people with severe mental illness needing a ceative and supportive community.

  22. Lynne,

    You don’t really explain what you mean when you say young priests are to the “right” of a majority of parishioners.

    Our parishes are not congregational – they are not assemblies of already “forgiven and assured saints”. We need priests who challenge us and who present the faith in its fullness. You are fortunate to have priests who possess some zeal ard seem confident in their priesthood. There is little less pastoral than a pastor who leaves people unsure about what the Church actually teaches or who celebrates the liturgy in the most minimal way possible.

    1. I am sure glad Jesus never challenged his disciples or those who heard him to be better. Because then being a disciple might be hard. Wait, I just re-read the Gospels, he did that all the time. We are all like those in John 6: This teaching is hard! But we all have a choice to make–do we go back to our pre-baptismal lives or do we stay with the one has the words of everlasting life? As the Holy Father says, the Church (and those who speak for the Church–not just clergy) proposes. It proposes the Truth to the world. It is up to everyone to decide what they will do with it. The proposition is hard–but so is being a disciple. Watered down preaching and teaching does not do right by anyone. “Jesus loves us just the way we are” does not cut it. No where in the definition of the world “pastoral” is ” a nice guy who feels like my buddy and says everything I do is ok.” Jesus did not say “I am the good shepherd. I make sure everyone feels self-actualized and important. I confirm everyone in their current way of life.” Rather, he says that He lays down His life for the sheep. To be a priest today, to stand before the people of God in persona Christi capitis, requires the same. Laying down one’s life may mean a loss of popularity, it may mean a drop in the collection, but it will lead to the salvation of souls (which is the supreme law).

      1. Proclaiming the challenge of the Gospel is praiseworthy. It is enjoined upon every priest. However, there could be arrogance in believing that one has the truth of the Gospel and the ‘faithless’ sheep do not. Church history gives many examples of erroneous teachings from church officials – eg, that charging interest is wrong, that freedom of religion is wrong, that separation of church and state is wrong, that leaving a physically abusive husband is wrong, that enjoying marital relations is sinful. In all these cases the ‘faithful’ priest could congratulate himself for teaching the hard truth, and he could interpret the resistance of ‘faithless’ sheep as a sign that he’s undergoing what Jesus did. But in all these cases, the ‘faithful’ priest was wrong, and the ‘faithless’ sheep were right.
        Caution: lots and lots of humility is needed from anyone who would challenge others with hard truths!
        Fr. Anthony

      2. You know, I agree with you, and I had that in the back of my mind as I posted. But I fear that that train has left the station…

    2. Challenging us by demand, by pray-pay-obey, going back to the 50s when father was always right…nope, that ‘s not a challenge to a better relationship with God, it’s just a power trip.

  23. “Power trip” sounds way too mild, Lynne. I’m not quite sure what one phrase _would_ adequately cover the ground, though.

  24. Still trying to get the knack of replying in line…

    Fr. Anthony said: You know, I agree with you, and I had that in the back of my mind as I posted. But I fear that that train has left the station…”

    Yes, but. . . . Eexcessive interest is wrong, but _some_ interest is an incentive to lend, and just as much an incentive to repay promptly. All things in proper proportion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *