Church's vocations situation is serious - Catholic Courier

Church’s vocations situation is serious

One of the most serious problems facing the Catholic Church today is the precipitous decline in vocations to the ordained priesthood, and the negative impact the decline is having on the morale and physical health of the thousands of still-active priests.

Some church leaders are still convinced that the vocational crisis will eventually turn around. They say that all we need is more prayer, more sacrifice, more encouragement from parents and priests, and more enlightened methods of recruitment.

Unfortunately, they have been saying these same things since the late-1960s when the crisis first appeared. Meanwhile, the situation only worsens.

In my home Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., however, our pastoral leaders seem more realistic. According to a mid-November article in The Hartford Courant, the archdiocese is anticipating a time when there might be only three priests available to serve the Town of West Hartford’s six parishes. Of the nine priests currently assigned, two are eligible for retirement and others will be eligible in the near future.

West Hartford, the story notes, is one of the state’s “more vibrant” Catholic communities. Its parishes are growing, not shrinking. In response, the archdiocese has developed a plan to do there what it has been compelled to do in at least 50 other parishes (with more to come), namely, to merge parishes and to make one priest responsible for two or more of them.
This will inevitably reduce the number of weekend Masses in each of the merged parishes.

Various lay people and one of the West Hartford pastors were quoted in The Hartford Courant article urging a reconsideration of the Roman Catholic Church’s rule that priests must be celibate for life. But only the pope can change this policy, and it is highly unlikely that Benedict XVI will be the one to do it.

It is in the context of such pastoral developments as these in the Archdiocese of Hartford that one should pay close attention to a recent article in Commonweal magazine by a priest-sociologist in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Paul Stanosz. The article is entitled “The Other Health Crisis: Why Priests Are Coping Poorly” (11/23/07).

His archdiocese has transferred its 151-year-old seminary’s academic programs to Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corner, Wis., and has proposed the sale of its 44 acres of prime real estate to pay clergy sexual-abuse claims, with the possibility of bankruptcy on the horizon.

“Among priests, meanwhile, there is much talk of high stress, poor health, and low morale,” Father Stanosz writes. “More and more are battling burnout and depression as well as suffering heart attacks and dying prematurely. Two have committed suicide in recent years.”

Father Stanosz insists that “our bishops must be honest about the crisis of health, morale, and collegiality among priests.”

“The greatest threat to priests’ well-being,” Father Stanosz concludes, “is denial.”

We seem to have that commodity in abundance.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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