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Chris Schenk and Don Cozzens
Sr. Chris Schenk and Fr. Don Cozzens team up for a presentation to standing room only crowd of over 500.

Changing Face of the Priesthood:
The Future of Ministry

“Priests in the future will be less clerical,”
said Fr. Don Cozzens at FutureChurch’s Changing Face of the Priesthood: The
Future of Ministry presentation
given together with Sr. Chris Schenk at Call to Action. “This is a good thing because they
will be more identified as baptized disciples
of Jesus than as clerics.”

Cozzens doesn’t believe the vocation crisis will change. He cited a birth rate of only 1.8 children per family and statistics showing
that 67% of parents would not encourage son or daughter to be a priest or a nun. However he believes that young Catholics remain very idealistic since a high percentage give one or two years of volunteer service after college.

Between 1970-2003 there was a 40% decline in number of priests. For every 100 priests that die, leave or retire there are only 40-45 priests to replace them. This, complicated by the clergy sexual misconduct crisis have produced “skyrocketing stress and plummeting prestige,” he said. “Most priests like doing what they do, but many are exhausted,” said Cozzens. “Others are well rested…these are the last of the landed gentry,” he said to hearty laughter by the nearly 500 in attendance.

A highly educated adult laity who think for themselves can be intimidating to some priests and increase stress levels. This can lead many priests to “decrease their world to the boundaries of their parish as a survival technique.” A complicating factor is the clerical system in which priests can be kept dependent on the approval of the bishop who becomes a father figure. This does not make for healthy adult development in Cozzens’ opinion. He believes the collapse of the rationale for mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests only adds to the present crisis.

Cozzens had several ideas for a healthier and happier priesthood of tomorrow:

  1. Allow diocesan priests the freedom to live where they would like. It is very difficult to be alone in a huge rectory or forced to live with one or two others who have a vastly different theology.
  2. Let priests marry if they are called to marriage
  3. Give priests a real salary. For many the salary is below the poverty line, yet priests live a middle class lifestyle because food, shelter, car, health and retirement are provided. For Cozzens this can lead to a sense of feeling like a “kept man.”
  4. Priests in the future may be more prophetic. This can be difficult today since there is so much to lose. In the clerical system, respect and recognition by the Bishop are critically important. Many priests experience a familiar knot in stomach when told “the Bishop will see you now” in visits to the chancery.
  5. The priesthood of the future will be more collaborative of necessity. Yet this will be difficult if priests don’t know how to work with others also called to service or if they don’t know how to discern the gifts of the faithful.
  6. Priests of the future will need to be better listeners. Not in the sense of listening to a question or problem with a view to giving answers, but in the sense of listening so the priest himself might be informed and transformed by others.

FutureChurch director Sr. Christine Schenk presented new statistics showing that contrary to statements by Catholic leaders there is no clergy shortage in the Protestant Church (see article). As priestly ranks plummet, there are rapidly increasing numbers of laity ministering in both the worldwide and U.S. Church. Sadly, in the U.S. highly qualified and certified lay ministers have difficulty finding employment even though, according to a 2000 study by U.S. Bishops, both Bishops and laity expect the need for their ministry to increase.

The 2001 Vatican yearbook shows the numbers of lay ministers, nuns and deacons increased from 3.6 million in 2000 to 3.9 million worldwide, while only 405,000 priests (a decrease of 111) are available to serve 1.06 billion Catholics.

In the U.S. the numbers of priests declined from 57,000 for 52 million Catholics in 1985 to 45,000 for 66 million Catholics in 2003 (OCD). U.S. seminarians decreased from 8325 in 1965 to only 3414 in 2003. Deacons have increased steadily to 14,000 since 1971.

Since 1985 laity enrolled in U.S. ministry formation programs rose from 10,500 in 206 programs in 1985 to 35,448 enrolled in 313 programs in 2003. Of the 313 programs 49% offer academic degrees such as Masters degrees in Pastoral Studies or Theology, 62% offer certificates and 30% offer both. In 2003 CARA published the results of a survey of 8119 graduates from Lay Ministry programs. Of the 2,082 ministers responding to the survey, only 660 found full time employment. 224 found part time employment and 1198 are serving as volunteers.

An estimated 82% of all paid lay ecclesial ministers are women. Some estimate that there are as many 100,000 lay ministers serving in the U.S. church.

The session closed with several comments from women ministers with personal experience of losing their jobs when a new pastor arrived or because of financial deficits due to the economy or the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Fall 2003



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