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Corpus Christi Addresses the Priest Shortage

By Christine Schenk

In June, 43 special celebrations of the feast of Corpus Christi were held by parishes, small faith communities, church reform groups and religious orders all over the U.S. The programs accented education, love for the Eucharist and concern for its
survival in the midst of a precipitous decline of priests. One struggling diocese even adapted resources from the FutureChurch/CTA Future of Priestly Ministry packet to encourage special educational programs in all of its parishes.

Vatican 2001 statistics show ample cause for concern:
105, 530 of the world’s 218,196 parishes do not have a resident priest. From 1999-2000, the world’s Catholics increased by 15 million to 1.06 billion but the number of priests declined by 111 to only 404, 956. By contrast, the number of non priests giving
pastoral care rose from 3.6 million catechists, nuns and deacons in 2000, to 3.9 million in 2001.

Since Pope John Paul II took office, the total number of priests has declined by four percent while numbers of Catholics increased by a whopping 40 percent.

In the U.S. according to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, numbers of students in U.S. theologates declined for the first time in five years.

However, the numbers of people studying to be lay ministers increased by 1000 to 35, 448 the current year. This compares to 10,500 enrolled in lay ministry programs in 1985-86. An estimated 82% of lay ministers are women.

A June 20 Religion and Ethics News Weekly story on priestless parishes focused on the Archdiocese of Dubuque, where 100 of 350 parishes are run by lay people. Fr. Dave Abernathy said: “When I was ordained 18 years ago, there were almost 300 of us, and now there's about 120. In five to 10 years, they project it will be 75 and we still have 200 parishes, we have eight high schools, 60 grade schools, three Catholic colleges, and other institutions.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican no longer suspends married men ordained in Eastern Catholic Churches in the U.S. and Australia. The ordinations occur quietly and regularly despite a mandatory celibacy rule the Vatican says is still in force.

Vatican optimists calculate that the number of seminarians must be at least 12.5 percent of current priests in order to replace priests who leave, retire or die. This level is surpassed in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Europe it hovers around 12.5 percent with wide regional differences. In the U.S. and Canada it is only 9.7 percent.

Vatican goals are too small. To plan only to replace the current numbers of priests is to plan for scarcity. But the renewal of the Church is increasingly in the hands of burgeoning numbers of lay ministers and ordinary Catholics who decide to take positive action such as the FutureChurch/CTA Corpus Christi programs.

Summer 2003



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