Access to Priests

The Numbers Game VI

As the expression goes, numbers do not lie. In reviewing the Catholic numbers as they are, some conclusions need to be drawn. Of course, as has already been noted, there are a variety of factors that have brought about the numbers. With or without admitting these factors, there are some obvious trends that must be admitted.

At the top of the list is the trend that is already playing itself out in many parts of the United States -- the faithful have less and less access to a priest. Although many priests do their best these days to be available to the flock entrusted to their care, the dwindling numbers will limit that accessibility. This is an area that the priest himself will have to come to grips with -- he cannot meet the demands by himself and will have to accept his limitations.

It is not that the numbers have been better in the urban and suburban areas like the New York City region. Rather, the ratio of priests to parishioners has been about the same, or even worse, than other parts of the country. It is the large congregations that have kept the ratio somewhat in check. Thus, for the most part, there are almost no priestless parishes in our diocese.

However, that is changing quickly and may change faster than the people want. For instance, in this diocese, active priests over the age 65 comprise about 1/3 of the presbyterate. Within 10 years many of them will retire. Combine this with the fact that the seminary is practically empty leads us to the stark reality that parishes will soon be administered by non-resident priests.

The question is, “Are we preparing for this rapid change?”