There is a severe crisis looming in the U.S. Catholic Church. In just four years, half (nearly 9000) of our diocesan priests are expected to retire. New vocations will not even come close to replacing those retiring.
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Center for Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), half - nearly 9,000 -- of the 17,900 diocesan priests currently in active ministry in the US are expected to retire by 2019. If new vocations maintain current levels - levels they have been at for decades - there will only be about 1,600 newly ordained to replace them. That is a net loss of 7400 priests.
The response of our bishops, thus far, has been to close or merge parishes, build larger churches and import international priests.
Closing and merging parishes has resulted in a loss of 1,750 parishes over the last fifteen years while the number of Catholics has risen by 6.7 million. This means fewer and fewer parishes to serve greater and greater numbers. Further, the downsizing is debilitating. Some parishioners accept the decisions of their bishops. Others fight. Yet after long and fierce legal proceedings no real "winner" ever emerges. The biggest "losers" are the parishioners. Many become so disaffected that they simply walk away. Forty percent of merged parishes report a decrease in size (https://futurechurch.org/2003-study). More closures and mergers will continue to alienate Catholics while failing to meet the sacramental needs of a growing number.
Recruiting international priests is a questionable practice. Language barriers and cultural differences make it difficult for these priests to effectively preach the Gospel and provide pastoral care in a culture far different from their own. More importantly, this practice removes international priests from their homes and deprives these areas -- where the Catholic population is often growing at rapid rates -- of the priests they need.
For 25 years FutureChurch has educated Catholics about the priest shortage and the calamitous impact it is having on parishes and the sacramental life of the People of God.
Pope Francis has made it known that he is open to receiving proposals from national bishops' conferences that courageously address the clergy shortage -- including consideration of ordaining married men.
Following Pope Francis's lead, FutureChurch urges the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to undertake a fresh examination of:
- restoring the early Church's practice of ordaining both married and celibate priests
- restoring our early practice of ordaining female and male deacons
- inviting priests who left the active ministry to marry, to return.
FutureChurch further urges the USCCB to petition Pope Francis to open priestly ordination to married men and to restore the female diaconate.
Failure to act amounts to a failure of leadership.
Now is the time to take Pope Francis at his word and propose strategies that provide access to the Eucharist for all Catholics.
Now is the time to act.
Join FutureChurch's efforts today by signing our Open Letter to the U.S. Bishopsurging them to open a discussion of these issues at their next general assembly in November with a view to presenting concrete suggestions for opening ordination to Pope Francis.
Go to www.futurechurch.org/actions/openletter2014 to sign the letter and forward it onto others.