….Like it or not, full-service parishes will soon perish.
All 231 parishes in the Cleveland Diocese will soon change. The diocese will organize all parishes into groups that will share resources and priests.
I can see the bishop flipping through a thesaurus to find the right word to describe what he will do with the churches to combat the dwindling priesthood.
Hmm. Let’s see . . . Reorganize. Reconfigure. Reconstitute. Merge. Consolidate. Collaborate. Cluster.
Cluster sounds much better than Share A Priest, which is what clustering amounts to. It also sounds better than closing churches, which is bound to happen next.
We should’ve seen it coming. The trend has swept the nation as fewer men join the priesthood and more priests die and retire.
I still remember the letter from the bishop more than a decade ago addressing the shortage of priests. Our pastor read the letter and said we were to have meetings and talk about how to get along with fewer priests.
When he told us we were not allowed, however, to discuss the issue of married priests or women priests, you could feel a breeze as heads shook collectively in disgust.
We all knew there was a solution. Actually two of them:
End of shortage.
Unfortunately, every pope is deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other when it comes to ordaining women and married clergy.
Ryan Duns, SJ gives a fair critique of this article by Regina Brett of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
What always gets me about articles like this where the answer to any priesthood shortage is always married priests and priestesses. They never ask the obvious questions and seem to see this problem without addressing the past. Just exactly how did the Catholic Church continue to grow and be around for 2,000 years without priestesses and married priests in the Latin Rite? They never notice that this is a modern problem. There were no stories about a vocations crunch forty years ago, but now there are more and more of them. They also never want to analyze just what it is in our culture that is suppressing people from responding to their vocations to the priesthood or the religious life. In fact I can’t recall one of these articles ever talking about the shrinking number of nuns and brothers in the religious life. If is always focused just on priests and for them the lack of access to the sacraments. The contemplative orders that are holding up the Church in prayer – and their declining numbers does not seem to be a problem for them. In fact prayer just never seems part of their vocations strategy. Praying to the Lord of the Harvest to send workers in the vineyard to them is an outdated strategy regardless of the fact that this was the vocations strategy in the Gospels.
There are surely many factors in the suppression of the response to vocations. A society that focuses on pleasure and extreme selfishness is not exactly one that encourages a total giving of yourself to others and to the greater glory of the Church. Smaller families also contribute to the problem. Just how many of the great saints were the first or second born? Somehow we think we can both cut the number of children and at the same time provide the numbers of people in the priesthood in religious life as before. Isn’t it less likely that Catholic parents of a small family are going to encourage vocations in the first place? Most of us parents have all kinds of plans for the successful career of our children and the idea of losing access to them in a convent or to the busy life of a priest doesn’t fit most of our agendas. Few of us are like Louis Martin , father of St. Terese, who are willing to lose all their children to religious life. Relativism and modernism are certainly factors involved in this, yet their answers always seem to involve more relativism and modernism. Fighting viruses with dead viruses works in some cases, but is there a dead strain of relativism to fight relativism with? The vaccine to relativism is of course proclaiming and living the truth in the first place and this is a vaccine we can all produce.
While there are certainly factors that have lead to this decrease this does not mean we throw our hands in the air and just complain about these root causes. Our job is to pray for those who have vocations for the priesthood and religious life to respond with generosity and faithfulness. To encourage those we meet to discern whether they have these specific vocations. To fully live the Gospel and to not become a stumbling block to those who have been called.
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP is a great preacher on vocations and recently on this topic preached.
The witness of the lay faithful is needed now more than ever! If the faith is to center our vocation efforts, then we need daily witnesses, daily teachers, and the everyday faithful. That’s you, folks! Ask one young man this week to consider the priesthood. Just one. Tell him he is needed. With Christ on board, put your nets into deep water and pull for all you’re worth. And do not be afraid! They are waiting to hear your word of encouragement, your invitation. Trust me! They are waiting to be caught. Fish long and hard and fish faithfully. But whatever you do: FISH!
I have a solution to the nun shortage. Married and male nuns.
I’ve got three boys, and I’ve made it clear that I’d love to see any or all of them go innto the priesthood. Alas, the oldest was born with the word “engineer” stamped on his forehead, and the second one is being raised by his agnostic demon-spawn mother. So I have to pin my hopes on the youngest, who is not quite three and may still be influenceable.
The fight against relativism ought to start by requiring seminarians to have at least one course in physics, where they will learn that the Einstein thing ought to be called the “Laws of Absoluteness” – basically, Einstein required the invariance of the speed of light in order to guarantee the validity of the Maxwell equations.
Anyone who claims that “everything is relative” is not scientific.
Oh, yes. That’s an absolute statement, too – so those claimants aren’t logical either. (Maybe the seminarians ought to take a class in computer science too, or are they still taught “Barbara Celerant”?)
Failing this, perhaps at the very least, they could read some of Jaki’s work, and find out the truth of things:
The equivalence of all inertial reference systems, the relativity of all motion with respect to the observer, the impossibility of measuring the simultaneity of events taking place at different points, formed only the surface of special relativity. Beneath the surface lay Einstein’s conviction, hardly explainable by Mach’s sensationism, that the laws of physics (Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations, to be specific) carried a validity and beauty in their very form which was to be retained regardless of the reference system to which they were related. The price to be paid for such an “ontological” conviction was nothing less than the recognition of the absolute, though not directly and in its ultimate form, which is God. Yet the postulate that the speed of light must have a constant value which is independent of the observer, of the velocity of its source, even of its reference system, was a step toward the absolute.
[Angels, Apes, and Men 91; also see essays in his The Absolute Beneath the Relative]
And in the meantime, we need to keep this matter high on our prayer intentions…
Thanks for referencing my critique of the article! Your blog is one I enjoy very much.
One quick thing: I’m a scholastic, not yet a priest (God willing, about seven more years).
Thanks for your great blog!
Peace & Prayers,
A clarifying note on the article from a priest in that diocese: Clustering was not a program started by our new bishop, Bishop Lennon (who so far seems absolutely great). He inherited it. And quite honestly there is a general concensus among the priests that there are some things have to take place in the diocese. The disagreement is in who is effected. Sad. My mother’s parish got it just before she passed. It was such an ordeal for her.
In other news – there are more men studying for the priesthood (philosophy and theology) now than there ever has been in the history of the Church – just not in the western world. Secondly, married clergy and women in the pulpit HAS NOT HELPED mainstream Protestantism as some kind of cure all as some would think it has. So why should it help us?
Forgot to add that I truly appreciate your site. Thank you again for all that you do!
The CofE has both priestesses (sorry, but grammatically correct) and married ‘clergy’…
Do we want to end up like them?
‘Trying to ordain me would be like trying to ordain a courgette’
The ELCA Lutheran church has married and female pastors, and a pastoral shortage. I think the Episcopalians also have a priest shortage, it just doesn’t get talked about much.
The ELCA Lutheran church has married and female pastors, and a pastoral shortage. I think the Episcopalians also have a priest shortage, it just doesn’t get talked about much.
Yep. The advocates of women priests and married clergy are only interested in priest shortages in as far as it appears to give mileage to their agenda.
Very good post, and good comments. Articles like this one never include any context, for such would undermine the writer’s ideological intent. One cannot ignore the context of other vocations in the Church: at the very least, the high divorce rate among Catholics suggests more fundamental problems. And Protestant pastors I know concur about the non-solutions that are proposed.
I thought the article sounded great until married priests and priestesses were brought up. Clustering is sad. It only should have ended with, “and the Bishops just need to promote vocations among young men.” Of course, families need to help too. But my bishop (Doran) is great at promoting the priesthood, and while we’re still streched thin, I don’t think we’re resorting to “clustering” – at least not much. Ten years ago when “clustering” started being mentioned frequently, why wasn’t the push for vocations mentioned as much?
I often meet people who make these suggestion.
Whenever I run into someone who suggests a married or female priesthood, rather than trying to engage them in a theological argument (honestly, what would be the point of that?) I ask: if these suggestion would work then why haven’t they worked for the churches that implemented them? That draws blank stares. I then ask if the married people in front of me would be willing to join. More blank stares, accompanied by some spluttering about mortgages and college. This leads nicely to my final question, which has been the killer: Are they prepared to put more money into the collection plate to support a married priest, their spouse and their children? I mean the dental plan must stink. And not to mention the education of their children. And also to pay alimony and child support when marriages break down. Are they ready to double or triple their donation to the Church? I have had people become very irate at the perceived suggestion that what they put in is not enough. Hit them in their pocket book and you get the reaction they lack for theology. I don’t know if they change their minds, but they stop bringing the subject up around me.
As a final note, I agree with Fr. Powell, and would add one last thing: Don’t be afraid to mention vocations to middle aged men. Two of my favourite priests were men who were middle aged, and leading quite dissolute lives, I may add, when they at last obeyed the Call. As a fisherman, I can avouch that the unexpected catch is often the sweetest.
Some guy-I agree with you! Would the wife and kiddies of a married priest enjoy being moved around every six or twelve years, from one parish to another? Hardly….! It’s crazy to think that the solution to the vocations shortage is to ‘cluster’ and ‘reconfigure’ parishes (which is what is being done in my diocese right now), or to have married priests and “priestesses’. Look at the dioceses that have flourishing vocations-Lincoln, Nebraska comes to mind….
At the risk of getting everyone ALL upset here, as the mother of a son who has expressed an interest in the priesthood since age 8, I think the biggest deterrent is lack of trust in the Church to BE Church, to do what is right, despite inconvenience and sacrifice, and to be TRUE to all that Jesus taught us and all that the Communion of Saints has exemplified.
I wait and pray for the day when I can see both justice and mercy in our actions and in our words. I hope for a time when Truth is again non-negotiable, even, or especially, when it points to our faults.
If this doesn’t happen in the next 9 yrs or so, I wouldn’t dissuade my son, but I might have a heart attack at his ordination.
Because I feel this way, I suspect there may be other parents who do, too.
A note form Cleveland again . . .
At the risk of alienating some folks – clustering is not necessarily the evil ogre lurking at the gate. Cleveland never had mass church closings and hence, we have many beautiful old churches stacked on top of each other in areas in which Catholics no longer live. How do we keep them open when about a third of the diocese is running in the red? A promotion of vocations is a great idea but this bishop is brand spanking new, does promote vocations, but that fix is a minumum of 10 years down the road at best. But that does not make more people and money magically appear. Another solution is to close a lot of parishes – nobody wants that. And quite honestly, a good portion of the parishes (including where I am)are operating in the red.
What might be another quick fix so that these places might stay open? At least with clustering perhaps questionably viable places will be able by sharing resouces at least. *sigh*
Joel, the oldest one can be BOTH an engineer and a priest. Recently a Computer engineering graduate joined the Redemptorists in our area.
“Some guy-I agree with you! Would the wife and kiddies of a married priest enjoy being moved around every six or twelve years, from one parish to another?”
Amen irishgirl. I’m a Baptist PK and convert to the RC Church. It wasn’t every 12 years, try every 5 years. I’m almost 50 and I still get restless every 5 years or so.
It’s real tough on families. Hey, it’s hard enough on priests themselves who naturally get attached to the people whose spiritual welfare they have been tending as shepherds. It’s a sad day when a priest you love is moved on by the Bishop to another parish even though you understand the necessity.
les-thanks for the comment!
Dear brothers and sisters,
I’ve been a longtime reader of this wonderful blog. I don’t want to reveal my identity right now, but please pray for me, since I think God may be calling me to be a priest. I feel confused about this decision, so I’d appreciate it if you prayed for me. I promise if it works out and I decide to join up, I’ll post here again un-anonymously. Thank you.
Listen to the voice in heart you hear when all is quiet and still in the night. The Lord whispers to us and the worldly din and rush to acquire drowns him out. I will pray for you and your discernment, God Bless you!
I sit with the local greying heads, the 50s to 60ish folks that inhabit most of the parish liturgical committee, and at 43 I am the youngest in the room. I have discovered the one thing one should not bring up is maybe all the hippy dippy, liberal, God is my buddy liturgy or practice hasn’t worked. Oh no. The community is primary, the community needs to be reawaken that’s all…blah, blah, blah. It’s pretty obvious that the more orthodox a “community” or Diocese is the more vocations and real growth there is. This is taboo to mention…no. The real concern is how can we be more like the big barn evangelical church across town that seems to be sucking the life out of our parish.
One sure way to vocations is enforcing our Catholic identity. The more we try to look like Protestants (and sound like as well) or like the secular world, the less we give any man a reason to think about priesthood or a man or woman to think about the professed religious life. What does that mean?
A) Restoring the dignity of the Eucharist. That means excising those woeful elements that have watered down or even eliminated the transcendant qualities of the Eucharist. It means preaching the truth duirng the Eucharist. It means encouraging devotion to the Eucharist.
B) Restoring the devotional life of the Church. So many places see Vespers, Eucharistic Adoration, Novenas, Rosaries, Litanies not just as passe, but as a threat to ecumenical efforts. The aim of ecumenism is not all of acting like non-demoninational protestants nor is it being apologetic about what is distinctively Catholic. When young people see us doing this, why on earth should they dedicate their lives to service to a Church that is ashamed of who it is? I say we revel in what makes us distictively Catholic. WE show that we are not ashamed of who we are!
C) It means priests need find their spines and start preaching and teaching the truth. Catholicism and the Gospel of Christ is not just another lifestyle or opinion co-equal with others. If we have priests who can stay away from being milquetoast about the truths of our faith and be brave and courageous, that will inspire! No one wants to make a life-long commitment to shifting sands. They are looking for something solid!
D) It means we need to overhaul the educational apparti of this country when it comes to our education. Pastors need to be involved in what is being taught to those under their care. How many pastors have seen, let alone have read, the catechetical series’ being used in their CCDs, Confirmation programs, adult ed, and catholic schools? How many have sifted through the plethora of series out there and tried to find something that is solid? Again, if we present the faith as solid, as something requiring sacrifice and courage…that attracts!
D) It means families need to adapt a less worldly tone. Pray as a family often. Sports DO NOT come before either the kids practice of their faith, their studies, nor at the expense of their family time. Children are not something merely afforded..they are not accessories. Large families are a good thing even if that means the kids aren’t decked out in Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Ambercrombie and Fitch, Nike and so on…even if that means money reamins perpetually tight. Marriage (and hence family life) is primarily a vocation from God and not a economic state. Parents need to promote faith and action/ embrace service/ and speak well of the good priests, brothers and sisters out there.
In short (too late for that I supppose) if we want vocations to rise, we need to be in this world and not of this world. That means priests & Bishops, sisters and brother, parents and children.
That wasn’t lengthy, Fr RP, it was juuuussst right.
One question, to reveal how spoiled and ignorant I am, what is ‘clustering’?
For us, it means joining with neighboring parishes on a purposeful basis. This partnering can mean different things depending on the parish communities involved and their particular needs. It might mean sharing an RCIA program or a staff person such as a business manager. It might mean staggering mass times so that not everyone has to have an 8:00 am mass and if someone should be down for some reason it would be easier to cover or so that one priest can cover two parishes instead of closing one. It might mean making the school regional so that one parish does not have to shoulder the entire burden of financing a school. It may also point out where parished need to merge or close depending on current demographics. It definatly has it’s ups and downs. It is a short term fix for a long term problem. If we are smart, we will use the time and resources that this gives us so that we might implament what Fr. RP says above so that we will not have to face this again in the future.
From that description, “clustering” sounds like a good thing within a diocese even where there are no particular shortages. It makes me happy when the Irish parish, the French parish, and the Italian parish actually behave like one community! If clustering is the reason we are finally(!) promoting one another’s liturgies, events, and services then as painful as shortages (of $, parishioners, and clergy) have at least taught us something!)
In Rhode Island, as in MA, we sometimes have parishes that are separated by less than a few blocks that historically have had very little to do with one another!
Dear Fr. Valencheck,
I am a layman in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I was born here in 1951 and attended Catholic schools for 18 years, graduating from the local Catholic university (mcl) in 1974. Then I was gone from 1975 through 2004, working briefly in another Ohio diocese and for over 25 years in the great Diocese of Arlington (in Virginia).
I returned to live in the Cleveland diocese at the beginning of 2005, discovering that it was no longer truly Catholic. I found that it has been almost destroyed by the disastrous, 25-year NONleadership of Bishop Anthony Pilla, the predecessor of the new (May, 2006) bishop, who had been an auxiliary in Boston.
As you said, Father, it was Bp. Pilla who came up with the parish clustering idea as a part of his “Vibrant Parish Life” [actually STAGNANT Parish Life] initiative. Clustering was the bishop’s “white flag of surrender,” waved when he realized that either (1) he had no clue as to how to attract more men to the priesthood or (2) God withheld calls to the priesthood in a corrupt diocese. It was probably some of both reasons. God will not call young men where they are going to be made into bad priests.
I have found that Cleveland has been (I hope not irreparably) damaged by having a couple of horrible seminaries (still operating) that have trained priests to celebrate Mass wrongly and to believe/teach heterodox ideas. Bp. Pilla used to allow one page in his diocesan newspaper to be split between (1) an article by him and (2) a dissent-laden article by Fr. Richard McBrien! That will tell many readers of this blog a great deal.
Since getting back here in January, 2005, I have attended Mass in thirty parish churches, and in NONE of them has Mass been celebrated exactly according to the rubrics. There has been a range from several small liturgical abuses to a few “whoppers” (such as the use of the NRSV for readings, no washing of the hands, Eucharistic Prayers with 20 or more word changes, glass “chalices,” etc. ad nauseam). I even saw “liturgical dance” in the early 1990s, on a visit back to my home town.
My Catholic university now has coed dorms. The once outstanding congregation of religious sisters that trained me for nine years has gone to the dogs, shedding their habits (distinctive garb), etc..
Various priests have been deposed, due to the sexual abuse they perpetrated, worsening the priesthood shortage crisis. It is said that many priests, for 40 years, have been misleading penitents — especially women who have been getting “permission” to use contraception. This is a blue-collar, extremely predominantly Democrat area, where the old bishop and almost all the priests have lacked the guts to stand up to the pro-death political machine, denying Holy Communion to the pro-aborts, etc.. The old bishop is said to be in trouble for alleged financial shenanigans, which may have had something to do with his slightly early resignation.
The new bishop could have completely trashed the asinine “clustering” plan, but I think that he helped put the same kind of thing into effect in Boston. It is a way of fooling the people of tiny parishes into getting used to attending Mass at a neighboring (larger) church, so that the tiny parishes can be shut down in a few years. All this, instead of attracting priests to serve at the tiny parishes.
I could go on and on, with thousands of words on various topics, but I don’t want to bore anyone.
Please pray for this “dump” of a diocese, where 90% of the people (parishioners) don’t even realize that things are messed up here, because they’ve had no exposure (as I have) to a good diocese for comparison purposes.
My church first was “clustered” into a vicariate and now is part of a merged parish: Our Lady on the River (pending approval from the Archdiocese of Detroit). All three churches remain open, retain their individual names, and have Masses, though St. Mark’s on Harsons Island is now a chapel. Because of the generous retired priests in the area, we often have three simulataneous Masses on Holy Days like the Immaculate Conception. However, we are all more aware of each other; e.g. I take part in the fundraisers for the remaining Catholic schools. (Our church grade school closed several years ago; we never had a high school.)
Of course, I don’t think we’ll ever have enough priests, otherwise Our Lord wouldn’t have mentioned that there are few laborers for the harvest. No? But maybe the answer to the current shortage is for priests, bishops, etc. to call for the young men to consider it. I’ve been reading the writings of Bishop Baraga, the “Snowshoe Priest” and his repeated pleadings (in various languages) for laborers in Christ’s fields among immigrant settlers and Indian missions. His writings inspired some Bavarian fellow named John Neumann to come to the US, and that seemed to work out pretty well. 😉
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