Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Catholic Church struggles to find a new generation of priests in regional areas

Two Catholic priests stand beside each otherThe Catholic Church is struggling to find its next generation of priests, as country dioceses are forced to slash popular masses due to a shortage of priests in regional areas.

The number of men who have taken up studies to become a Catholic priest has been decreasing for the past three decades, and now the effects are being felt in rural towns across Australia.

"For country dioceses they're huge distances to travel, and where there used to be three parishes with a priest in each, there's now one parish combining all those churches together," Father Morgan Batt said, the director of vocations at the Brisbane Diocese.

"Some years there were very, very low numbers [of new priests].

"For some reason the country areas are experiencing an even bigger difficulty in trying to get people to come to the seminary."

'Something sparked in me, I couldn't stop thinking about it'


Twenty-five-year-old Ashwin Acharya is one of 15 men currently studying to become a priest in Queensland. 

He said it was not until recently that he found the passion to pursue life in ministry. 

25-year-old Ashwin Acharya holds a bible as he looks at the camera.
"I was a teacher for two years, priesthood was not on my radar," he said. "But something sparked in me and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I read a very good book, I prayed and I spoke to priests and laity and very quickly it became painfully obvious that this is where God was calling me. There's a real wrestling that takes place for young people who are confronted with this question."

Catholic priests are not allowed to marry or have children, and while Mr Acharya admitted the job came with major sacrifices, he was positive that it was the right choice for him.

"I was being asked to give my life and I was so in love and so caught up in service that it was so easy to say yes, it wasn't like, 'Oh, but I won't get married, oh, I won't be able to have a career in this'.

"It's a ministry and it's service and it's very enjoyable, and there's a genuine spirituality that these people have that they want nourished."

The Catholic Church in Australia now heavily relies on migrant priests to help them fill vacancies.

Church's reputation damaged by child abuse royal commission

Father Matthew Maloney, based almost 900 kilometres north-west of Brisbane in Emerald, said his job was to find and nurture talent in remote parts of Queensland.

He said the decline in priest numbers was partly because Australians were becoming less religious.

"People sort of looked in other areas, and perhaps we sort of thought we had enough priests, society's changed and people have looked in other ways and had new opportunities," Father Maloney said.

He acknowledged that the Catholic Church's credibility had been severely dented by the damaging allegations at the child abuse royal commission.

"It has been a very sad story, and it's a story that needed to come out and it needed to be dealt with," he said.

He was optimistic though, that they could increase the number of new recruits and turn around the Church.

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