Sunday, September 28, 2008

U.S. Catholics pray for more priests

The sign outside St. James Church in the affluent Boston suburb of Wellesley sums up Catholicism's deepening struggles in the United States.

"Still searching for a priest," it reads. Another sign affixed to its thick doors pleads: "Save St. James."

Facing dwindling congregations, shifting demographics and a drain on cash from settling sexual abuse lawsuits, Roman Catholic churches are shuttering at a quickening pace in a traditional stronghold, the U.S. Northeast.

The trend underscores a growing problem facing the U.S. Catholic church: too many parishes in the Northeast and not enough for growing Hispanic populations in the Southwest.

In Massachusetts, the Diocese of Worcester -- which covers New England's second-largest city -- shut five parishes in July. The neighbouring Diocese of Springfield said in August it would shut 10 more parishes and nine buildings by Jan. 1.

Camden Diocese in New Jersey said in April it would close nearly half of its 124 churches within two years. Dozens of parishes in New York state are being shut.

Bishops cite a number of reasons -- from rising heating costs to aging priests and the steady decline of the Irish and Italian immigrants who transformed Boston from overwhelmingly Protestant to largely Catholic in the mid-19th century. Today, Mexicans are the top immigrant group in the United States, bringing an influx of Catholics to the Southwest.

"Our present infrastructure isn't sustainable," said Msgr. John J. Bonzagni, director of pastoral planning at the Diocese of Springfield, which expects to have 25 fewer priests in just seven years.

While Catholics remain the nation's second-biggest religious group with about 22 per cent of the population, a figure roughly unchanged since 1965 thanks to an influx of Hispanics, many dioceses are struggling to find priests.

Of the nation's 18,479 parishes in 2008, 3,141 were without resident pastors, while the 480 priests ordained in 2008 is less than half the number of new priests in 1965.

Nowhere is this being felt more than in the Northeast.

"For years, the Northeast has been priest-rich compared to the other parts of the country. Now they are starting to feel it as well," said Chuck Zech, a professor at Villanova University who studies finances in the U.S. Catholic Church.

In 1950, 46 per cent of all Catholics in the United States were in the Northeast. By 2007, that was down to 31 per cent. Almost half of all Catholics are now in the South and West.

"There are more Catholics in the country but they are not necessarily in places where the churches are -- a lot of them are in the Southwest and California and so on," said Mr. Zech.

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(Source: BNC)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm certain Christ said 'watch as well as pray' maybe not with this context, arguably, but maybe perhaps they should Watch what they say and do - then Pray,

God will do the rest.