Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Archdiocese Of New York Copes With Dwindling Priest Population

It is no secret Cardinal Timothy Dolan values the work of priests. 

"They keep me tethered to the people," the cardinal said.

But there are fewer priests who can. 

Some 500 active diocesan priests currently serve under Dolan, the shepherd of 2.6 million Catholics. 

The average age of priests is 65 and climbing, with retirement usually at 75 years of age.

The future is not promising. 

In 2010, seven men were ordained and in 2011, only four were ordained.

"This year, we'll only have one ordination but next year, God willing, we'll have eight," said the Reverend Luke Sweeney, the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of New York.

The archdiocese wants to ordain at least 20 a year. Still, the number is a far cry when compared to the better part of the 19th century.

"Historically the priesthood was seen as a spiritual vocation that was regarded as higher then marriage, for example. This is how it was emphasized," said Commonweal Magazine editor Paul Baumann. 

"After the Second Vatican Council, the church said that actually married life was a vocation, an aspiritual vocation of equal dignity. Well, once that equation is made, it's very hard for the church to go back." 

There is also the question of celibacy, a matter of discipline, not doctrine.

"Historically, of course, the Catholic Church has had married priests. It had married priests for its first 1,000 years," said Baumann.

Church leaders say talk of dropping celibacy or endorsement of marriage would not serve the church's interests.

"It's also the practical implications. Someone who does not have a family does not have a wife and children that they can be more practically available to the parish communities," said Sweeney.

With celibacy and the ordination of women off the table, the church has been recruiting overseas, but there can be cultural and language barriers.

The church have also allowed married Anglican clergy, even with children, who are ordained in the Catholic Church to serve. 

The archdioceses are currently undergoing an internal review to increase recruitment.