We need more priests.
Several studies have been published over the past four decades, and the statistics in one of those reports indicate that the number of Roman Catholic priests in the United States has declined from 58,534 in 1981 to 38,275 in 2012.
Recent stats for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati list 487 priests: 261 are diocesan priests, 226 are from religious orders. Most of the priests in religious orders are not assigned to parishes, but have other ministries. Of the diocesan priests 163 are active in the diocese, 5 are active outside the diocese, and 93 are retired/sick/absent.
The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is 461,129 (out of a total population of 2,994,520).
The archdiocese is divided into 212 parishes, of which 149 have resident pastors and 63 are administered by non-resident priests.
Such a panoply of statistics can be mind-boggling, and somewhat impersonal. The “rubber meets the road,” however, when a parish is told, “You will now have to share a pastor with one or more of your neighboring parishes.”
As priests retire or are needed in other assignments, fewer priests are available to serve as full time pastors in one parish. As a consequence, many parishes share a pastor.
July 1 is the usual time in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for moving pastors and assigning new ones. For example, there is the Fort Recovery Cluster of Parishes (Mary Help of Christians Parish in Fort Recovery, St. Joseph Parish in St Joseph, St. Peter Parish in St Peter, and St. Paul Parish in Sharpsburg. They will need an associate pastor (aka parochial vicar).
Or there is a cluster made up of St. Joseph Parish, Wapakoneta, Immaculate Conception/St Lawrence in Botkins, and St John Evangelist Parish in Wapakoneta, with the pastor and an associate pastor covering seven weekend Masses. They will need an associate pastor.
And in the greater Cincinnati area is the pastoral region of St Anthony, St Cecilia and St Margaret/St John to be served by one pastor and one associate. St. Teresa, Covedale, and St. William, Price Hill, already share a pastor. St Vivian, Finneytown, and St Bartholomew, Cincinnati, share a pastor. Years ago St. Peter and Paul, St Elizabeth, and St Matthew in Norwood combined to form Holy Trinity Parish.
Future plans call for St. Clare, College Hill, and Little Flower, Mt Airy, to share a pastor, and likewise for St Michael, Sharonville, and St Gabriel, Glendale.
These changes (forming pastoral regions or clustering under one pastor) are difficult for parishioners. The Mass schedules and other services to which they have become accustomed are likely to change.
Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter recognized back in the 1950s that his diocese was not ordaining enough priests to keep up with retirements and the increase in the Catholic population. And this forecast was made before the Second Vatican Council, which some Catholics have blamed for the growing priest shortage.
Happily the Archdiocese of Cincinnati celebrates this Spring the ordination of seven new priests. Their ministry is obviously needed.
The scarcity of priests and the utmost importance of the Eucharist cry out for a change in the way we have been about the Father’s business. What are we to do?
The observation attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And likewise the wisdom of Alfred Lord Tennyson: The old order changeth yielding place to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways.
We need more priests. I wonder what Paul would do. Prayer is obviously appropriate but maybe it is not enough. Perhaps God is waiting for us to do something. What shall we do?