The numbers are becoming alarming – too many Catholics for too few priests in many parts of the world. As 2017 begins, Catholic Church watchers are again stressing how the Church must find a way to minister to the faithful with so few priests and how one possible solution could be to relax priestly celibacy.
Two examples suffice to show the situation’s urgency, too few priests to ensure proper ministry, especially availability of the Eucharist:
- Brazil has 140 million Catholics and only 18,000 priests, one priest for every 7,800 Catholics
- The United States has 80 million Catholics and only 37,500 priests for its 17,233 parishes – already 3,499 parishes have no priest in residence despite numerous parish closures in the past decade.
In 2013, the Voice of the Faithful movement, which supports a married priesthood, stated, “Every Catholic understands the need for spiritual nourishment, especially for the regular reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist … We also understand the responsibility of the bishops and priests to make the Eucharist available to the faithful.”
In Brazil, leading Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff is suggesting that married priests who have left ministry, like himself, be allowed to return and that the Brazilian bishops have asked Pope Francis specifically for this. For those who might easily dismiss his suggestion, the National Catholic Reporter recently pointed out that Francis has long thought about a married priesthood. Then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires said the celibate priesthood is a “matter of church law and tradition, not doctrine, and “it is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change.”
In the United States, Mary Pat Fox, VOTF president, said that VOTF’s 2013 petition to U.S. bishops asked them “to request a pastoral provision from the Pope that would allow them to accept married Catholic men for ordination.” According to VOTF’s petition, the same procedures would be used as “in the pastoral provisions that have allowed married Episcopalian, Anglican and other Protestant clergy to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church.”
Either one of these solutions surrounding priestly celibacy could help alleviate the Catholic priest shortage. As VOTF’s 2013 petition concluded, “Certainly in every diocese there are mature married men, with children or even grandchildren, who possess a deep Eucharistic spirituality and might consider ordination in order to provide the Eucharist to the faithful.”
Voice of the Faithful®: Voice of the Faithful® is a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics working to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity and increase the laity’s role in the governance and guidance of the Church. More information is at www.votf.org. Contact: Nick Ingala, firstname.lastname@example.org, (781) 559-3360