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The Priest Shortage Revisited


The following post is by contributor Fr. Donald L. Kloster, a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport. Fr. Kloster is the parochial vicar at St. Mary’s in Norwalk, Connecticut. He is also a graduate of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Philadelphia, having completed his Master’s Thesis in Moral Theology. A native of Texas and a graduate of the University of Texas (Austin), Fr. Kloster also spent two years as a student (and then novice) at the 7th century Benedictine Abbey of Disentis, Switzerland.

It seems like the question keeps coming up and yet there seems to be little to no response from our Bishops. Every year since 1965, the priest to faithful ratio has gotten worse. There is not much more than hand wringing going on to solve the problem. The trend keeps spiraling downwards. The seminaries of yesteryear are almost all closed, consolidated, or operating at minimal capacities.

What about the elephant in the room that is the ratio of priests to faithful? Back in 1950, there was 1 priest to every 652 Catholics here in the USA. In 2010, it was 1 priest to every 1,653 Catholics. In 2016, the most recent numbers available, there was 1 priest to every 1,843 Catholics. So, we have about 3 times less priests to tend to the flock than we had 66 years ago who were serving the faithful. The priestly apostolate is being spread over ever thinning ranks.

There is one Diocese that should be the model. The Diocese of Lincoln is the only Diocese that has consistently been in the top 20 Dioceses producing vocations since the downward trend after 1965. Their ratio as of 2016 is 1 priest to 598 Catholics. Their numbers are just better than the 1950 ratio. Another noteworthy occurrence is that their number of male religious has nearly tripled since 1950 going from 35 to 96. That increased number of male religious is perhaps a singular occurrence in all of the USA Dioceses. Why other bishops aren’t implementing similar programs, speaks volumes. Perhaps the vast majority of USA bishops aren’t really interested in reviving vocations to the priesthood. You can’t keep on the same failed course and expect positive results or even a continuous positive trend.

In 2017, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter did an internal survey of priests to faithful in their parishes worldwide. As a Religious Order, they would make an above average size USA Diocese since they have around 287 priests. Their survey indicated that they are right at 1 priest to every 250 faithful or more than 2.5 times better than the 1950 USA priest to faithful ratio of 1 to 652.

There were many who clamored for fresh air to be let into the Church during and after the Second Vatican Council. Later, even Pope Paul VI admitted that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. All of the leading spiritual indicators and sacramental numbers are down since the end of the Council and there are no real overall up trends within the Novus Ordo parishes. So where is the “renewal?”

I would submit that we stop looking in the direction of the Novus Ordo; the veritable “front door” of our attention. It is a distraction. We need to look at the “back door” and the side windows to see the true flowering of the Church. The Traditional Latin Mass only parishes are producing more fruit, more renewal, than even the pre-Conciliar Church. The Traditional Latin Mass parishes are beating all of the pre-Conciliar numbers. They are authoring a true springtime resplendent with ripe and succulent fruit. The Traditional Latin Mass parishes are only being let in the “back door” since there is so much resistance from the hierarchy. Of what are they so afraid? Why is the Traditional Latin Mass so threatening? I thought the idea was to renew the Church. Why do they turn their backs on authentic renewal? The bishops allow any language under the sun except for the language preferred by the Second Vatican Council!

The vibrant priest to faithful ratio among the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is only the tip of the iceberg. The National Survey on the Traditional Latin Mass parishes I am doing with the help of Mr. Brian Williams has astounding preliminary numbers (800+ samples so far). The National Survey will conclude on October 29, 2018. I want to dispel, in any fair minded individual, the notion that the society is responsible for the failing Church numbers. Come November, we’ll try to publicize the results of the Survey as widely as possible. It is a spiritual problem that can only be rectified by returning to what practically evangelized the whole world. The Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin Mass faithful live side by side. They have the same modern challenges. However, when you ask them about the faith, they give much different answers statistically.

My dear brethren in Christ, there is a very simple course to more vocations. Be friendly to the Traditional Latin Mass parishes. If you don’t want to promote it, at the very least, stop blocking it! There is absolutely no harm to the Church when we say the Mass that was said for 19 centuries as a universal practice. If we want vocations, we must be humble enough to admit the source and conduit; the Traditional Latin Mass. Our seminaries were full when we had the Traditional Latin Mass. They will fill up again if we allow the Traditional Latin Mass an unencumbered and a freely celebrated praxis.

Photo credit: Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest 

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