Addressing the shrinking priesthood: Chris McDonnell
Parishes in the Archdiocese of Birmingham received an important pastoral letter from our Archbishop, Bernard Longley during the weekend of 24-25 March.
It addressed the question of an ever-diminishing number of priests and the consequences for our parishes. Whatever we might be hearing about the increase of numbers of students in our seminaries, the age profile of current priests serving our communities is already high, and getting higher. I suspect that this may well be true in other dioceses in England and Wales.
If we move towards a grouping of parishes in order to meet the needs of the people, two issues arise. Firstly, would this actually meet the pastoral need of parishes and secondly, and I would suggest initially more importantly, what will be the pressure on priests given the increased workload?
We should welcome this pastoral letter and the discussion that has been initiated by our Archbishop, involving both priests and people.
Would it be too much to ask that any outcome from such discussion will recognise the existence of a significant number of men who left active ministry to marry? They should be invited back to resume their ministry if they so wish. Further, given the way that we have seen fit to welcome the establishment of the Ordinariate, is it not time that the hierarchy actively petition Rome for secular clergy to be given the option of celibacy or marriage in their service to the Church from the start, rather than wait for experience to catch up with them later?
It is wrong that we seek solutions to Eucharistic need by continuing the celibacy discipline currently imposed and loading ever more on to the backs of those hard-working priests who have served so faithfully over the years. I sincerely hope that the people of the archdiocese respond in good measure to this pastoral letter.
Chris McDonnell, Staffs