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Priest shortage puts Mass under cloud

Melbourne will soon have insufficient Catholic priests to conduct Sunday Masses, according to advice from priest-statistician Eric Hodgens published today in The Age and Online Catholics.

"In Melbourne in five years, (the crisis) will be very obvious, in 10 years it will be screamingly obvious, and in 20 years we will have been forced to make alternative arrangements," Fr Hodgens told The Age.

He clalimed that the minimum the church could operate with is about one priest per 3500 Catholics, the ratio in 2001. Present ordination rates would soon mean one priest per 13,000 Catholics in Melbourne and one for 22,000 in Sydney.

In the Online Catholics article, he says: "Melbourne, with its one million plus Catholics and 220 parishes, will have only 75 priests.

"The priests are going. In the short term, there is no alternative to employing laity. Long term we may be able to build a new priesthood, but only if we dramatically change the job description and the conditions."

According to Fr Hodgens' study, Seminary Facts, Factors and Futures, after World War II Australia's seminaries were bulging at the seams. But by 1975 seminaries were cutting back, and today's seminaries are a boutique reminder. The first baby-boomer recruits are turning 75, and in 20 years none will be left.

The study says that to maintain today's ratio of priests, average entrants to Corpus Christi College would need to rise from 8.6 a year to 38, and in Sydney from 9.4 to 52.

Fr Hodgens said importing priests will not solve the crisis. Bob Dixon, director of the Catholics' National Pastoral Projects Office, said yesterday that Fr Hodgens' projections were a little pessimistic.

Priest shortage puts Mass under cloud (The Age 1/12/04)
Clergy crisis is now (Online Catholics 1/12/04)

Fr Eric Hodgens: Seminary Facts, Factors and Futures
Fr Eric Hodgens: An Alternative to the Priest

31 Dec 2004