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Clergy Commission head says priest drought overstated

Fr Peter Brock, executive officer of the National Commission for Clergy, Life and Ministry, has said that this week's suggestion that the priesthood faces extinction, is premature.

"Certainly the greying of the clergy is an issue and the [ordination] numbers are small, but there are still fine young fellows being ordained. [The clergy] is going to look different in future but I wouldn't talk about them dying out," Fr Brock (pictured) told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Yesterday, The Age and Online Catholics quoted Seminary Facts, Factors and Futures, a report written by Melbourne priest Fr Eric Hodgens, saying that present priest numbers fall a long way short of the one priest per 3500 Catholics ratio which he claims is necessary. Maintaining even this ratio would require around five times the number of candidates for the priesthood currently in the nation's seminaries.

"The big ordination years were 1955 to 1975," Fr Hodgens said. "The leading edge of this group turns 75 in 2005. Over the following 20 years, they will all be dead or retired. It is more realistic to talk about the dying of the clergy than the ageing or greying of the clergy."

Today's Sydney Morning Herald also quotes the recent report to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference that found seven in 10 Australian Catholic priests feel negative about celibacy, and more than half think it should be optional.

Fr Brock said the church is reorganising itself to cover the existing shortage of priests, with parishes sharing priests and some dioceses recruiting overseas-born priests.

"Priests are taking longer to find [their] vocation, and seminaries wouldn't take [them] straight from school now even if they applied; they want them to have more life experience.

"There are men who are ordained as priests and, after some time, find that they don't want to continue in active ministry. But that has been the case for a long time and I don't know that it would be any greater than a generation or so [ago].

"The good news side of that is more and more parishioners are being involved in more and more aspects of church life, from visiting hospitals, taking communion to the sick and looking after managerial and financial aspects of parish life."

Priest drought no blessing for Catholic Church (Sydney Morning Herald 2/12/04)

Priest shortage puts Mass under cloud (CathNews 1/12/04)
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
National Commission for Clergy Life and Ministry

2 Dec 2004