Somewhere around 20 years ago, I decided that we didn’t have a shortage of priests so much as an overabundance of false Catholics. I made this observation for two reasons. One reason was that, if families were doing their jobs, then there would be more young men pursuing the priesthood. The other was that we have lots of people who just come to mass out of some sense of ritual or habit or family obligation, without actually putting Catholicism into practice in their lives, that if those who really had no interest in trying to get to Heaven just stopped coming just for show, we’d have plenty of priests to go around.
The United States actually has one of the highest per capita rates of priests to laity in the world. Many have argued that the lack of priests in parishes could be mitigated by the number of priests who are working at universities and other venues instead of parish ministry. A priest could very easily teach a few classes during the week and come into parishes to say mass on Sunday, and occasionally visit the sick or whatever. This is apparently an old problem, as St. Francis Xavier famously laments in a letter to St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”
I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.
Commentators have also noted that the vocations crisis is deeper than just the celibacy issue, since many aspects of pastoral work can be performed by deacons, yet the restored diaconate is hardly thriving, either. Now, the diaconate has other issues. For example, if Ed Peters is correct about the interpretation of Canon 277, and the original discipline of married clerics in the Roman Church still applies, it would seem to be much more challenging to live in continence as a married cleric than to be outright celibate. Also, deacons are chosen by the pastors, so many commentators have argued that the number of deacons is intentionally kept unnecessarily low.
In any case, there is another aspect to the issue of priest shortage which confirms how a big aspect of it is “cultural Catholicism.”
Here in Columbia, we have several Catholic churches. Most of them are brimming at the walls on Sundays. Yet, less than five minutes from my house is a perfectly good Catholic church. I must admit I haven’t been there for Sunday Mass myself, except when they were hosting Tridentine Mass, because it’s not a very convenient building for families. Yet for older Catholics or singles, it should be great: a mostly elderly congregation, a small chapel, and two perfectly good Sunday Masses — in the Anglican Usage. Good Shepherd has been a Catholic church since the mid-1980s, but still exists on the fringes of Catholicism in Columbia.
Back in Virginia, the Maronite church St. Anthony’s in Richmond was always packed, but the Traditional Latin mass parish, St. Joseph’s, had plenty of room at every Mass.
In short, how many churches out there use the liturgy of St. James, the Tridentine liturgy or the Anglican Use Liturgy, all of which are completely valid ways of receiving the sacraments–and darn more reverent than the Novus Ordo at most churches–yet, while they thrive well on their own, they hardly have the packed congregations of your average hippie mass?
Thus, I am quite excited by the news circulating the ‘Net that, earlier this week, the “Anglican Church in America,” the US branch of the “Traditional Anglican Communion,” has unanimously voted to join the Catholic Church. This will reportedly give us about 100 priests and bishops, along with their facilities and however many parishioners.
This *should* be a boon to our Catholic faith, not just in the quest for reunion, not just increasing the number of theologically orthodox priests, but in providing us with more priests to minister to *all* Catholics. Will the laity who complain of a “priest shortage” avail themselves of these new pastors? Will the laity who proclaim “diversity” in their liturgies be will to attend a liturgy which is truly diverse yet licit?