The shortage of Priests Poses Great Challenges in Support of the Life of Faith and the Apostolic Mission
When we still have one priest administering over five communities and in some countries, nine communities, it's time to wake up! These are pastoral challenges that could impact heavily on a person's physical health. When a newly ordained priest immediately becomes a parish priest with little or no training even in administration, this is a cause for concern. From my own experience, the idea behind one priest overseeing five or nine communities is to ensure that there is a "presence of a priest" to serve the people of God. But of course, it can be very tiresome.
As we reflect on the issue of the decline in the availability of priests to support the "life of faith" and the "apostolic mission," we can also ask ourselves the question: Why is it young men today are not interested in priesthood and religious life?
Here are some of the reasons, generally raised by some people, why young men might not choose priesthood or religious life: The programme for priestly studies is too long (7, 9, 15 yrs), the whole issue of celibacy, the issue of not owning private property (in the case of someone joining a Religious Order), the lack of appreciation of what it means to become servant leaders for the sake of the Gospel, or the lack of commitment on the part of young people today? While these reasons cannot be neglected, the Church has always been informing, educating, and creating opportunities where young men can make an informed decision. But the Church will not force anyone into becoming a priest. It has to be choice made in complete freedom (free-will).
Today, priesthood or religious life does not seemed attractive to many young men, at least, on this side of the globe. This lack of interest has created and continues to pose great challenges for pastoral ministry throughout the Caribbean Region and by extension the world. Priests are overworked. Some priests are tired but find it difficult to retire because there is no one coming forward. Priests must remember, however, that while there is always work to be done, good health is critical to a successful pastoral ministry.
In a report given by Kent Garber during a 1997 interview, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI was asked about the declining ranks of the Catholic priesthood. "Mustn't celibacy be dropped,' the questioner asked, "for the simple reason that otherwise the Church won't get any more priest?" Cardinal Ratzinger at the time demurred. "I don't think that the argument is really sound," he said, noting that the trend had less to do with strict rules and more to do with family size and priorities. "If today the average number of children is 1.5," he reasoned, "the question of possible priests takes on a very different role from what it was in ages when families were considerably larger." The main obstacle, he argued, was parents "who have very different expectations for their children."
Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, opposes liberalizing the current rules that forbid marriage and female priests. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI (on Holy Thursday on April 5, 2012 at St Peter's basilica at The Vatican) issued a blistering denunciation of priests who have questioned church teaching on celibacy and ordaining women, saying they were being selfish in disobeying his authority. Benedict made the rare and explicit criticism from the altar of St. Peter's Basilica in his homily on Holy Thursday, when priests recall the promises they made when ordained.
In 2006, a group of Austrian priests launched the Pfarrer Initiative, a call to disobedience aimed at abolishing priestly celibacy and opening up the clergy to women to relieve the shortages of priests. Last June, the group's members essentially threatened a schism, saying the Vatican's refusal to hear their complaints left them no choice but to "follow our conscience and act independently." They issued a revised call to disobedience in which they said parishes would celebrate Eucharistic services without priests, that they would let women preach, and they pledged to speak out publicly and frequently for a female and a married priesthood.
In his homily, Benedict said the dissidents claim to be motivated by concern for the church. But he suggested that in reality they were just making "a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas." On September 17th 2009, Benedict XVI indicated that "the lack of priests does not justify a more active and abundant participation of the laity. The truth is that the greater the faithful's awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head". He states, "The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. ... For this reason it is vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity".
The Pope made it clear that "the shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs for the future." In this context he encouraged the prelates "to combine efforts to encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission".
All in all, I believe that parents must encourage their children to choose priesthood or religious life. Parents must also help their children understand that it is a wonderful vocation to be a servant of God. Young people must also see priests happy in their ministry. My friends, the clock is ticking and time is moving on. Priests are getting older and the reality is that, ten years from now, if we do not get vocations, then we might be is a serious crisis.