Friday, July 27, 2007

Priest shortage: What's a pope to do?

The story is all to familiar in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

While the Catholic population increases, the number of active priests continues to dwindle. Parishes are shut down or merged. Fewer masses are performed. In some places, even a Sunday mass is the exception rather than the rule.

The priest shortage won't be solved overnight -- if at all -- but there's one possibility for some relief while possible solutions are studied.

Right now there's still a talent pool of former priests, many of whom were forced out of the active clergy when they married. While the church has some good reasons to continue its present rule forbidding most priests from marrying, there's nothing wrong with utilizing former active priests on a part-time basis to say masses, administer sacraments, help administer parishes and otherwise provide backup to full-time active priests. To a man every former priest I know would jump at the chance.

It's not a perfect and certainly not a permanent solution but nonetheless one that should be explored.


Dad29 said...


While I'm sympathetic, I'm not convinced.

There are a few different scenarios which can be constructed. Let's see where we can agree.

First scenario: priest leaves, gets hitched, Rome has not released from vow.

We don't bring him back, period.

Second scenario: priest leaves, Rome grants release from vow, priest marries.

This presents an interesting question--whether, once released from the priesthood, someone can 'return' under markedly different circumstances (i.e., married.)

I think that the pattern shown by the Orthodox (uniate and Greek) is applicable--in short, you can be married before Ordination and remain married. But you may NOT get married AFTER Ordination.

So then the question--would 'bringing him back' constitute a re-Ordination? I don't think so, but the "appearance" would be extremely dicey--akin to the "appearance" of annulment/re-marriage.

Third scenario: Priest leaves, Rome grants release, he marries, wife dies (!) unexpectedly.

Here, I think that I'd be inclined to look very hard at 'bringing him back.' I won't contradict Rome's decision under any circumstances, but I think this scenario does not have any "appearance" problems which are insuperable.

However, there may be Canonical problems of which I am not aware.

Dad29 said...

Forgot to mention in "scenario two" that if we follow the Orthodox pattern, then the guy should not be brought back.

But it's still an interesting question.