Saturday, November 23, 2002

From Sunday's NYTimes:

Garry Wills reviews a study of the American priesthood.

Schoenherr's focus is on the priesthood in America, but he refers peripherally to a situation that is regularly misrepresented by conservative Catholics -- the numbers of priests in the developing world. They claim that seminaries are full there, and will even supply a surplus of priests for the declining West. They rely not on absolute numbers but on percentage increases in indigenous seminaries after the withdrawal of missionary priests from colonial countries. To double or triple formerly modest outputs there does nothing to solve the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is where the priest shortage is greatest. In the United States, the number of priests per 10,000 faithful declined from 12.9 in 1965 to 9.8 in 1990. In the same period the priests per 10,000 in Africa declined from 5.4 to 2.3, and in Latin America from 2.3 to 1.4. Any gains made in recent years do not come even remotely close to closing that gap. No wonder Schoenherr can report that bishops in Africa and Latin America have requested Rome's permission to ordain married men in order to fill their imperative need for more priests.

World figures for the priesthood are clear. The Catholic Almanac of 2001 gives the Vatican's own figure of 404,620 priests in 1998. In 1977, the year before John Paul II became pope, the figure was 410,030. Priests have not increased in number, though they have increased dramatically in age, as one would expect where the total was not growing. Meanwhile, 300 million new Catholics came into the world during this pontiff's reign, making the priest-to-faithful disparity ever more serious. The results of this are clear, even in America, which is far better off than Africa or Latin America. Lay Catholic ministers outnumber priests here, and most of these are women, and permanent deacons (male) now number one for every 1.6 parishes. These lay assistants and substitutes are required because of understaffed or nonstaffed parishes. Despite these statistics, some bishops continue to deny that the priest shortage is more than a temporary dip in the demographics. Some dip.

Also, Goldhagen's book is reviewed (not by Wills)

It would be hard to argue with Goldhagen if he had simply recounted this history, or even if he had stopped after claiming that moral restitution by the Catholic Church is still needed. But he goes on, and in the process makes what a lawyer would call a number of bad points....

....Nothing will ever eradicate the horrible stain left on Europe in the middle years of the last century, and Christian churches, together with what passed for Christian tradition, have much to answer for. But an understanding of, or even atoning for, that time is not encouraged by misinterpreting the record, or by invoking it for any polemical or political end.

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