Just How Bad Is It?
Priest Shortage Worse Than Experts Predicted; Laity, Foreign Priests Filling the Gap

By Joe Feuerherd
Downloaded October 18, 2003

In the mid-1990s, researchers Richard Schoenherr and Lawrence Young predicted that by 2005 the number of active diocesan clergy would be 21,000, down 40 percent since 1965.

They were wrong.

Death, retirement and resignation have already reduced the clerical ranks to that number two years ahead of Schoenherr and Young’s projections.

Traditionalists and reform-minded Catholics debate the causes of the priest shortage and argue over what steps are necessary to stem the tide. What they don’t dispute, however, is that the shortage is having an increasingly profound effect on parish life.

“People have come to expect a daily Mass, ” said Fr. Eugene Hemrick, director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood. “And we just don’t have the ability to produce at that level anymore.”

Catholic University of America sociologist Dean Hoge, a student of priesthood trends for three decades, doesn’t underestimate the impact: “It could be that the sacraments will be defined as not so important. We’re talking about the center of what Catholicism is.”

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