Archdiocese Facing Numbers Crunch, Too

My Fox Philly
March 16, 2011

[with video]

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is dealing with a major image problem.

Four people are accused of sexually abusing children and a monsignor is accused of covering up abuse.

Cardinal Justin Rigali continued his meetings with priests this week, heading to Newtown Square on Tuesday.

However, he was carefully escorted out a back door to avoid our cameras. And the cardinal's driver even went the wrong way down a one way street to avoid the media. You can several "do not enter signs" in the Fox 29 News camera footage.

Here's what the archdiocese is dealing with:

A grand jury accused the diocese of failing to reform after an earlier scandal.

Two priests, a former priest, and a former teacher are all accused of sexually abusing or endangering minors.

A monsignor is charged with covering up the abuse.

A total of 21 priests have been suspended.

The priest suspensions and the grand jury report couldn't come at a worse time for the Archdiocese because it's also dealing with another kind of crisis a numbers challenge, Fox 29's Chris O'Connell reported.

This is a time when mass attendance is dwindling and there is a critical shortage of priests.

There are 482 priests serving right now serving in the archdiocese's 268 parishes. That is way down from its peak in the 50s and 60s.

There are also 158 retired priests in the archdiocese. And there are 187 deacons serving in Philadelphia.

It's gotten to the point where St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on City Avenue, one of the most prominent in the country, is only at about a quarter of its capacity. The Archdiocese is losing about 15 to 20 priests a year, and it's only ordaining less than 10.

A Catholic blogger who follows the church told "Good Day" Tuesday morning there is talk of some seminaries consolidating.

The other challenge for the church is filling its pews. Although Catholic membership is actually going up over the years, people attending church is shrinking.

The Archdiocese reports it has 1.4 million members. But, according to a Georgetown University study, only 20 percent of Catholics nationwide attend church on a regular basis.

That has some archdioceses going to the airwaves.

The organization Catholics Come Home has started a television and radio campaign in areas around the country. Although Philadelphia isn't one of them, the church is hoping appeal to the younger generation and non-Catholics to come back.

An exception is the success story coming out of Chester County. St. Rocco's parish is actually growing. This is one of two churches in the Archdiocese that's under construction. Mainly because of a booming Hispanic population, it's one of the fastest growing parishes in the area.

The Archdiocese is already closing some of its Catholic schools because of low enrollment.

Although the church isn't saying this, some think it won't be too long before churches themselves may consolidate or merge.

Meanwhile, a victim from the third lawsuit to come from the grand jury report on sex abuse within the Catholic Church will take center stage on Wednesday.

A Delaware County man and his family will speak to reporters concerning his abuse by the Rev. John Kline, who was assigned to St. Francis Xavier parish and a long-time teacher at Roman Catholic High School.

The news conference is scheduled to take place in front of the Philadelphia Archdiocese offices at 1 p.m.

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