Martin Marty—Seeing the Roman Catholic Priest Shortage Through One Man’s Story

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Surveys, statistics, data, graphs, and trend studies have their place when we look at and analyze the "church life" (and "synagogue life," and all the rest) that makes up a major part of "public religion," (our weekly topic) in American life. They tell us how things are, collectively and from a distance. Now and then a reporter and a newspaper present the "up close" view which tells so much. Thus, we can talk about "the priest shortage" in national terms and gain some sense of the unsettlement or crisis. A close-up of one jurisdiction or one archdiocese brings the crisis home, where it is felt most.

So it was when Sharon Otterman focused on a story headlined "For One New Priest, a Lonely Distinction," and subheaded, "Class of 2012 in New York Archdiocese Consists of the Rev. Patric D'Arcy." One picture shows a pensive Father D'Arcy in an empty church; a second shows him blessing his brother and sister, and a third has him kneeling in St. Patrick's Cathedral before Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the most influential Catholic cleric in the nation. The gap between the image of the Cardinal in the Cathedral and the life of the lonely priest may quicken more interest than statistics about the priesthood nationally. In the United States there were 58,909 priests in 1975 and 38,466 last year. There were 994 priestly ordinations in 1965 and there were 467 in 2011. In 1965 there were 549 parishes without a resident priest pastor, and there were 3,249 last year.

See what I mean? Cold statistics impress the mind, but do not move the heart.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchMediaReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

2 Comments
Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:42 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. MichaelA wrote:

3,249 parishes without a resident priest seems a lot.

June 28, 3:47 am | [comment link]
2. Charles52 wrote:

That depends on the definition of “resident priest”. I know of a priest who will (when he returns from his doctoral studies), reside at the Cathedral rectory and serve four rural parishes. I suppose it’s fair to say that they lack a “resident priest”.

Which is not to minimize the priest shortage. I only object to the way Dr. Marty (and the article he cites) turn this specific case into another bit of media melodrama. “Not absolutely alone” indeed!  Among other silliness in these articles, it’s always been practice to place new priests in parishes (and hence, rectories) with older priests. I believe the business world calls it “mentoring”. Moreover, classmates may not even be peers: our little diocese ordained 4 men 3-4 years back, aged 28 to 50ish.  Another bit of information omitted is that Fr. D’Arcy said his first Mass using the Extraordinary Form - the Traditional Latin Mass. He will be something of a loner anyway, or will find his peer group apart from matters of age and ordination class.

I know I’m being cranky, but the facts are 1.) the abundance of priests in the 50s was something of an anomaly, at least in the U.S. and 2.) ordinations are on the rise, and 3.) turning life’s little (and this is little) problems into melodrama is just tacky.  I’m tired of it.

June 28, 9:25 am | [comment link]
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