Priests are Catholicism’s greatest figures: shepherds who manage believers’ relationship with the divine.
In Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country, the Church lost 23 percent of its priests and nuns from 1960 to 2013. France and Spain have also seen a dramatic reduction in clergy. Across Europe, the number of priests declined almost 4 percent between 2012 and 2015 alone.
Why are there fewer priests?
The demands of the job are a killer combination in today’s world.
Between strict restrictions on sexuality and the loss of priests’ social status, there are ever fewer seminary students. Consequently, fewer men become priests, particularly in remote parts of the world. In the Amazon region, there is one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.
Responding to this challenge, Pope Francis in 2017 suggested that the Church might allow married men to be ordained. Many Church officials believe the requirement of celibacy is the main reason fewer men are joining the priesthood.
Rather, Pope Francis has simply suggested that the Church consider some exceptions. Among other changes, the pontiff has indicated that married Catholic men could assume certain church duties in far-flung regions, invoking the figure of the “viri probati” – or men of unquestionable faith, virtue and obedience.Remo Casilli/Reuters
More men of the cloth
Also known as “deacons,” these men complete a two- to four-year course and are ordained to assist priests and bishops. They can baptize, marry, preach and administer the Eucharist, but they cannot take confession.
Invite women into the ministry
Deacons don’t have to remain chaste. However, like the priesthood, this ministry does not allow women.
So, in August 2016, at the request of the Synod of Bishops, the highest Catholic decision-making body, Pope Francis established a commission to study female deacons. Ordained female deacons supporting an all-male ministry would not entirely fulfill progressive Catholics’ demands to allow women in the priesthood, but it has calmed some anxiety and indicated a potential path forward.
It might also ease some of the priesthood’s staffing shortages.
- ^ as Pope Francis recently acknolwedged (www.catholicherald.co.uk)
- ^ 23 percent of its priests and nuns (www.scielo.org.ar)
- ^ France (www.lefigaro.fr)
- ^ Spain (journals.sagepub.com)
- ^ declined almost 4 percent (www.aciprensa.com)
- ^ Catholic history (www.ceil-conicet.gov.ar)
- ^ In the Amazon region (www.catholicworldreport.com)
- ^ allow married men to be ordained (www.theatlantic.com)
- ^ Church officials (www.economist.com)
- ^ sacred institution of the priesthood (www.cnn.com)
- ^ diaconate (www.usccb.org)
- ^ traces it to the apostles (www.vatican.va)
- ^ a commission to study female deacons (www.aciprensa.com)
- ^ allow women in the priesthood (www.womenpriests.org)
Authors: Verónica Giménez Béliveau, Professor, Religion and Society , University of Buenos Aires