Ministry 2025: Solving the priest shortage

By KATIE BORKOWSKI
katiel@catholicglobe.org

With the decreasing number of priests in the Diocese of Sioux City and the Ministry 2025 pastoral planning looking to be implemented, some have asked questions about where other priests could come from.

Should the diocese be recruiting from Africa or other countries?

Should the diocese recruit married priests?

What about women priests?

“First of all, it is important for our diocese to be able to raise up clergy from our own midst,” said Father Brent Lingle, director of pastoral planning for the diocese. “If our parishes are healthy and vibrant, so will vocations be healthy and vibrant. If we cannot provide priests from our own parishes, it calls into question our ability to survive and do the ministry we have been tasked to do.”

From other countries

Father Lingle pointed out that bringing in priests from other countries presents its own challenges.

“There are different cultures, languages, customs that require foreign priests to adapt to,” he said. “Sometimes this has been done successfully but not always. In places like Africa where the church is growing in dramatic ways, they also need clergy to serve these missionary needs in their own country.”

Married priests

When it comes to having married priests, Father Lingle explained it has been the longstanding tradition of the church that priests are celibate.

“This is a discipline that has been practiced for centuries,” he said. “This frees the priest to take the church as his spouse and completely dedicate himself to his ministry. In some very rare cases we do have priests who are married and active in ministries. This presents its own challenges of being dedicated and present to one’s family, while at the same time being available to the parish.”

Father Lingle added that people want their priests “available to them at all hours and times. This is not always practical if you have a wife and family.”

“There is also the practical aspect of compensation,” he continued. “A priest that is married is going to need a wage that would allow him to support and sustain a family. Many Protestant pastors make three times more than an average priest. Not every parish could afford that.”

The solution to the lack of vocations, Father Lingle said, is not in married clergy.

“Many Protestant churches that have married clergy are also facing a vocation crisis,” he said. “The problem lies in an overly-secularized culture in which vocations to the priesthood and religious life are not valued or promoted.”

Women priests

Then there is the question of ordaining women. Father Lingle pointed out that “from the beginning of the church in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the 12 apostles, 12 men, to be his first priests.”

“From that time until now, that tradition has been unchanged,” said the director of pastoral planning. “The church teaches that she does not have the power to do what Christ himself did not do. St. John Paul II declared definitely that the discussion about women priests was over and there is no way the church could ever ordain women as priests.”

No magic solution

These solutions “certainly” would not solve the priest shortage problem, said Father Lingle.

“This is evidence in the protestant churches that have married and female clergy,” said the priest. “There is no one magic solution. We have to have vibrant parishes and schools with quality liturgy and programs that help young people grow in their faith and provide the tools for vocational discernment.”

He added priests need “to be constantly asking our young people to consider a vocation. We have to be willing to share the joys of our priestly ministry with them.”

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