Pastoral Thought




            Last week I had a most welcome guest, Father Bob Bonnot, chairman of the Association of United States Catholic Priests, and a recently retired pastor in the diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. The AUSCP has a membership of 1200 priests (out of 35,000) in the United States. It has since 2011 been a voice for renewal and reform in the Catholic Church in our country, communicating with our bishops about ways to meet the crisis within our Church.

            Fr. Bonnot, in a brief daily Mass homily told us that of 25,000 diocesan priests, one-third are retired (many of them still helping offer Mass) and within five years, another third will retire or die. Yet we have in our country 17,000 parishes. Some of these are cared for by priests in religious orders, but most are in the care of diocesan priests. In some areas, e.g., Maine and the rural Midwest, one priest must care for 5 or 6 parishes. In the South and Southwest, where the Catholic population is growing—on the other hand—one parish may have 5 or 10,000 families...for the same reason, a shortage of priests.

            There is nothing controversial about these figures. All agree we have a problem. Without predicting what course the Church will take, or when, we can see that local parishes without a priest will need pastoral leaders — persons who can carry out the work of the Church as a priest does (apart from mass and sacraments). Such persons exist...the church authorities must discern who they are, give them training and authorize them to lead.

            Fr. Bonnot mentioned other hopeful responses: e.g, women deacons, married priests. While we may not have the solution, we must be very clear about the problem.

Father John Hynes