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FROM THE NATIONAL COORDINATOR

o priests have rights? Are their rights sometimes in conflict with the laity's right to the sacraments?  At the present time, the shortage of priests has reached epic proportions.  The result is that priests are being overworked and still many people are being denied the sacraments.  The U.S. National Conference of Bishops met in June 2000 to discuss the study it had commissioned, "Impact of Fewer Priests on the Pastoral Ministry." Some of the highlights of the study were: 
  •   The ratio of priests active in parishes to Catholics has risen dramatically to 1: 2,185.
  • The number of new priests has dramatically declined.
  • 42% of dioceses have reduced the number of Masses.
  • More than 25% of parishes in the U.S. lack a full time priest.
  • Many dioceses have started to close parishes.
  • Many priests suffer from stress, exhaustion, isolation, and low morale.
  The consequences seem obvious.  On the one hand, priests are being asked to do more and more work because of the shortage. On the other hand, many people are being denied the sacraments. 
Charles Morris, in his book, American Catholic, says, "If a religious stock analyst were to rate the American Catholic Church, he might say, Dynamite product, great market, but you need to shoot some upper and middle managers." 
Some bishops have told their people to expect "priestless Sundays." One bishop's solution was to try to convince priests to continue working past 70, their retirement age.  Bishop John Myers told his senior priests (70 and over), in Peoria. "The Church needs you. The number of priests available to serve our parishes, schools, hospitals…is down."  He reminded senior priests, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." "Tu es sacerdos in aeternum."  He even offered them more money, if they work past age 70. Thirty priests have left the Peoria diocese during Myers' tenure, according to NCR.  Recently, he was moved to Newark, N.J. 
What does the Catholic laity think about the shortage of priests?  The majority of the laity believe there should be married priests and that women should be eligible to be priests.  Gallup polls show that in 1999, 71% of the laity supported ordination of married men; 77% supported having married priests return to the active ministry;  64% supported the ordination of women, despite the Vatican's order not to talk about it. 
It seems as if the gap between the thinking of the institutional leaders and the laity is growing wider.  We desperately need visionary leaders from the laity, priests, religious, and bishops to discuss these problems and to come up with practical solutions, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Veni, Sancte Spiritus
John Sheehan
ARCC Light is published eight times per year by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church.  For membership information, contact ARCC, John F. Sheehan, National Coordinator, PO Box 85, Southampton, MA 01073 
Phone/fax 413 527-9929 
E-mail: arccangel@charter.net 
Suggested dues are $25.00 per year, and include a subscription to ARCC Light and a copy of ARCC's Charter of Catholic Rights.  ARCC Web site: http://arcc-catholic-rights.org/
Editor, ARCC Light:
Christine M. Roussel, PhD 
3416 93 Street -Apt C3, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 
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Ingrid H. Shafer, PhD
Email:ihs@ionet.net
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Our readers are invited to join in our ongoing conversation about rights in the church.  We are anxious to learn of your experience and your ideas concerning our cause, the pursuit of justice in the church.  Write us at one of the addresses shown in the box at left.  We will be happy to publish letters judged to be of general interest.

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