Do Not Stifle the Spirit!
Keep parishes open with abundant lay ministers, deacons.
FutureChurch has organized a national coalition to circulate a Do Not Stifle the Spirit! (Thess 5:1) statement listing eight best practices for keeping parishes open despite the steadily worsening priest shortage. (View the Statement).
The September initiative was endorsed by six Catholic organizations including Voice of The Faithful and Call To Action, as well as nationally known theologians and lay leaders concerned about the future of U.S. parish life. More endorsements are expected.
The document cites the positive example of eight U.S. dioceses that “chose creative solutions such as entrusting the pastoral care of several parishes to one priest, to a team of priests, or to competent lay ecclesial ministers, deacons and religious.” It calls for “creative and constructive conversations with priests, parishioners, pastoral ministers and all ecclesial leaders about how to keep our parishes vibrant and fruitful.”
Elephants in the Living Room, a Detroit group of some 100 priests and 800 laity who formed to keep Detroit’s urban parishes open, not only endorsed the statement, but it plans to use it as a prototype for their own proposal to send to all the bishops and parishes in the Detroit archdiocese.
FutureChurch created the statement after widespread consultation with theologians, canon lawyers, lay leaders, priests, pastoral ministers and bishops. They sent a copy to every U.S. bishop as well as tens of thousands of parishioners encouraging them to catalyze discussion in their own parishes and dioceses.
Because of the priest shortage, U.S. dioceses will be forced to continue reconfiguring parishes for the foreseeable future. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 75% of the 18,000 active diocesan priests in the U.S. are over 55 years old, but the U.S. is only ordaining about 350 new diocesan priests each year. In 20 years, presuming ordinations remain constant, the U.S. could have as few as 11,500 active diocesan priests for our 19,000 parishes. At the same time, numbers of deacons and paid lay ministers have increased significantly to 14,000 and 30,000 respectively. Presently “parish life coordinators” are pastoring an estimated 600 U.S. parishes.
The Do Not Stifle the Spirit! statement is part of FutureChurch’s new Save Our Parish Community effort designed to provide educational, advocacy and organizing resources to Catholics who want to be proactive about parish closings, as well as those discerning an appropriate response to diocesan decisions to close or merge their vibrant, solvent, and apostolically effective parish.
For the past 16 years, FutureChurch has encouraged Church leadership to open ordination to all those called to it by God and the people of God. We will continue promoting this discussion until our leaders finally realize that the Eucharist is more important to Catholic life than an exclusively male celibate priesthood.
In the meantime, we must do what we can to constructively encourage faithful Catholics to assume appropriate responsibility for the future of our parishes, and of our church.
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(Statement will be published in as many venues as funds allow)