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Lay Leaders Surveying Priests About Optional Celibacy in 52 U.S. Dioceses

For Immediate Release January 27, 2004

Contact: Linda Pieczynski Sr. Christine Schenk
Call to Action FutureChurch
630-655-8783, (w) 216-228-0869 (w)
630-323-6924 (h) 216-513-3647 (cell)
630-399-6924 (cell)

Lay Leaders Surveying Priests About Optional Celibacy in 52 U.S. Dioceses
Early returns show majority of respondents support discussion.
Final results anticipated in May.

Catholic lay leaders from Baltimore to California are mailing anonymous surveys about optional celibacy to their parish priests in a total of 52 dioceses around the United States.

The survey is the brainchild of Jim and Sally Orgren, leaders of Call to Action in Buffalo, who mailed an anonymous survey to diocesan priests after hearing about the 163 Milwaukee priests calling for discussion of optional celibacy last August. Within two weeks 28% responded (which is a respectable response rate according to social scientists). Of these, 68 % answered yes to the question: “Do you favor an open discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule for diocesan priests? “

Other Call to Action and FutureChurch leaders quickly followed suit and as of January 26, laity had committed to surveying priests in 52 dioceses. Early results from five dioceses found response rates of 28% to 46% with 56% to 84% supporting open discussion. (see results of individual dioceses listed below).

Orgren believes: “Many priests in the present climate do not feel free to publicly support open discussion of optional celibacy. The anonymity allows priests to say what they really think about this issue, without fear of recrimination.” In Buffalo, many commented that “they were grateful for the opportunity to express their deep concern for the future of the Church.”

The surveys are an important part of a broadly conceived Corpus Christi Campaign which was launched last October by the Cleveland based FutureChurch and national Call to Action. Among other things, the campaign invites Catholics to request their bishops to release diocesan projections of availability of priests in the future.

“The Catholic Church’s decline of active priests is stark,” said Call to Action spokesperson, Linda Pieczynski. “Since 1965 the United States has suffered a net loss of 13,000 priests while the number of Catholics has increased by 17.8 million. The number of seminarians has been cut in half. Since Pope John Paul II took office priests worldwide declined by 4% while Catholics increased by 40%.”

A new web database, Priest Shortage USA 1976-2004, gives dramatic statistics from the Official Catholic Directory documenting, diocese by diocese, the loss of priests over the last 25 years.

As part of the campaign, Catholics across the U.S. and worldwide are circulating a petition to the 2004-2005 International Synod on the Eucharist asking for discussion of optional celibacy. They are also sponsoring prayer, discussion and education groups in their parishes and small faith communities on the June 13 feast of Corpus Christi, a traditional Catholic commemoration of Christ’s Eucharistic presence.

FutureChurch Executive Director Sr. Christine Schenk said: “This conversation is long overdue. We want to return to our early church custom of having both celibate and married priests.We join our voices with Bishops and Cardinals worldwide who are calling for discussion including Cardinal George, Cardinal Mahony, Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Brazilian Bishops Conference and the Canadian Bishops Conference. Our Catholic sacramental identity is hangs in the balance."

“Last fall we delivered 7000 letters to the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The commitment to surveying our priests is a very hopeful next step in the campaign,”said Pieczynski. “I am encouraged that so many priests including the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, as well as priests in Milwaukee, Chicago, New Ulm Mn., Albany, Sacramento , Pittsburgh, Southern Illinois and New York City, are publicly asking for this discussion too.”

Schenk disputed a statement made last fall by Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. Gregory said that making celibacy optional wouldn’t help the priest shortage because the Protestant Church also has a shortage even though their clergy are permitted to marry. “According to a recent Purdue University study published in the Catholic Jesuit weekly America the Catholic Church is the only denomination in the U.S. that has a clergy shortage.”

Survey Results to Date
Buffalo 28% (160 of 580) priests responded. 68% favored discussion, 24% do not and 8% were unsure.

Dubuque 46% (102 of 222) priests responded. 56% favored discussion, 39 % did not and 4% were unsure.

Indianapolis 34% (56 of 166) priests responded. 84% want discussion, 16% do not

Oakland 41% (126 of 301) priests responded. 84% favored discussion, 14% did not and 2% were unsure.

Syracuse 42 % (130 of 312) priests responded. 73% favored discussion, 22% did not and 6% were unsure.

Call to Action and FutureChurch through surveying Catholic priests, grassroots prayer and education programs and circulating petitions to the International Synod on the Eucharist, seek to promote dialogue from the grassroots to the Vatican about the need for removing mandatory celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood.

Call to Action is a national organization of 25,000 laity, religious and clergy with its national office in Chicago and 41 local chapters. It advocates for reforms in the Catholic Church such as equality for women and homosexuals in the Church, optional celibacy for priests, more focus on the church's social teaching, and consultation with the Catholic people on church decision making.

FutureChurch is a coalition of parish based Catholics who seek the full participation of all Catholics in the life of the Church. FutureChurch strives to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. It seeks to participate in formulating and expressing the Sensus Fidelium (the Spirit inspired beliefs of the faithful) through open, prayerful and enlightened dialogue with other Catholics locally and globally.

For Official Catholic Directory statistics for every U.S. diocese, visit click on Priest Shortage USA 1976-2004.

About FutureChurch Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, FutureChurch seeks changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership. It is a national coalition of 3,500 parish centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch is a nonprofit organization that makes presentations throughout the country, distributes education, advocacy and prayer resources and recruits activists who work on behalf of its mission.