Priestly Ranks Shrinking in Great Britain

Vocations Are No. 7 on List of Concerns, Study Says

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LONDON, MAR. 29, 2001 ( The number of Catholic priests in Great Britain is expected to drop by half in the next 10 to 15 years, and nearly a third of parishes could be without priests by 2005, according to a report cited by The Telegraph newspaper.

The report, by the Queen´s Foundation for Theological Education in Birmingham, claims that many parish priests will either retire or die in the next 10 years and there are not enough seminarians in training to take their place, the paper said.

There is no organized strategy to cope with the shortage, according to the 200-page report, which is part of an extensive examination of authority and governance in the Catholic Church launched at Heythrop College in London this week.

Six dioceses took part in the project and 450 bishops, priests and lay people were consulted. The problem is worsened by a continuing decline in church attendance. There are 4.8 million Catholics in Britain, of which 1.3 million go to Mass weekly and another 500,000 attend once a month. By comparison, fewer than 1 million Anglicans go to Sunday services, according to a report last year.

According to the Catholic Directories, the number of diocesan priests dropped to 4,831 in 1999 from 5,210 in 1990. The peak was in 1970, when there were 6,203. In 1999 only 122 men began the seven-year training for the priesthood and only 112 in the previous year.

The report, «Diocesan Dispositions and Parish Voices,» says: «The implications for the parishes are immense. The role of the priest will inevitably change and he will not be accessible as he once was.»

A spokesman for the Catholic Media Office said: «Compared to other countries, England and Wales are doing well in terms of the ratio of priests to parishes. The problem is the aging profile.»

The research placed the blame partly on the «narrow focus» of parishioners who are concerned about internal matters such as Mass times, car parking and parish halls and not vocations or mission.

Asked to rate the 10 most important issues facing the Church, Catholics put the shortage of priests at No. 7. The first concern was the number of young people leaving the Church.

The Queen´s Foundation has a Web site at (

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