In last few morceaux, as we’ve dealt with the topic of the ministry of governance in the Church, I’ve described the roles of some diocesan officials, and in the last one begin a consideration of personnel ministry in the Church. I explained how in our diocese it is the Clergy Personnel Board which bears the principal responsibility for advising the Bishop regarding the assignments of priests and deacons.
I also briefly mentioned that this is often a difficult job. No two priests are alike, for each has his unique gifts and talents, interests and shortcomings. No two assignments are alike either, for communities of people vary in size, location, resources, and even faith and religiosity. “Matching” the right man for the right position is often a difficult thing. Many a bishop or personnel director has wryly thought to himself that “Even Jesus wouldn’t live up to the people’s expectations” as they have asked for a pastor who is more than perfect! And every bishop can tell the difference between our Lord who is perfect and the priests of the diocese who are not!
Of course, the famous “clergy shortage” of recent years continues to be a vexing problem. The number of Catholics in our diocese has more than doubled in our 54 years, but the number of priests certainly has not! With the ordinations of last weekend, we now have 51 active diocesan priests, including the bishop – assisted by about a dozen of our 19 retired priests, 5 externs and 12 religious priests in parish ministry – to serve a Catholic population of more than 235,000. (True, the number of permanent deacons has gone from zero in the 1960s to about 70 in our diocese today, but both priests and deacons – not to mention the bishop and most laity! – agree that priests and deacons are not interchangeable for each other!)
So what’s the solution? The standard answer, of course, is prayer. But simply to say this naïvely, as if we’re leaving it all to God’s initiative, is a copout. Prayer has to be supplemented by actual invitation to single men, and by encouragement from parents: priesthood needs to be eagerly supported in people we know and love. If a vocation is less important to parents than grandchildren or money, for example, it will only be the rare and renegade young Catholic man who will consider it!
No, leadership in the church doesn’t occur miraculously. It happens when God’s inspiration combines with right reason, honest effort, dedicated purpose, and the Church’s norms regarding priestly formation and suitability. We should all make sure to pray for ALL of that!