Pedophile scandal's effect on priest shortage

The Associated Press reports that nearly 250 Roman catholic priests have been suspended or removed since January. The Washington Post reports that more than 350 were removed before this year. Does anybody know anything about what kind of effect this is having – is it causing churches to close or anything else?

There was already a severe shortage of priests–the sex scandal can’t be helping matters any.

And in today’s “Irony” entry, for all those teens out there deciding on careers:

On the other hand, the scandal also serves to drive potential parishoners to other Christian sects. So perhaps the decline in the nunmber of priests is balanced by a somewhat proportionate decline in the number of congregation members?

I would think the closing of churches is the last thing they would resort to; my thought is that a given church would be less staffed by priests and the duties would be filled in as much as possible by lay persons. I don’t know if there is a minimum staffing level per se, but it is within the realm of possibility that a given parish might be “serviced” by a priest from outside the parish, rotated in for Sunday services only.

Pure opinion: The Celibate tradition (not scripturally derived) of the Roman Catholic Church is at or very near to the source of the problem. Celibacy of the church leaders is good if you want to prevent something like an inhereted papacy, but where a church is not especially wealthy or powerful, it is counterproductive. Non-celibacy hasn’t hurt the Church of England/Episcopalians, the Baptists, etc. But when you officially deny your group (whether it is priests, pirates, prisoners, or what have you) normal sexual outlets, things like pederasty are bound to occur.

Churches are already closing, or restricting their services. because of declining numbers of clergy; removing still more clergy can only exacerbate the trend. In addition, the substantial awards of compensation that dioceses have had to pay, and the awards they no doubt will have to pay in the future, and the decline in contributions from an offended laity, must all deplete the material resources available to keep churches (and schools and universities hospitals and hostels and social service centres and so forth) open and functioning. At least one (as it happens, Anglican rather than Roman Catholic) diocese in Canada has ceased functioning entirely for precisely this reason.

[Off-topic] I don’t share JCHeckler’s view that celibacy is at the root of the problem. Sex abuse also occurs in the clergy of other denominations who do not observe a celibacy requirement, and in certain other professions which are not religious at all. My own theory is that there are certain professions to which a paedophile may find himself (perhaps subconsciously) attracted, either because it seems to offer a way of controlling or dealing with his sexuality, or social attitudes to it, or because it offers access to children. For whatever reason, religious ministry is one of these professions, but I don’t think celibacy has a lot to do with it, because the ministry of other churches has the same problem. What makes the current crisis of the Catholic Church distinctive is not that they have a problem of sex abuse by clergy, but the way in which they have handled that problem up to now.[/Off-topic]

Let’s not have a debate on celibacy in this forum, okay? The question is about how the scandal is effecting recruitment, and how the Church is dealing the shortage, and not the root causes of pedophilia.

moderator GQ

Your (entirely reasonable) wish is our command, O great one.

My guess is that the shortage of money resulting from this affair will be a bigger problem than the shortage of clergy. Clergy numbers have been declining for a long time, and for demographic reasons it has been clear that this trend was going to accelerate in any event. Clergy removed because of paedophilia will make matters worse still, but already much thought has gone into the question of how the Catholic Church will cope with fewer and fewer clergy – devising new models of ministry, new roles for the laity, and so forth. Not everybody is satisifed with the progress and direction of this process, but the point is that it exists, and is ongoing, and it can take account of the additional effect of the removal of significant numbers of clergy detected in paedophilia. According to this site the number of priests in the US declined by about two thousand between 1995 and 1998 – that’s about 650 a year, so the removal of an extra 350, or even more, while serious, does not make a huge change to the long-term outlook.

It’s the potentially enormous drain of material resources which is unforeseen. Indeed, to some extent, the shortage of clergy was to be addressed through reliance on having lots of money so that, for instance, proper salaries could be paid to lay people to do work which in the past has been done by priests for a pittance. It’s perhaps significant that the Anglican diocese which shut up shop in Canada did so because it was bankrupted by abuse claims, not because it had too few clergy.

Expect to see specific institutions where abuse was perpetrated– schools, residential homes – bankrupted by compensation claims. Thereafter, perhaps, the US branches of specific religious orders and/or specific US dioceses may be threatened with bankruptcy. If individual dioceses are threatened with bankruptcy, the Catholic church will have to decide whether to support those dioceses with funds from elsewhere so that they can meet all the claims against them, or let them become bankrupt. If they choose the latter course, I am not sure what will follow. It may be that the territories covered by bankrupt dioceses will become, in effect (or even formally) “mission territory”, with a minimum of formal church structure, serviced from outside and under the close supervision of Rome.

To: Duck Duck Goose: Thanks for the links. They had exactly the kind of information I was looking for.