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Posted November 9, 2004

The Shape of the Church to Come

Bishop Edward Braxton
Origins: Oct. 21, 2004: Vol. 34: NO. 19

The “widespread trend in the Catholic Church in the United States” of closing and merging parishes is the result of decisions “made out of necessity,” Bishop Edward Braxton of Lake Charles, La., said in a June 27 pastoral letter.

The necessity was brought about not only because there was not enough money to keep the parishes open, but also because there were not enough priests to serve them.

He said that current developments in the Lake Charles Diocese, point to the day when some of our parishes may not have full-time priests to serve them. And he said that in the near future some mission chapels serving a very small number of people are likely to close. Encouraging the promotion of priestly vocations by all.

During the past two years we have ordained no one to the priesthood. In the years before that we ordained only one or two. Next year we hope to be blessed wit one ordination. Looking ahead, there is no evidence to suggest that there will be a significant increase in ordinations in the years to come.

Presenting a list of reasons heard as explanations of the decline of priestly vocations, Braxton said, “I personally am not sure that I know why there are fewer candidates for the priesthood. I am sure, however, the Holy Spirit is with the church.

Braxton discussed the ministry in the diocese by priests frm other countries, explaining that “a growing number of our priests have come to us from Asia, India and Africa.

He asked Catholics to express their support for our international priests in specific ways. I would like our people and priests alike to refrain from referring to priests from abroad as ‘foreign priests . . .I suggest that it would be better to speak of them as ‘priests from other countries’ or ‘international priests. He encouraged affirmation of “the priests we have,” asking people to make every effort not to have unreasonable expectations of them.

Excerpts from pastoral letter:

“The writers never suggest where I am to find these ideal priests. They almost give the impression that bishops have a storehouse filled with priests, when, of course, we do not. We cannot make bricks without straw. We can only send the priests we have.”

“Many reasons have been offered to explain why the number of priests in this country, nearly 47,000, has not kept pace with the growth of the Catholic population in the United States, nearly 64 million.

These are some of the reasons that are mentioned frequently:

– The ultimate questions addressed by religion in general and by Catholicism in particular do not seem relevant to many young people.

– The reforms of the Second Vatican Council have obscured the role of the priest.

– The secular, materialistic, ego-centric American culture makes it difficult for someone to embrace a life of selfless service to others receiving neither wealth nor fame in return.

– The lack of enthusiasm about the church and the priesthood on the part of families who rarely encourage their sons to consider the priesthood.

– The perception that celibacy and permanent commitment are incompatible with a culture saturated with sexuality and the desire for personal gratification.

– The fact that Catholics are not really praying for vocations, especially before the Eucharist in adoration in adoration chapels.

– The selfishness of those who are called by Christ and are failing to respond to their vocations.

– The terrible scandal caused by members of the clergy abusing children.

– The low morale of some priests that makes it impossible for them to be dynamic ambassadors for the priesthood.

– The concern that there may be an active homosexual presence in some seminaries.

– The loss of reverence in the liturgy, the lack of devotion to Mary and indifference to the clear teachings of the Holy Father.