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Posted May 20, 2003

Seven Top Recommendations Made by Priests to Insure the Future Health and Effectiveness of the Priesthood



This is the FOURTH of the seven recommendations that will be posted daily on our website. The recommendations come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu.

Recommendation 4: Combat loneliness by fostering priestly fraternity, especially in living situations.

Closely aligned with concern about living space is the issue of loneliness. Priests often live alone, especially today as the number of priests has diminished. The people they spend the most time with are not colleagues but those who look to them for leadership parishioners, lay ministers, and staff. The image of priestly camaraderie that flourished in the 1950s and1960s no longer matches reality today. There are few priests, the nature of the priesthood has changed, and even the broader culture has shifted away from recreational companionship in groups and toward more individual pursuits and pastimes.

Although some priests we interviewed believed the problem of loneliness needed to be solved by each priest, most recommended a systematic effort to strengthen priestly fraternity. An older priest in a focus group:

"We've lost fraternity among our clergy, so we don't feel comfortable just stopping in and visiting one another as we used to. So there is an aloofness and loneliness that comes. And as you get a little bit older, my age, a lot of the guys that I was friends with in the seminary are dead, and my close friends have all moved away or died. So you begin to be more or less by yourself as you get a little older. But among the young clergy, there is sometimes a lack in the seminary of closeness and a development of fraternity, and so when they go into the priesthood there is even more of that distance. You may not have as many friends as you should have. So you get out into a parish, and most of the people you're friends with are the lay people. And there is a difference between having friends among the lay people and friends among the priesthood, where yo can really share yourself. And in recent years we have not had as many assemblies of clergy as we used to, where we would get together and have some social life together."

Specific suggestions for creating fraternity involved changes in living situations. Father Craig, age 36:

"There tend to be clusters of parishes in the city. Could the guys live together? Then at least someone else is in the house. Then again, it's one of those things, do you like those other guys? Do you want to get together with them? I wouldn't know exactly what my opinion would be."

A 32-year-old priest echoes this idea:

"One of the things that I think causes (loneliness) is isolation, where, certainly in an urban environment, there is no reason for priests to be living alone in a parish. Groups of guys should be living together. Not that everyone has to have a sense of community or some kind of obligation to a group, but when you have a group, it seems to me, it is healthier living. My God, if nothing else, when you have someone who hasn't left his room in two days, when you're living with a couple of people, they would pick that up. And especially in an urban area, there is simply no reason for guys to be living alone."

A 64-year-old priest, ordained in 1968:

"Priests have to live together. Even though in a rural diocese it might be a 15-mile commute to work. Now the feel the effects of not being in communion with one another in a supportive way. But even that living together has to be structured so that it's supportive. You can live in isolation in the rectory too."

A 40-year-old friar described the friction between his community and the diocese:

"In our own community, we had trouble because our charism is that we don't live on our own, we live in community. As our friars decreased, we began to establish that our friars would live in one fraternity and go out each day to parishes surrounding it. And the bishop in the diocese did not like that, because he wanted a priest in every rectory, because I guess he thinks that if the people know there is a priest in their rectory, their church is active and alive. So our solution was to pull out of these parishes; we can't sacrifice who we are. And I think that is going to be a reality for dioceses as their guys age and the numbers decrease. I think they have to find other alternatives for these guys to get support with one another. It's okay to live in a group and go out. If there's no one living in a rectory, that's okay. But find out ways and means of them living with one another and getting some kind of support."