Rev. Darrell Venters, who recruits the foreign priests, said that if he did not recruit international priests, some priests in his diocese would end up having five parishes each. He said the shortage is so severe that if one of the priests were to leave or die suddenly, he would have no one to fill some of those parishes.
According to the report,
In the last six years, he has brought 12 priests from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are serving in this diocese covering the western third of Kentucky, where a vast majority of residents are white. His experiences offer a close look at the church’s drive to import foreign priests to compensate for a dearth of Americans, and the ways in which this trend is reshaping the Roman Catholic experience in America.
One of six diocesan priests now serving in the United States came from abroad, according to “International Priests in America,” a large study published in 2006. About 300 international priests arrive to work here each year. Even in American seminaries, about a third of those studying for the priesthood are foreign-born.
Father Venters has seen lows. Some foreign priests had to be sent home. One became romantically entangled with a female co-worker. One isolated himself in the rectory. Still, another would not learn to drive. A priest from the Philippines left after two weeks because he could not stand the cold. A Peruvian priest was hostile toward Hispanics who were not from Peru.
There are several reasons for the shortage of candidates for the priesthood in the Catholic Church and for the pastorate of Protestant churches in the United States.
One problem that affects both churches is the secularism and materialism confronting church members today. Our society offers so much to so many that few are willing to abandon the lures of our society to focus on spiritual concerns as a matter of vocation and life interest. This problem, however, is as old as the church itself. Paul said of one of his co-workers: “Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
Another reason few people are willing to enter the priesthood or the ministry is because the church believes that priests and ministers must be paid as little as possible, as if poverty produces humility and godliness. According to the report published in The Times,
The foreign priests in Owensboro earn the same amount as their American counterparts: a base salary of $1,350 a month, plus $60 for each year since ordination. (The pay scale varies among dioceses, and many pay foreign priests significantly less than Americans.) They can also earn as much as $130 a month in Mass intentions, or special requests, plus $50 for weddings and $25 for baptisms. For the African priests, it is a windfall.
$1,350 a month can be a windfall for the African priests, but it is a pittance here in America. Many Protestant churches in America do not compensate their ministers any better. Most seminary students must spend four years in college and another three to four years earning a Master in Divinity degree before they can be ordained as pastors of a local church.
After accumulating thousands of dollars in debt to finish their education, most pastors will begin their ministry making $30,000-40,000 per year, not even enough money to pay the debt they incurred in their preparation for the ministry.
The pool of priests is shrinking because of retirements, deaths, and a few who were removed from the ministry because of sexual misconduct. But, the Catholic Church faces a peculiar problem. The issue of celibacy serves as a strong deterrent to make the priesthood in the Catholic Church a viable option for most men. And since the Church also refuses to ordain women to the priesthood, it is clear that the shortage of candidates for the priesthood will continue for years to come, unless the Church is willing to change its policy, which may never happen.
One important reason the shortage of candidates for the priesthood and ministry is so acute today is that the Church has almost stopped calling people to consider the ministry as a noble vocation.
According to the report published in The Times, it has been five years since a new priest was ordained in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Owensboro. The same occurs in Protestant churches. In some Protestant churches, no one has ever been called to consider the ministry as a life vocation.
Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). There is much work to be done in the Lord’s harvest. Those of us who are involved in the pastoral ministry must encourage a younger generation of Christians to consider the ministry as a vocation worthy of the God who loved us so much.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Catholic Church, Christian Vocation, Ministry, Priesthood, Priests