Catholic diocese facing priest shortage

 — Dec. 17, 200017 déc. 2000

by Jason Warick, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Facing an unprecedented shortage of priests, Roman Catholic officials in Saskatchewan have begun a massive restructuring that will lead to radical changes in the church. Shortages have affected rural areas for several years, but now the church can’t supply a priest to every parish in the city of Saskatoon. “I am very concerned about the diminishing number of priests. It’s challenging our identity (as a church),” said Rev. Ronald Beechinor, the administrator for the Diocese of Saskatoon, who is performing the duties of bishop until a new one is named. “We’ve got to make substantial changes.”

Many of the area’s 95,000 Roman Catholics from more than 100 parishes attended meetings this fall to suggest ways to deal with the loss of as many as 10 priests by next June. The reports from the seven deaneries in the area were discussed last weekend and a final plan should be ready by February.


Although everyone is concerned, the problem has stimulated a healthy and open discussion about the role of the church and its members, said Beechinor. “People are meeting to talk about their church. This is something positive. What does it mean to be a church?” he said. Many church members have been forced to define and re-evaluate their commitment to the church. Many have risen to the challenge and taken leadership roles.

Options include priests serving more than one parish, church members taking over the Sunday services, or recruiting more priests from developing countries. The plan is to try to restructure without closing any parishes, unlike other cities. “We’re trying to keep all of these communities alive,” Beechinor said.


They would even consider bringing in married Anglican priests to say Catholic mass as some countries have done, although Beechinor said that hasn’t been raised. But female priests will not be considered, nor is ordaining women an option. Beechinor said this topic must be dealt with by the Pope, and it’s essential for Catholics to show unity with the instruction of the Vatican. “We have very few ground rules for this discussion, but we had to operate within the present discipline of the church. That’s not in our hands,” he said. “Those are major issues, but all it would do is sidetrack us. We can’t do it.”

The Saskatoon diocese trains its own priests, but about half the 75 active priests in the diocese are supplied by four outside orders — the Oblates, Benedictines, Redemptorists and Basilians.


Some continue working well past retirement age because they are so badly needed. One 97-year-old Benedictine priest continued to minister in Saskatoon until he broke his hip a few months ago. All four of these orders, facing acute shortages of their own, are pulling out of Saskatoon. That means seven to 10 fewer priests by June, and a further loss of 10 to 12 in the next couple of years. “The church is clearly changing. In all likelihood, that trend will continue,” said Beechinor. The 10 men studying to become priests in Saskatoon is more than most cities this size, but that’s still only one or two ordinations per year at the most.

Beechinor said part of the problem the priesthood is not an attractive option to many people. Vows of chastity, obedience, or poverty aren’t popular. “Greed — we’ve turned it into a virtue. Who wants to be a millionaire? We are a society infatuated with commercialism and materialism,” he said. “How do you get across spiritual values? If greed is a virtue, where does the gospel find its roots in the hearts of people?”

Beechinor said the church is facing a tremendous challenge, but believes it will come away stronger. “The Holy Spirit is still with the church, but we don’t understand where He’s leading us sometimes,” he said.

Posted: Dec. 17, 2000 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Catholic, clergy, Saskatoon
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Catholic, clergy, Saskatoon

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