By Greg Erlandson
Year end is the perfect time to take stock of what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. We make our resolutions and look to the future. As a Church, we are invited to do the same: look at what has been accomplished as well as what remains to be done.
This past year, there have been some tremendous moments (Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on social justice, the unity of the bishops in resisting abortion coverage in the health care plan) and some humiliations (the revelations about clerical sex abuse in Ireland, the news that a radicalized American woman Religious was serving as an abortion clinic escort).
The headlines for this, as for any year, are a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly, but it is easy to get caught up in the chatter and not look at the bigger picture.
Some friends at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University helped refocus my attention recently with this simple statistic: Within the next 10 years, half of all priests active today will be retired.
That is a statistic that should tend to concentrate the mind. While vocations have been improving (one of those positive developments we should be grateful for), they are not improving at nearly the rate necessary to replenish the priesthood. In the next 10 years, bishops will be faced with a series of challenging choices:
What is a given is that more of the bishops’ attention will be focused on vocations, and that this focused attention will bear fruit. It is already bearing fruit. But there is going to be a vocations gap that will impact all of us, particularly our children and grandchildren.
At one point, women Religious may have been an alternative. Right now, there are many women Religious serving as parish administrators or coordinators, as well as many others who are directors of religious education or serving in other leadership positions in parishes all around the country.
But they are retiring too, and the drop-off in vocations there is much more dramatic than for priests: There are more women Religious in this country who are over 90 than under 60.
What all of this means for our Church is still difficult to determine. It will be many years, if ever, before the ratio of priests to people is worse than it has been for decades in other parts of the world. We are blessed with a dynamic parish structure, and this will continue to be a great strength.
But what cannot be minimized will be the need for a well-educated and engaged laity. To accomplish this task, a much greater emphasis needs to be placed on faith formation, for adults as well as for children.
Our Sunday Visitor is dedicated to the idea of lifelong faith formation. It undergirds everything we do, including this newsweekly. It is also the reason we recently acquired the company formerly known as Harcourt Religion (now the Our Sunday Visitor Curriculum Division).
The education of our laity — children, parents, singles, seniors, everyone — is a task that we can and must embrace. It is a matter of logistics, resources and witness. And if, in the years to come, we can get this part right, we will have accomplished something great indeed.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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