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Debate: Should the Church give up on the old-fashioned ‘single-priest’ parish?

Or are parishes more effective with one lone priest fully immersed in the life of his flock?

By on Thursday, 18 October 2012

In years to come priests may live in communities instead of on their own (Photo: Mazur/

In years to come priests may live in communities instead of on their own (Photo: Mazur/

Vienna archdiocese, we report this week, is about to start closing more than three quarters of its parishes. Over the next decade, 660 parishes will be reduced to 150 larger parishes, each served by three to five priests.

Michael Prüller, archdiocesan spokesman, said the Church had to change its “old-fashioned structures” and that the reorganisation offered “a model for Church reforms throughout Europe”.

Mr Prüller suggested that priests were not needed “in every small town and village”. But what about elderly or ill people who are unable to leave the house? A single priest is also, surely, more immersed in the lives of his parishioners than a community of men who are able to look after each other.

On the other hand, it is easy to see that missionary energy might be easier to maintain in a parish with a community of priests rather than one lone priest. The Apostles themselves formed a close brotherhood rather than working in isolation.

So, should dioceses around Europe follow Vienna archdiocese in slashing the number of parishes and grouping priests together? Or are parishes more effective with one lone priest fully immersed in the life of his flock?

  • Benedict Carter

    Ever heard of the Arians?

  • Peter

    I don’t see any old people dying in the street, or homeless children living in sewers, do you?

  • Peter

    You can call the massive upsurge in vocations in the developing world as lunacy; I call it providence

  • Peter

    The active discouragement of vocations in England is a fantasy conjured up by a right wing bigoted element overepresented on this site and more at home with the SSPX.

  • JabbaPapa

    No, we keep the old people dying nice and tidily in our sweet little LCP schemes, designed for cost-cutting at the expense of their lives, and our homeless children are parked nicely out of sight in lovely little orphanages where they will be routinely abused sexually instead.

  • Matthew Roth


  • Don Camillo

     well said!

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks for that reply Jabba. 

  • licjjs

    The problem is that they are – I can only speak from my own experience – NOT ‘completely immersed in the life of their flock’.  I am afraid that it is a case of he has his life and I have mine.  It seems to me that the present priests have become more and more like the present doctors, at least GPs: they are 9-5 people.  I was speaking to someone the other day about how the doctor came to anyone in our family as soon as he was called and how he was a respected presence even when not actually being needed.  Our old family doctor, whom I had last consulted when I was sixteen, nevertheless came up to me at a family funeral, when I was well into my 40s, and spoke to me warmly by name.  I had not lived in the town for more than 25 years.  I doubt whether my present doctor would even know who I am and I certainly do not expect him at my funeral!  And so with the priest: I agree with the person below who speaks about the priest avoiding talking with his parishioners: one can almost see the drawbridge being drawn up as one approaches!  Even when a very rare casual meeting occurs and one perhaps says a few words about a particularly vexing trial one is undergoing, one meets with a kind of professional ‘there there’ rather than a warmth communicating sympathy.  In short, they do not want a true RELATIONSHIP to begin to flourish. There may be, and I am sure there are, many reasons for this, but it is a very bad situation for the Church.

  • licjjs

    I just want to add that I think the way of the future is for a monastic Church to flourish again – I mean monasteries like those of ancient Ireland where the people had a deep relationship with the monastery and the monks: we need a multitude of Clonmacnoises!

  • licjjs


    If you do some serious research on the situation in many, if not most, African countries, you will come across some very distressing facts. Various reports have been submitted to the Pope in the past twenty years or so on the problems in many different countries but (quote) 
    “They describe a particularly bad situation in Africa. In a continent devastated by Aids, nuns, along with early adolescent girls, are perceived by some as safe sexual targets. The reports said that the church authorities had done little to tackle the problem. 
    The Vatican reports cited countless cases of nuns forced to have sex with priests. Some were obliged to take the pill, others became pregnant and were encouraged to have abortions. In one case in which an African sister was forced to have an abortion, she died during the operation and her aggressor led the funeral mass. Another case involved 29 sisters from the same congregation who all became pregnant to priests in the diocese.”  
    Not nice to read I know, but it is best if we keep our feet on the ground when looking for solutions to our problems.

  • JabbaPapa

    Monastic utopianism in and of itself is not the solution — though it could be part of a solution.

    Monastic utopianism not only leads inevitably to a very authoritarian and centralised conception of Christianity, but it can also lead to situations whereby the Authority of the Holy Father is directly challenged by that of the more powerful and influential Abbots.

  • Benedict Carter

    The Pope himself Jabba has said that the engone of recovery will come from the monasteries.

  • scary goat

    No.  A parish without a priest is like a home without a mother.  The idea of lay-run everything doesn’t appeal to everyone.  There are all sorts of things I could do without…..but a priest in my parish isn’t one of them. I don’t know what the answer is……but I do know what it isn’t…..and the Vienna model is what it isn’t.

  • Jonathan Manning

    I thought the single priest parish was a new phenomenon.  The ‘old fashioned’ system was to have a parish priest and a curate and maybe more in each parish.

  • JabbaPapa

    The old-fashioned system was (and still is, here and there) that small parishes have one priest, large parishes several (as you describe).

    The old-fashioned system is what we have in our own parish, though there’s no presbytery where the priests might share their living arrangements.

  • Kisegerwamicheal

    Good Message But am looking for a God fearing priest to help me in my studies but am orphan and i lost all my parents yet in the Lord i love to study but am lacking for financial help so for any help please contact me