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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?

  • aearon43

    Ah, yes, thank you Mr Carter for yet another hyperbolic comment on the total destitution of the Roman Catholic Church, to which you, naturally, are completely immune. I’m sure that if we all followed you into the Carter Church, then things would be much, much better.

  • aearon43

    Fair enough. I am willing to give our superiors in the Church the benefit of the doubt, but also willing to accept that they can make mistakes, just like everyone else. What I dislike about Carter is not so much the content of his message, as his tone — the self-righteous certainty of it, and the frankly childish notion that if we were to just get rid of the Ordinary Form, then Europe’s crisis of faith would instantly dissolve.

  • Benedict Carter

    “Mr” Carter to you, if you don’t mind.

    I know a mark of the modern Catholic is that having strong or certain views about anything at all is seen as suspicious at best, as something to be condemned. 

    Just wake up and smell whatever you drink first thing in the morning, for goodness sake. 

    The Church in just a few decades has gone almost completely down the khazi in its doctrine, its theology, its liturgy and in its soul and you prefer to wring your hands or bury your head in the sand?

    Well, if you can’t face reality, that’s your affair. But please don’t presume to attack those who have had enough and won’t put up with it anymore.

  • Benedict Carter

    If that is your level of debate, then it might be better not to comment at all. 

  • aearon43

    The mark of a rational, Catholic mind is to acknowledge one’s own limitations and to defer to the proper authorities when appropriate. Personally, try to examine the beam in my own eye &c. Statements like “completely down the khazi” display a certain excitability usually associated more with women than men. Do you want to try to fix things, or do you just want to whine and moan?

  • aearon43

    Roman Catholicism is defined as communion with the Bishop of Rome. Though you seem to be careful not to attack the Holy Father directly, but instead limit yourself to numerous and occasionally slanderous remarks about his priests and bishops, you do seem to have fundamental issues with positions taken by the pope and with the authority of the Holy See in general.

    Are you right that Modernism and the lack of faith in Europe are problems? Yes. You’re right about that. The central theme of our Holy Father’s reign has been the re-evangelization of Europe. So I think he’s aware of the problems at hand.

    The idea of “reverting to Catholicism pure and simple” is problematic. While it is true that many errors are committed by Catholics today, whether ordained or lay, this has always been the case. St. Peter himself denied Christ. Sin is something inherent to the human condition — a fundamental teaching of the Church.

    Who defines “Catholicism pure and simple?” For me, Roman Catholicism is fundamentally communion with the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter. This implies a communion, that is, religious submission of intellect, to one’s local bishop. That is Catholicism is. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

  • aearon43

    childish romanticism

  • Benedict Carter

    Thanks for making me laugh. 

    As to fixing things, that’s the job first and foremost of the Pope. He’s doing what he thinks is right. I hope he IS right. 

  • Benedict Carter

    One naturally hopes so.

  • Benedict Carter

    You’re not sweetjae is disguise?!?

  • aearon43

    Oh, but I thought the pope should switch over to “Catholicism pure and simple,” as defined by His Holiness Benedict Carter?

  • Benedict Carter

    Hi, Sweetjae!

  • aearon43

    I am not. So, feel free to dispense with excessive punctuation.

  • aearon43

    I do not know who that is. It does, however, say something about the strength of your argument that you refer to phantom internet identities rather than addressing the question posed.

  • Benedict Carter

    Have you asked me something? I missed it perhaps!

  • aearon43

    Carter now assumes the role of court jester.

  • Benedict Carter

    You aren’t very good at sarcasm, Aileron. 

    Well, you’ve learned something about Cardinal Schonborn tonight. It’s annoyed you, hasn’t it?

    Good night!

  • aearon43

    I assure you that my mastery of the Englsh language is second to none.,.- You accused me of being some jaeghost rather than responding to valid points raised. I have not learned anything new about Cardinal Schoenborn, except that certain self-righteous internet commentators dislike him. 

    In general, I rarely attempt sarcasm or other “over the top” type of attention-getting rhetorical devices.

  • Benedict Carter

    Enjoy yourself, Aerliron. Goodnight!

  • aearon43

    It’s aearon which is the Sindarin word for ocean. 43 refers to 1943, a pivotal year in history. You can continue this game of “I have the last word! Good night!” indefinitely, since I’m not very tired. Or, you could respond more substantively to the points I raised.

  • teigitur

    I actually do, though will not name the parish or Priest involved as I have friends there, who have reported him. He regularly makes up his own Canon of the Mass, amongst other things. I also know that this is not an isolated case.

  • Matthew Roth

    That’s a load of crock. My former parish priest, who appreciated both the OF and the EF, was a fantastic priest (He preferred the Ordinary Form, by the way). 

    There are priests who say the EF with scrupulosity as far as rubrics are concerned, but are terrible priests for what they say on Vatican II and the Church today, which is just as bad or worse than the liberal dissenters. 

  • Matthew Roth

    Perhaps Diary of a Country Priest should be required reading.

  • Matthew Roth

    I care less about foreign customs than I care about the fact that the reason African vocations are booming results from the fact they have more Catholics…ergo, they need more priests. It’s not fair for Europeans and Americans to kill their vocations, and then say we’re going to go to Africa or the Philippines for priests. Bishop DiLorenzo does this in Richmond, VA. It’s had disastrous effects…

  • Matthew Roth

    I’m so sick and tired of people who diss the bishops; dissent and disobedience comes in one form, but with two expressions: I’m better than the Pope because I love everything Vatican II-related, or I’m better because I think the Council was an abomination. 

  • Matthew Roth

    I feel as if I should disregard your comment b/c you mentioned you went to an SSPX chapel; I have the overwhelming urge to think that a valid and licit Roman Rite Mass was to be found where you were, even if it was in the Ordinary Form. 

    You generalize too much on the Church in Kenya.

  • Matthew Roth

    One of the best confessors I have been to was a Dominican from West Africa. 
    Good and bad priests are everywhere. That is a pretty consistent theme throughout church history. 

  • Peter

    Providence is at work in the Church.

    If for whatever reasons vocations are stifled in the west, Providence will ensure that more priests become available from the rest of the world.

    This is indeed happening.  It is Providence in action, the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • JabbaPapa

    Except that the *reason* why it’s legitimate to ponder this question is that some evidence seems to exist.

    If no such evidence existed, it would NOT be legitimate in the slightest !!

    To start with, the *massive* movement of rebellion in the Austrian priesthood at least demonstrates that the Cardinal is actually failing in his primary task of being a Bishop to them, that is of ensuring the effective presence of the Ordinary Magisterium in his archdiocese (and, as Cardinal, in the whole of Austria) — which, given this or that more dubious statement or action from him, leads one naturally to start wondering about his own orthodoxy.

  • JabbaPapa

    I am not

    Obviously not — your writing styles are blatantly dissimilar, for one thing…

  • JabbaPapa

    I would agree that the Church went awry after Constantine, but began to
    get back on the right tracks after the Reformation; when freedom of
    religion and conscience started to find footing again.

    Complete nonsense !!!

    “Authoritarian Catholicism” was a 14th-15th century invention of Cluny and the Sorbonne, who wanted to export centralist French dogmatism and a form of monastic utopianism into the Church as a whole (as an extremist reaction against the secularist corruption of the Roman Curia of the time) — Rome (and Oxford — and eventually the Catholic Humanists) resisted and rejected these desires ; and at Trent, our Bishops purged the Curia and the teachings of the Church of the secularist corruptions that had prompted these desires of Cluny in the first place.

    To suggest all of this as having been prompted by Constantine is straightforward Dan Brown, having nothing to do with any actual History.

  • Bonaventure

    There was a time when the Presbytery was occupied by Parish Priest, curate, housekeeper and possibly a retired priest (yes, I know, “Father Ted”, but this was real). The Priest lived in a “family”, sharing meals, having a colleague to talk things over with, etc. The modern pattern of a single priest rattling round in a too-big house, often given a parish at a much younger age than previously, leads to loneliness and exposure to temptations which have led many young priests out of ministry and into marriage. The answer is to form small communities or “families” of clergy, serving several churches and offering one anothermutual support on a daily basis.

  • JabbaPapa

    With some exceptions for some individual churches or chapels, (most*) Catholics are permitted to attend Mass provided by SSPX priests under the strict condition that this Mass attendance is not the expression of a rebellion against Catholic Authority and Doctrine, the College of Bishops, the Pope or the Holy See and the Dicasteries, Offices, and Councils of the Church ; but is essentially the expression of Faith in God via the Traditional Liturgy.

    Catholics are normally forbidden from choosing SSPX clergy as confessors, unless with the explicit permission of their Ordinary or in cases where unavoidable personal circumstances may require choosing such a priest for that purpose, or in cases where the Faithful are simply unaware of the conditional validity of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as provided by these priests — except that if you ensure that you gave confession to a priest NOT under penalty of irregularity at least once a year, then there would be nothing meaningfully wrong with choosing an SSPX priest as your usual confessor for your usual sins, because your intention of confessing these sins to a priest will have been quite honestly executed.

    (*) Exceptions of Catholics *not* permitted to attend SSPX Masses would include many priests, deacons, and religious (as they are ordinarily not permitted to attend any irregular Masses without a permission or an indult – this obviously does not concern cases where such permission is provided). Any theologians or canonists, lay religious or clergy, who may be aware of some more detailed restrictions and definitions concerning the licity of each individual SSPX priest’s ordination insofar as it affects the licity or not of the Sacraments provided by that individual priest will have some extra restrictions on their attendance of Masses given by that individual priest that other Catholics do not. Finally, Catholics are not permitted to deliberately engage in strenuous efforts to positively avoid taking Mass in their own Parish or Diocese in order to attend Masses provided by the SSPX, in the sense of going out of their way to do so — as this would constitute a positive rejection of their Bishop’s diocesan Authority, and therefore that of the Church.

  • nytor

    Why do you have such an obsession with this idea? I do not like the idea that you almost seem to approve of the stifling of vocations in the West – vocations far more suited to the service of the Church here – because a corollary is that your beloved developing world students can come and do it instead. Don’t you see how your fixation has skewed your viewpoint? You’re actually welcoming the stifling of Western vocations.

  • JabbaPapa

    I think you’re generalising.

  • nytor

    To be fair to the cardinal, I think he has to deal with a rebellion of his priests on a scale we can only imagine.The Church in Austria has largely slipped into heresy, with the Call to Disobedience and the Wir Sind Kirche stuff.

  • nytor

    Yes, he should, but I wonder whether that would drive Austria into schism and that a better way is to try to reconvert them from within?

  • nytor

    I think the cardinal’s expression of his concerns led to the pope’s very clear recent sermon on the situation. They are trying to deal with it, I think, but without provoking a walkout en masse in the process.

  • nytor

    Quite. Inculturation, lest we forget, is the horror in whose name the late pope was confronted with bare-breasted tribal dancers at Mass. Enough with it. Mass should be celebrated properly and reverently and without abuses and without concessions to peculiar local cultures whether you’re Swedish or Senegalese.

  • nytor

    “the frankly childish notion that if we were to just get rid of the Ordinary Form, then Europe’s crisis of faith would instantly dissolve”

    Dissolve? No. Help? Probably. The great point of the changes was to re-engage people with the Church. Well, that worked, didn’t it. I suspect that far more people left because of the changes than have been drawn to the Church as a result of them.

  • nytor

    Not to mention liturgies that the Curia will not approve notwithstanding the extreme pressure they have brought to bear through their various highly-placed fans.

  • Simon

    This is hard for a married man to answer as it brings all the questions about celibacy and the grace that flows from this. Surely many priests do not want to be ‘monks’ and like their independence. But this a huge topic and it is hard to know the answer, call the Holy Spirit.

  • Peter

    On the contrary.  It is a tragedy that vocations are dying in Europe in a manner commensurate with the decline of faith in the continent.  But it is a fact nonetheless and it is pointless wringing one’s hands about it.

    We can only thank God that this tragic shortfall is more than compensated by a greater increase of seminarians in the third world, on which the only constraint is lack of funds.

    God has made the world interdependent.  We send the poor world our wealth and they send the rich world their priests.  And they are good priests.

  • teigitur

    It was not all bad Benedict, though on balance it was probably a huge mistake. Certainly the many liberal interpretations of almost every aspect of it, have been less than helpful to the Church, and indeed the faithful.

  • Ronk

    We CAN have the best of both options. 3 to 5 priests living together, but each one also having special responsibility for a particular smaller part of the parish. Including Mass at least daily in its local church. 

  • Tybourne

    What do the Beatification of John Henry Newman,
    his choice of the Oratory as the form of his clerical community and the abuse
    scandal have in common?


    My argument is that, taken together, they
    provide a way out of the crisis afflicting the secular clergy in the Western
    Catholic Church. As von Balthasar says, only secular priests themselves can
    find the way out of this crisis. For this reason, speaking personally, I would
    like to see posters to this thread indicate their canonical status. For my
    part, I am a layman and follow the Latin Rite while trying to avoid the Scylla
    and Charibys of ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’ Catholicism through a ‘creative
    fidelity’ along the lines exemplified by the Oxford Centre for Faith and Culture.


    Firstly, the Beatification of Newman could be
    seen as the Holy Spirit endorsing him as a model for priests, especially in the
    English-speaking world. As Newman himself puts it “the
    Church has sustained a severe loss, as well as the English and German
    nationalities themselves, by their elimination from it” (Letter of April
    1, 1875 to John Mozely). As the Pope and Cardinal Schonborn recognise, the
    battle for the soul of Europe centres on these countries. If we can find a way
    out of the crisis affecting the secular clergy in English and German-speaking
    countries it will bode well for elsewhere. The fact that Newman, under the
    direction of the Holy Spirit, chose the Oratory as the form of his clerical
    community, cannot be ignored. To do so would be to stifle the Spirit, admiring
    Newman but not listening to his life. As Genesis puts it, “It is not good for
    man to live alone”. This verse applies to the secular clergy as much as to
    others. Also, St Benedict states in his Rule that a man needs to be fully
    formed in community before going into the single-handed combat of the desert.
    We have reaped the results of inadequate formation in community life of our
    clergy, in the form of the abuse scandal. Therefore, the provision in the 1983 Code of Canon Law for a ‘team of
    priests in solidum’ should become the norm rather than an exception in English
    and German speaking countries. This would be a pastoral arrangement to address
    the current crisis, in my view.


    I am interested to hear what my ordained brothers
    think, however, and submit this suggestion for their consideration.


  • paulpriest


    The destruction of a handful of parishes & the formation of a super-parish where minimal pastoral, spiritual and sacramental care is provided?

    Yeah sure that’s REALLY going to help form local communities of the faithful, that’s really going to reduce the 94% teenage lapsation…that’s really going to make parishioners…whoops – sorry – ex-parishioners…feel like they’re unified members with the Mystical Body of Christ throughout the world…

    Don’t you get this yet?
    A lay-centric Church structure where we have ‘ministers’ of this, that and the other has invoked a ludicrous inner-ring syndrome of professional laity while the rest of the parish are neglected, alienated and feel utterly disenfranchised – treated like they’re ‘lesser- Catholics’ because they don’t ‘express their vocational charisms’ by prancing around the sanctuary, engaging in vanity-exercise ‘initiatives’ or browbeating across a committee table….

    What has been the single major cause of the most lapsations?
    Catholic parishioners feeling unwanted, useless, and that they were participating in a pointless exercise in futility….

    This so-called ‘Lay-empowerment’ has led to our laity not merely abandoning the Church by the millions – they left because they felt they weren’t wanted!!!!

    If you desecrate their rites, repudiate their beliefs, spit on their sacraments, their traditions and their cultural identity…with felt-banners, chipped mugs, bri-nylon, stylised cardboard doves and a songbook [I won't call them hymns] which makes Godspell seem like Aida!!?? With the sneering ‘oh we don’t believe that any more’ ; “oh Vatican II got rid of all that nonsense” etc etc etc

    So now that most of the chaos has fallen flat and died away and all that’s left in the desolation of a Parish are a few score disgruntled but ever-loyal elderly and maybe a hotch-potch hundred more of maybe a dozen families but most of the rest will be individuals..single lone Catholics who might very well be married with kids..their whole family Catholic – but the rest? The partners or parents or kids or siblings have gone by the wayside and ‘don’t bother with all that’ any more….

    The only people who benefit from centralization into this Futurechurch/Superchurch paradigm are the ‘professional clergy’ and the ‘professional laity’…

    …i.e. the VERY SAME PEOPLE who got us into this mess in the first place…

    not merely have they told vast swathes of the Catholic population that they are not real Catholics[because they don't belong to X, or haven't read Y or aren't a minister of Z or gone on a pastoral course or got a degree in pastoral theology or haven't been signed up to a string of committees...]

    …and made it more than clear that they weren’t wanted…

    they now want the clergy for themselves – exclusively for their own elitist mob in a brand new Superchurch with its attached pastoral centre/rel ed centre – where all the professional laity can have every resource and luxury and every whim and desire sated [as they can pay for it!!]

    they can engage in all the clerical gossip and diocesan politicking and pontificate over the latest Tablet article or latest steering committee or Joanie Chittister book postured among ‘people like us’….

    while the ordinary Catholics?
    well they can get lost!

    Don’t you understand this is a hijacking, a shaghaiing, a hostile takeover by the Tabletista professional laity?

    They’ve sabotaged the sacraments, the parishes, the schools..they’ve deliberately wilfully destroyed everything they’ve touched until all that was left was themselves and their personal ministries & their committee seats and their narcissistic group-hug social events…

    …and now they want the parish to cease to exist…
    …so all those poor, dispossessed, disenfranchised,alienated ‘undeserving Catholics’ can go fish!
    …and the Priests?
    Well when major sacrificial, pastoral, spiritual and evangelical demands are removed from the equation – when there’s always someone to play scrabble or Halo 3 with or just to gossip with over the advert breaks in Countdown or argue about whodunnit in Poirot..someone to give you a night off from doing the dishes or remission from those teenage brats in the confirmation class?

    This futurechurch will provide them with everything they want…
    …and nothing of what they need..

  • paulpriest

     Meanwhile the already dying parishes might as well go and get themselves buried?

    Bonaventure – have you really, truly, considered the consequences of what you’re proposing?

  • paulpriest

     no – it’s childlike romanticism – and being the ideal the only thing to do with it is make it happen…

  • paulpriest

     You don’t understand that this pervading ‘anti-clericalism’ is worse than any form of the ludicrous clericalism of old…

    This is elitist – where the professional laity & ‘specialist’ celebrity priests and the nouveau academique ‘in-crowd’ become more dictatorial and oligarchically collectivist than any pre-WW2 tin-pot tyrant…