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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?

  • Irene

    We have a great love to the Catholic Church; however, it would not take long, though, to realize that most priests-at least too many of those we have encountered in parishes- seem to be far away from the holy example of the wonderful cure de Ars. This is said with all respect to the beautiful and encouraging exceptions.
    Just a few examples: one priest literally hated every parishioner having been blessed by a particular gift; excellent reader, or radiating great holiness; or he would even personally do everything to prevent a professional singer of the parish, blessed with a wonderful voice, greatly appreciated by the parishioners, to ever sing again, when he was celebrating Mass. Why? The unfortunate, stunning and breathtaking answer is simply because he himself was driven by a great urge to being seen and heard, THE one, the ONLY one, and anyone with an exceptional gift or talent was to him only “something” to be removed, not by harsh words, but even worse, by ice cold, calculating psychological harassment, very well planned, well in advance,  exposing them to such deep humiliation, causing them such great suffering that they were faced with one single option: to finally leave, in order to survive spiritually
    Another example: one priest was found to tell downrighjt lies, right in the face of his parishioners, encouraging them to invest an immense amount of time to a certain project, instead of informing them that it had all been cancelled half a year ago; his own pride prevented him from telling the truth, since this woulod have meant he would have lost some” prestige”(!!!) Some people lost both some money in the process, nad all the counless months, days and hours they ha been preparing for the very special event, which never came to be. Above all, there was a tsunami of loss of trust in him as a parish priest.

    Another example: a parish priest ALWAYS and withy great skill avoids meeting his parishioners in a private talk; as ssoon as one approaches him, his eyes start rolling, as he is already on the run and he does not listen to what one says. Very frustrating!! And dont tell me that it would be due to “being busy” only, I know people in other professions who worh just as hard, or more, but who still seem to take care to listen.
    Why do I mention this example? Because we have suggested, many times, to other parishioners, what an immense richness and opportunity it would be, if parish priests, instead of living alone in a parish, would be able to share his daily life, with other priests; to exchange experiences, good and bad and, very, very important: to recieve not only help and guidance from others, but the necessary CORRECTION by other priests, who know them well and whose advice they, hopefully, could trust .


  • nytor

    “One must note that the Latin Mass orders have plentiful candidates to the priesthood. For example, the Fraternity of St. Peter must enlarge their seminary if they are to meet the needs of all who apply. Why do these plentiful resources of go untapped by bishops? Because they would rather see the Church fail in its salvific mission rather than be what they do not like.”

    Hear, hear!

  • nytor

    “But it is a fact nonetheless and it is pointless wringing one’s hands about it.”

    No – it is NOT a fact. There are, proportionally, more priests per parishioner in this country than there have been for some time. It is also a fact that there are many vocations being discouraged by the liberal episcopate for not fitting the mould the elderly trendies would like.

    This does not equal a vocations crisis, not at all, and I find it more than slightly distasteful that you should revel in the situation because it works to the advantage of your own personal special interest – which it clearly is, as you appear to post on little else other than priests from the Third World.

  • nytor

    Also, if there were the situation you describe above, then why is it “pointless” to seek to address it and to encourage native vocations rather than taking priests from elsewhere? I don’t see this as “pointless” at all!

  • nytor

    I agree that it was a huge mistake, as it opened the floodgates to the experimentation which followed on the part of the likes of Bugnini. The idea was to re-engage the people with the Church. It failed. Indeed, it drove people away. Time to move on from it.

  • Benedict Carter

    Hard to know the answer to which question?

  • Benedict Carter

    Vatican II has disembowelled the Church. What’s “not all bad” about that? 

    We have to judge the tree by its fruits. 

  • Benedict Carter

    As Jabba says below, the CDF years ago (in writing) accepted that an SSPX Mass fulfills one’s Sunday obligation. 

    What’s your problem?

  • Benedict Carter

    His “Masses” are therefore invalid, confect no Grace. 

  • Benedict Carter

    It’s gone too far.

    An avowed aim of these men is to spread their rebellion beyond the borders of Austria. They are having some success with this. Best to lop off the diseased branch early. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Common sense.

  • Benedict Carter

    Why do modern Catholics have an obsession with sniffing out the Holy Spirit at every opportunity, as if He is a screwdriver in their particular ideological toolbox?

    Poor chap: He’s called upon as material evidence for every lunacy.

  • Benedict Carter

    What wealth? 

    The West in BANKRUPT in case you hadn’t noticed. 

  • paulpriest

    I agree – but you can’t destroy a parish in the process just to fill the void in pastoral training and experience…

    There are hundreds of Indian priests whom will never become parish priests – some have been waiting for over a decade just to get a curacy!!

    Yet look at the ecclesiastical wilderness across the heart of England to the coast where most churches are mission churches and priests are almost all in their sixties…

    We are missionary territory..and it’s only the arrogance, insularity and inner-ring elitism of our present hierarchy which is preventing this country becoming flooded with priests from overseas…

    Do we really want to be like Holland where we have two or three priests living together being collectively in charge of 40+ parishes? Having to send out podcasts and perform quarterly sunday masses?!!!

    Plus we have many religious orders in this country – NOT PULLING THEIR WEIGHT…

    I think if Blessed JH Newman or St Philip Neri returned to Earth saw the Birmingham or Brompton Oratories I should think they’d be far from chuffed at the ‘pulling the ladder up’ situation and kick the resident clerics’ backsides out into the world to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to the abandoned flock in the wildernesses of albion…

    they can attend meetings and pray together via cyber and video-conferencing – they don’t need to be constantly physcally next to their brother priests to be a community – they can bloody well skype and attend monthly social events to catch up on the gossip….

    I’d also abolish the live-in seminary system and have every trainee priest resident in a Metropolitan parish during the week – attending lectures and priestly training classes on weekdays but having continual residential retreat weekends throughout all their priestly training – where spiritual formation and social interaction/sharing life experiences would become paramount…with mandatory attendance of all ordained priests to these ongoing retreats at least four times a year…


    How can we dare call ourselves a Church when half our country is in desolation…a wasteland!!?

  • paulpriest

     Sorry but your view is…

  • JabbaPapa

    Well, they try and do that in several French dioceses.

    The approach has both advantages and disadvantages.

    The working conditions as well as the general morale of the priests are greatly improved by their living together in post-seminary cohabitation, as is their overall personal dynamism — but OTOH walking through such parishes on my foot pilgrimage in 2005, I found that the priestless villages in those super-parishes were in spiritual suffering from the absence of these same priests.

    It’s OTOH possible that the Church in Europe is simply going through some birth pains as it transforms into a more missionary presence…

    I do not think that the fullness of God’s Plan for Europe has been revealed to us …

  • JabbaPapa

    I suspect that far more people left because of the changes than have been drawn to the Church as a result of them.

    In Europe, the UK, and US — certainly.

    But worldwide, there are about four times as many Catholics (and Bishops) as there were just prior to Vatican II, a growth exceeding that of the population growth ratio over the same period.

  • Benedict Carter

    Only the laity can find a way out of this crisis. It has always been thus: the clergy go wrong, the laity suffer, then won’t stand for it and bring them back (via the Pope) to orthodoxy.

    It is the same now as it has ever been.

  • Benedict Carter

    It’s not just the Old Mass, Matthew. It’s the Faith and mentality and “intimacy with the divine” that goes with it – an entire Catholic world-view and ethos unknown to the Novus Ordo Church. 

  • Tybourne

    Please explain, Father- I assume from your user name that you a priest. Our lord bless you.

  • James

    I do not appreciate being branded a liberal.  I am simply a lay Catholic who acknowledges the authority of the Pope and the teaching of the Magisterium and follow the faith according to Sacred Scripture and Tradition….Whereas, you, on the other hand, are one of those “Catholics” who by definition is now Protestant.  Simple as that.  You cannot have your cake and eat it.  While I acknowledge many of your arguments, the arrogance (and intellectual hypocrisy and dishonesty) of those who believe that the Vatican II was some kind of Protestant theological conference, and by definition claim that they are more Catholic than the Pope, is incredible.  I agree the Church should go back to much of its traditional teachings in certain matters, as does Pope Benedict XVI.  When we are talking about fundamental matters liek the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and his unquestionable authority in matters of faith and morals, and his ability to convene an ecumenical council, either you submit to the Church, or you leave it.  Simple as that..  Otherwise you are saying that the Catholic Church was corrupted, and you are trying to get back to a “pure” (pre Vatican II) church (which of course is a fiction in the main)…No different to Luther really.   Or, you are denying that the Catholic Church is the true church because it was promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against it and it would be infallible in terms of faith…. Or, you are saying that you are still looking for the “real” Church of Christ, in which case you are a Protestant in all but name!  Come on, try and intellectually engage with these arguments, so-called “Catholics”!!,  rather than just talking a load of crap.

  • James

     What a load of judgmental and hypocritical crap!  You clearly do not know Africa at all.  Their faith would put most Catholics in Europe to shame.

  • Benedict Carter

    ” … t’s OTOH possible that the Church in Europe is simply going through some birth pains as it transforms into a more missionary presence” ..

    NO, JABBA.

    This is a tempting, though wholly false, and wishful, reading of what has happened in recent decades. The old Vatican II “From the ashes of revolution will arise a new, purer Church”.

    “Iota Unum” is brilliant on this point. Somehow imagining that the destruction of the Church is a desired thing because what will follow will be better, younger, more dynamic, is an imposition onto the metaphysical of the biological. 

  • Benedict Carter


    The NOMINAL Catholic population is about 17.2% of the global population, where it was decades ago. 

    The number of Mass-goers and every other statistical measurement of the Church’s vitality has collapsed. 

  • paulpriest

     No – Priest’s merely my surname – Lord bless you too….

    You know something?
    I’m sick to the back teeth of Blessed John Henry Newman being dragged out into arguments to justify any position the appellant holds…

    a] We’re not talking about the Oratory – we’re talking about parishes and their proposed destruction…
    b] There is NO justification whatsoever for imposing a Cardinal’s very exclusive form of Priesthood as the normative form for a secular priest…
    c] The Oratory is not a form available to the average priest in a parish  – or even to a collection of priests living in a pastorally-demanding regional centralised hub – therefore IT CAN be ignored – it has bugger-all to do with stifling any spirit – let alone the Holy Spirit – we’re talking about reality – not castles in the air emulating a paradigm wrought in a period where we had a profusion of clergy.
    d] ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ refers to marriage and the physical & spiritual complementarity of man and woman forming one flesh and their love overflowing into a single-nature family thus emulating the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity
    - it is NOT in reference to those who in the words of  Mk 10:29
    Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house
    or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my
    sake and for the gospel,

    who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and
    brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with
    persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

    The Priest has sacrificed himself for his flock and renounced that physical and spiritual intimacy in order to take up his vocational cross…and serve those placed in his care by Christ through the Apostolic commission of that Priest’s Ordinary….

    Fully formed in community?
    I will agree that a Priest requires spiritual, intellectual, experiential and psychological training among his brother priests and the faithful before he is able to stand on his own – but he has his desert in which to dwell – with a mission to create an oasis for the Faithful….

    Clerical sexual abuse was wrought by monsters..tyrannical psychological tormentors who sought to violate, persecute and dominate every aspect of their victim like some puppetmaster – and this spilled over into their ministry – very rarely were they anything but abusive in a myriad of other ways – and far from being ‘lonely’ their vows of chastity – along with poverty & obedience – had been abandoned a long time ago…they did not rape young men because they were lonely but because they were victims of their own malice, spite and lust for dominating power…only for a very few was it an lapsing/falling oblivious yearning for sexual release where they used an available victim as a masturbatory tool…rather it was normatively a sexual form of the prevaiing abusive nature of their entire lives….

    Assuredly – priests in solidum – therefore WE NEED MORE PRIESTS

    The reason we do not have priests in solidum in every parish throughout the land is due to national and diocesan and conference and futurechurch ideological POLICY…

    The pro-Lay-empowerment mob have ensured that vocations were either thwarted or dismissed or wilfully prevented…are you seriously telling me that 94% lapsation of our youth is NOT deliberate?
    That the destruction of our Catholic schools was not both an economical and an ideological conspiracy?

    [Thank God for Michael Gove preventing the systemic closure and selling-off of our Schools by allowing them to become academies and preventing dioceses wilfully destroying them to eradicate a financial drain and garner extra finances for diocesan vanity projects like superchurchs and pastoral/religious education centres to accommodate the professional laity!!]

    We need priests – IN PARISHES – and they are available…
    [I repeat - India has more than it can provide with parishes!!]

    Your proposition invlves the eradication of parishes and having an ‘oratory-like’ central hub which would dispossess. disenfranchise , alienate, neglect and abandon the many to placate and posture and pander to the elitist few….

    ..and that’s why it’s NUTS!!!

  • Bonaventure

     You misunderstand- I am not suggesting a reduction in parishes, merely that they be served by priests who live in community, and not necessarily next door to the church they serve.

  • paulpriest

    I’m dorry but you’re attempting to square a circle,,,you really mean the destruction of the parishes
    seriously – check out the Anglican initiatives of the late 80s/early 90s and the present French/Dutch situations…

    You might not INTEND it by your hypothetical – but that’s what it is is reality…

  • Matthew Roth

    Do you deny the validity of the Ordinary Form, or the right of the Sovereign Roman Pontiff to promulgate a new order of Mass for the universal Church, or both? Your point about ‘real true Catholic worship’ suggests that the Ordinary Form is somehow invalid, and the part about ‘anti-Church’ rings of the SSPX line about ‘Eternal Rome vs Modern Rome.’

  • Benedict Carter

    On the contrary, my experience here is that those who detract from the Traditionalist position have little intellectual capacity of their own but merely talk in soundbites from the 1970′s.

  • Benedict Carter

    And what a very stupid post from you. 

    Did I not write that generalisations are dangerous; and that I was offering one or two anecdotal evidences (one of them positive)?

    If this is the “intellectual” level at which you operate James, do not comment on my posts again. I won’t be bothering to read them.

  • Benedict Carter

    You may read what “suggestions” you like into my posts, which are carefully written for the most part. 

    Did I write that the NO is invalid per se? No, I did not. Are very many individual NO “Masses” invalid? Without any doubt. 

    Does the Pope have the right to impose a new rite of Mass onto the Church? This question is much more complex than you appreciate I would suspect. Many theologians and Canonists would say “no”, he does not. 

    “Anti-Church” was a phrase used by Pope John Paul II among others. 

    Anti-Church exists at all times. In our own days it has won an almost-total victory over the Church (which can never die, even if it is found in a group of 10 men in a jungle somewhere one day).

  • Matthew Roth

    @yahoo-PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE:disqus  attending an Eastern Orthodox parish fulfills one’s obligation, but it is not preferred. Far from it. Now, in 2008-and I assume nothing has changed-the SSPX wass not in formal schism, but there are valid and *licit* Masses in both forms of the Roman Rite across the globe. (Also, keep in mind, that while the excommunications were lifted, the Church can still declare the SSPX to be in schism, and they can revert to the status of being excommunicate.) Even Eritrea, the only country without Latin bishops, has Roman Rite Masses.
    Your attitude towards the OF suggests that you attend chapels of the SSPX expressly to avoid the Ordinary Form; in fact I would hold to the opinion that the only reason to attend at an SSPX Mass is to express rebellion unless that is literally the only Mass you can attend, where you stumble across an SSPX mission priest in the Sahara or some other remote location (By the way, most of England and enough of the lower 48 states are not remote.)
    I find that this explains your attitude, and the problems that result from it. The answer that’s really important for you is the one to the question re: if the SSPX is in formal schism.
    Also, why compound the sins of the SSPX priests who give the sacraments without the mandate from the Church?

  • Matthew Roth

    I believe they would be illicit. Validity is another matter; I mean, there is an opinion that saying only the words of institution is valid, but definitely illicit. We would need concrete examples to determine validity…

  • Benedict Carter

    The SSPX has never been declared to be in schism Matthew, despite the waffle of those who hate them. How can they be if they are Catholics? 

    Their status is one described in Canon Law as “canonical irregularity”. I do not go to Confession with an SSPX priest because of this irregularity, but i believe myself absolutely “in the clear” as far as fulfilling my Sunday obligation is concerned. The CDF has so ruled. 

    Happy now?

  • Matthew Roth

    Well of course I am! But I stand by my opinion-that there are certain traditionalists who do just as much damage to the Church as the liberal dissenters.

  • Matthew Roth

    So are priests ordained after 1969 in the Ordinary Form not real priests?

  • Matthew Roth

    It may be complex, but ultimately, if the doctrine of infallibility holds out, then he does have the ability to promulgate a new rite of the Mass. the Mass is certainly a matter of faith and morals. Christ wouldn’t allow the Church to go so awry as to keep people from the sacraments.
    The origins of the phrase concern me less than the way you use it, to describe people who are definitely within the Catholic Church and faithful to the Pope.

  • Benedict Carter

    Making up your own Canon undoubtedly makes the Consecration invalid.

  • Matthew Roth

    I just think it’s sad that you continue to support their irregular status.

  • Matthew Roth

    I would need to know what part of the Canon was made up, and what was said exactly. I’m being as prudent as possible on this.

  • Benedict Carter

    I do so out of principle, and so do at least one million others, with many, many more millions more than sympathetic.

    May be you should start asking yourself why.

  • Matthew Roth

    I have a sense of why you do it.

     I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’ve seen the fruits of the SSPX and their splinter groups in the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese Covington, KY. It’s ugly. There is no unity, and very little intention of submitting to the Holy Father’s will (By the way, what better principle to attend a Mass offered licitly than obedience to the bishop and the Holy Father?). A number believe the See is empty. Then there are those Catholics who sympathize with the SSPX and are destructive to the life of my parish. They berated our former priest, and one man never received Holy Communion at the EF because he thought it was invalid-because our priest also said the OF.
    Why is the SSPX so much better than the regularized institutions of the Catholic Church, in union with the Pope?

  • Benedict Carter

    Don’t know anything about the various Traditionalist groups in the US. I do know them from Portugal and Kenya and those priests (and laity) have been entirely grounded, though suffering from a siege mentality (which is absolutely not their fault). 

  • Benedict Carter

    I haven’t defined how I use it, therefore your opinion of what I may mean by it is mere surmise on your part.

  • Matthew Roth

    Why give the impression of being a heretic or schismatic then?

  • JabbaPapa

    Somehow imagining that the destruction of the Church is a desired thing because what will follow will be better, younger, more dynamic, is an
    imposition onto the metaphysical of the biological.

    I wholly agree with you — I apologise if I mistakenly gave the impression that I was thinking anywhere along those lines !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Yes I agree, but I do think that care needs to be taken when expressing that notion, so as not to tar the innocent with the same brush as the guilty.

  • JabbaPapa

    hmmmmm, yes — AFAIK the canon Law determines the minimum preconditions for a valid Mass, and though I can’t remember them off-hand, the Mass can be given in something like 10-15 minutes in an emergency.

    It’s unlikely though that the rules for Masses needing to be said very quickly, for congregations in hiding or under grave threat of direct persecution or under military attack or whatever, could be justified in these sorts of open, public Masses given by a Cardinal in peace time Europe !!!

  • James

     With such “insight” and “knowledge”, like this, you clearly should have become a bishop rather than an ex-seminarian.  Oh I forgot, egoism is not an apt quality for a Christian.

  • James

    “It has always been thus: the clergy go wrong, the laity suffer, then
    won’t stand for it and bring them back (via the Pope) to orthodoxy.” 
    This comment demonstrates clearly very little understanding of the Catholic faith and the Church…Go back to junior catechism !  Have you never entertained the possibility that the laity “go wrong” as you put it?  Here’s me thinking that faith and reason were not mutually exclusive but these “traditionalist” odd-balls clearly prove this wrong.