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The Catholic Church is turning to Foreign-Born Priests to Meet Demand

by Carrie Swiggum 

Tags: Spirituality, priest, International Religion News, St. John's University, U.S. Catholic, Jeff Parrott,

It’s not news that the Catholic Church faces a priest shortage. Advocates for married priests have been met with indifference. Advocates for women priests have been met with hostility—even excommunication. Some desperate American bishops are now turning to foreign-born priests, effectively making the United States "mission territory."

The U.S. Catholic reports on the trend and all of its complications:

"International priests seem to be most common in the West, the South, and the New York City area, according to Dean Hoge, sociologist at American Catholic University in Washington and a noted expert on the priesthood.

"Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame ... sees it as part of a pragmatic strategy of 'certain conservative bishops who are desperate for more priests but who cannot even consider the possibility of married priests, much less women priests. It’s a Band-Aid approach to the priest shortage because it fails to address the systemic causes of the vocations crisis.'

"Sister Christine Schenk, C.S.J., whose Cleveland-based reform group, FutureChurch, advocates optional celibacy for priests and ordination of women, says it’s unjust that so many priests come from developing countries, where they are needed far more. Priest-to-parishioner ratios in Europe and North America are about 1-to-1,400 but can be as high as 1 to 4,800 in Africa."

Realistically though, some have a hard time speaking English, and others are finding it difficult to assimilate to American culture, who are sometimes only here for three years before heading back to their native country. One frustrated parishioner in the Dallas-area who struggled to decipher the weekly sermon, set up a fund in his wife’s name entitled the Mary O’Malley Memorial Accent Reduction Program.

“There are just a handful of intensive cultural orientation programs” like the one at St. John’s University in New York. “During the first week of June each year at St. John’s Queens campus, 25 to 30 foreign priests spend five days studying a broad range of topics that include church development in the United States, psychological issues and personal growth, and interpersonal and cross-cultural communication.”

Historically, the idea of missionaries heading to America is not a new thing, as many have come to serve their native immigrant populations and are well aware of their parishioner's cultural identity. Nowadays most congregations have long been assimilated--and they want a leader who can speak their language.  

Source: U.S. Catholic