False Problems?

Frederick W. Gluck’s article, Crisis Management in the Church (12/1), is flawed by several statements that are not supported by the available data.

The church’s traditional sources of revenues are drying up. Some weeks ago I finished writing a report that analyzed contributions to Sunday collections and diocesan annual appeals in the years 2001 and 2002. I found that Catholic household giving in the Sunday collections increased from $5.573 billion in 2001 to $5.846 billion for 2002, an increase of $273 million or 4.9 percent. This increase happened in the midst of high unemployment, a recession and the painful and lengthy revelation of the sexual abuse tragedy.


Catholic giving to diocesan annual appeals declined from $650 million in 2001 to about $635 million for 2002. About half of that national drop happened in Boston. The decline in the other 175 geographic dioceses averaged a more modest 1.1 percent, not surprising in a troubled economy.

The church’s ability to recruit has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. I happened to be working on church staffing data recently and found that the number of professional parish ministers increased from 54,055 in 1995 to 63,065 for 2002.

In addition, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, at Georgetown University, has reported that there are approximately 35,000 students in graduate programs of religious studies and religious education.

I think that we need to find some negative numbers before we can rightly declare a staffing crisis.

A number of other statements in the article mystified me. Mr. Gluck stated, for example, that the plant is rapidly becoming obsolete. Perhaps so, but I would like to see the data supporting such a statement. I am familiar with the current rebuilding program in Chicago, where the archdiocese raised in excess of $200 million to repair its buildings.

While discussions of management issues in the church can be fascinating, we should be careful that we are discussing solutions for problems that do in fact exist.

Joseph Claude Harris
Chicago, Ill.

Clergy Comparisons

In his article, Fewer and Fewer (12/1), James D. Davidson compares the clergy shortage of the Catholic Church in the United States to that of certain Protestant denominations. If he had also considered the clergy shortage among those of the Jewish faith, he might have arrived at some interesting conclusions.

In an article entitled The Rabbi Crisis in the May 2003 issue of Commentary, the highly regarded monthly journal published by the American Jewish Committee, Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, pointed to a shortage of rabbis serving congregations. Ever-growing numbers of rabbis are leaving their congregations to serve as teachers, administrators or chaplains in a variety of Jewish institutions, even at a lower remuneration than the pulpit rabbinate, and even though in keeping with the rising demands, compensation [for rabbis] has reached impressive levels.

Would women priests be an answer for the Catholic clergy shortage? Mr. Wertheimer’s observation on the rabbi shortage is instructive: While all rabbinical schools except those within the orbit of Orthodoxy now ordain women...the supply side [for rabbis] looks very poor. Clearly, having married Catholic priests is not necessarily the answer to a shortage of vocations to the priesthood.

Gino Dalpiaz, C.S.
Stone Park, Ill.

James D. Davidson’s article was an insightful attempt to quantify an issue that American Catholics have sensed for many years. I agree that there should be no doubt that the declining number of priests is creating a spiritual gap in our community that can be closed only by increased responses to the call of this vocation.

At the same time, Mr. Davidson is not comparing apples to apples and has also omitted thousands of U.S. Catholic clergy, since he did not take into account the fact that many ministers in other denominations work in secular jobs full time and ministry part time. This is rare among Catholic priests. So while a head count might indicate growth in the number of clergy in some churches, I wonder if the increased use of part-time clergy might confirm, rather than refute, the claim that the clergy shortage is not confined to the Catholic Church.

I also take exception to his limitation of Catholic clergy to those in priestly orders, ignoring the rapid growth of permanent deacons in our church. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there were over 13,000 permanent deacons in the United States in 2001 (the last year for which worldwide statistics are available), an increase of 10 percent since 1998. Worldwide, there were approximately 28,238 permanent deacons serving in 135 countries. This is an overall worldwide increase of 17 percent. Of these deacons, approximately 27,720 belong to the diocesan clergy and approximately 520 are religious. The diocesan clergy were incardinated in 1,300 dioceses or prelatures. Since 1981, the number of permanent deacons in the United States has grown by nearly 10,000, with hundreds more being added each year.

To be clear, I would never say that the average deacon is an even replacement for the average priest. Most permanent deacons have family and job responsibilities outside of their ministerial responsibilities. But so do many of the non-Catholic clergy referred to in Davidson’s article. If we are to compare apples to apples, the entire U.S. Catholic clergy should be included.

(Deacon) Edward J. Melton
Deerfield, Ill.

Just Priorities

As a contribution to the growing field of eco-theology, Bishop William S. Skylstad’s article, Waters of Life (11/24), is fine. But I had flashbacks to the 1960’s, when the well-being of whales and trees often received more attention and concern than that of human beings who were living on the margins. This article did contain the phrase justice for the poor, but only as the last of nine considerations for taking care of a river. What is happening to the preferential option for the poor? Let’s spend our time and money cleaning up rivers in the third world to help the people there. It is a matter of justice, mercy and compassion.

Robert Kribs
Morristown, N.J.

Crooked Paths

I very much appreciated Edward M. Welch’s article, The Church Was Right About Capitalism (12/1). The marvelous themes of our Advent liturgies point in the same direction: the call to stand with the marginalized, the dispossessed and the rejected. Unyoked capitalism sets loose the dogs of greed and brutal competition, while legitimizing untruth and deceit as the coin of the realm. When unregulated capitalism becomes the central liturgy of a national economy, national sovereignty quietly becomes a supreme and ruthless god. One courts the other.

Mr. Welch’s article clearly, but all too gently, delineates the schizophrenic self-destructive activity in American society today in the top reaches of government and corporate business, all in the name of deregulation and private and free enterprise.

Straight paths are being made crooked, and the smooth is getting rough for the handicapped, the elderly, the poor and, above all perhaps, for the middle class. John the Baptist is an appropriate patron saint for these unraveling times.

Jack Morris, S.J.
Portland, Ore.

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