A dearth of priests suggests the Catholic church should widen recruitment

— It’s no wonder numbers training for the priesthood continue to fall when married men or any woman are still barred

Pope Francis has started a debate on the future of the global Catholic church, but does it go far enough?


Walking down towards the River Nidd in Knaresborough, the pretty North Yorkshire market town where I grew up, it would be easy to pass by St Mary’s Catholic church without noticing it. Built only two years after the Emancipation Act in 1829, the church was designed to resemble a private house in order not to offend local Protestant sensibilities. Two centuries later, sectarian sentiment is no longer a problem, but the crisis of vocations in the church certainly is.

Back in Knaresborough, over the bank holiday weekend, I was in the Sunday morning congregation to hear Father William pass on sad news. A letter from the bishop of Leeds informed us that when William returns to Ampleforth Abbey, after 12 years’ sterling work, he will not be replaced by a resident priest. Instead, the parish will share one with a church in nearby Harrogate. Inevitably, that will mean fewer masses, and it is hard to imagine that the new man (because, of course, it will be a man), will be able to devote the same level of pastoral care and attention to the town.

Such arrangements are increasingly common, as the numbers training for the priesthood continue inexorably to fall. But it still comes as a shock to think of an unoccupied presbytery in a town the size of Knaresborough. In Rome, Pope Francis has inaugurated a great debate on the future of the global Catholic church, which has been compared to the famous reforming Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. But the issue of allowing married priests has barely surfaced, and the ordination of women is not even on the table. For how long can that remain the case?

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