What would you do?

I am sure this topic has come up in the past here at Being Frank…but not in the last year or so, therefore time for another round of discussion!

In the past fortnight I've had the fortune to sit in small meetings with two diffferent Bishops. Both talked on a range of issues, including the Priest shortage we currently face, which clearly is presenting real challenges for them in their role as leaders of their dioceses. While we've already adjusted to pastoral areas, shared parishes etc, the situation actually worse than we might think. Of currently serving priests, a huge percentage are due to retire in the next few years, and those coming through are nowhere near enough to replenish the ranks. The era of "one priest, one parish" is almost certainly over. 

Some will view this situation differently. Maybe it isn't a crisis at all, just a changing dynamic which like any change in life we just have to respond to. Unforeseen fruits may emerge from this change. Perhaps the Church of the future will be priestless. Or perhaps the famine will be followed by a flood. 

What do you think about the priest shortage in NZ? Any suggestions on how to change it? Or is it a season of change that we should embrace rather than fear? 

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    Comments: 24

    1. bamac March 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm


      Surely we don't, for the present , have to depend on replacing the priests who will shortly be retiring with priests from our seminary here in NZ?   Here in Pakuranga for example , we have two overseas priests , one from India and one from the Phillopenes (spelling?) …. Father Cruz told us that our Bishop Patrick and Mons Arrohill went over to his country for the first mass of a seminarian and invited priests to volunteer for mission to New Zealand …. Father Cruz jumped at the idea and , please God, so did others …. both of our priests have fitted in so well into our parish and are much loved by the parishioners..

      Please God in the near future we will have more seminarians of our own being ordained as well,


      Mrs Mac


    2. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      I'm with John Allen on this one lock stock and barrel.


      "At least from a strictly arithmetic point of view, one could argue that the bumper crop of new priests being turned out by Catholic seminaries in the global South is far more urgently needed at home."

      Please read the whole article linked above its a real eye opener.

      Personally I think if diocese have killed the faith and not fostered vocations (and they haven't…does anyone really need examples?) then God is not well served? Has anything changed in this regard if foreign priests are brought in? Will Bishops let the tail wag the dog…don't think so.

      Where the Church is overrun by the world that is not the work of the Holy Spirit (though they keep talking it up).

      That said I bleieve the Vietnamese seminarians in NZ are in a unique position because the Vietnamese government restricts the seminary numbers. They are genuinely unable to become priests in Vietnam for that reason. They also seem to have extremely good induction prior to seminary life.




    3. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm


      Perhaps the Church of the future will be priestless.

      How do you see that scenario playing out? Are you thinking of North Korea? Japan and China when foreigners weren't allowed in?

      Or lay pastoral leaders running around with liturgy of the Word and Communion after the last Bishop left standing has done his daily grind at the Consecration mill?

    4. bamac March 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm


      The prayers that were once regularly said after Holy Mass used to be for Holy Mother Church , an intention which always included a sincere request to God for constant vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life .and that God would grant thesegenerous souls the  great grace of perseverance .  

      Our bishops and priests, religious and laity can , and should I agree , encourage generous young people to concider the possibility of giving their lives to God in the Church but should we not also be praying as a body and privately for the vocations we so badly need ?   Why aren't there prayers after Holy Mass today once more? Didn't Jesus tell us to keep on asking Our Father in Jesus name for graces we need…. storm Heaven as it were?

      Mrs Mac


    5. John Whyte March 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm


      I think the better question is 'is everyone doing their bit to encourage vocations'?  (And you've answered this.  It's a resounding no, almost nobody is).  Then we as catholics will have to live with spasmodic access to the sacraments, and all that entails.  Sugar coating this with pastoral assistants, relaxing critera is silly.  All we need to do is pray (and fast) and trust in God.  

    6. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      All we need to do is pray (and fast) and trust in God.

      That's true. Its a hard one that's for sure. Holy men are more likely to join Orders outside New Zealand.

      Why don't the Bishops offer parishes to Religious Orders from overseas. Such as Christchurch has done at Riccarton?

      I can't get my head around the numbers. It seems we have 500,000 in NZ with about 16% attending weekly Mass. That is 80,000. Sporadic across the country which is the hardest thing to deal with in NZ. Pockets everywhere of people but no numbers enough to support a priest alone. Except the cities. So we have 6 Diocese. Lets just say the numbers even out here (which they don't of course – but we could even the priests out). So that is about 13500 in each Diocese attending Mass weekly. I have to say that doesn't seem a lot of participants for a Diocese? Six of them? Do we need six? Really?

      Going by John Allen's chart to compare with the Global South each NZ Diocese needs 2 priests to be in the same state as the say Latin America. Hmmmm

      I don't know the number of priests in each Diocese…but I see 57 and two Bishops in Auckland went to a get together. So assuming 57 priests in Auckland and assuming 13500 Catholics attending Mass weekly that is one priest for 237 people.

      What needs to happen is that the Bishops need to reorganise the flotilla….lend and send from within their own diocese? Surely that is a start?

      Probably what has happened in some diocese is that for decades they have been waiting for the girls to be able to be ordained. That is why the men weren't encouraged. 'We can still talk about it!' Well that ship has dropped off the horizon and now they are left with a few paddles and no ship. But….'we can still talk about it'. Yeah right.



    7. Rubyshine March 20, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      I stumbled across this site a while ago. You can find every diocese in the world and look at the statistics for that diocese over a number of years. It's not official I've linked the diocese for NZ. It's not "official" but it makes for interesting reading.






    8. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 6:42 pm


      That is a brilliant site, I have seen it before. But my maths is not far off. When the charts say 'Catholic' that is the census figures. The ones actually going to Mass is another number and I think that is about 16% of those who call themselves Catholic.

      On that basis Dunedin can close down? It seems to have only about 5500 active Catholics.

      Also, the numbers of priests includes those retired. But still with a whip around and rearrangement of things the country could be better ordered.

      If so…then we will be the poor Church Pope Francis wants?

      While they are at it…with the remaining Churches active as parishes completely redo them so they are beautiful and reverent. So they actually look like Catholic Churches? Then some Catholics might actually want to come back. Most of them assault the senses.


    9. Rubyshine March 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      We are regularly asked to pray for vocations at my parish, and it comes up in sermons from time to time. (Possibly something to do with the parish priest being the director of vocations for the diocese )

      I often think about fostering vocations within my own family and, in light of the celibacy requirements, know that I would not encourage a son to join the priesthood. I wouldn't try and dissuade him either, if he came to me and said he was thinking about being a priest, I would encourage him to talk to his parish priest and support him on his journey, but I doubt I would be the first one to suggest it to him.

      I suppose I feel the same way about joining the army. It's a noble and important thing, but I'd much rather it was someone else's child making the sacrifice.

      Obviously there are many rewards to being a priest, and some would not feel the sacrifices as deeply as others, but it's a huge decision for an 18yr old to make. I feel differently about a 25 or 35 yr old pursuing the priesthood. Perhaps that is a reflection of the maturity of our youth.

      Some of the priests I have known have come from families of priests and nuns, and I wonder how much of that was perhaps down to being encouraged by their parents?

      Having said all of that our priests are huge gifts. I've only ever had positive experiences with priests, and hold them in very high regard. Are priests generally held in the same esteem they once were, I wonder?



    10. Rubyshine March 20, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      Benedicta, I don't know if it's because it's what I'm used to (I attend the same parish I did as a girl), but some other churches are awful.

      I've recently been attending mid-week mass in another parish and I find the space really uncomfortable and unsettling. Even though it really shouldn't matter, it is a distraction.


    11. beyblade March 20, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      I attended the  meeting that rolled out the strategic plan for Dunedin in december 2012 ( i think) in Cromwell. They anticipate that by 2025 we will have 16 active priests left. Our number of mass goers are around 5,500, which has fallen sharply – i think there were around 8,000 mass goers in 2007, so the ratio's of faithful to priests are actually improving given the steep fall off. I think there needs to be a call to accountability to the Catholic schools – teachers that call themselves Catholic yet don't go to Mass are teaching parents that it's ok not to go along. What can i do about it? Nothing, I have asked, for help but it is never forthcoming, so I think i'll become one of the frozen chosen and pray.

    12. Boanerges March 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm


      Perhaps the Church of the future will be priestless.

      How do you see that scenario playing out?

      I think that we are already heading towards that scenario. I live outside the main centres but in one of the larger NZ towns. We currently have an overworked priest with barely any time free beyond running from Mass to Mass every sat/sun. He's not bulletproof and is not going to be able to keep that up forever. And I can't see any way that he would be replaced – once he's gone, we'll lose that access to regular sacramental ministry. 

      How will it play out? My crystal ball says that we will see lay pastoral (retired) volunteer workers appointed in centres like mine, and if I want to actually experience the full mass it might come to us once a month, or else I will have to travel to our diocesan Cathedral if I want to it more regularly. That's my pick for the long range forecast! 

    13. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 9:57 pm


      Yes, re sons interested in vocation to the priesthood. For me (I have two sons) I would  think spiritual maturity is important today 25-35 feels about right to test the depth sounder on that one. The seminary would be my concern…where they would go.  

      Yes Church interiors are a mess. Distraction is the word….

      If we are going to have less Churches they need to be sorted out. Its not petty…nor simple piety versus grown up faith (groan…thanks E Kant)….these changes do actually change meaning and its one of the biggest problems; instead of receiving through the real symbols of the faith we dick around and become symbol makers and rearrangers….goodbye Catholicism.  

    14. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 10:05 pm


      I agree with all you say.

      I wonder if there could be a change in the sort of school….as a counter to the culture and a support to the Church….set little minds free with a Catholic Liberal Education  i.e. Campion College in Sydney.

      If we are going to be small then we should at least prepare to be as faithful as possible. That means giving the laity sound structure (domestic churches) in order to sustain themselves. From what I have been told in Aussie new Church movements like neocatechumenate, Opus Dei…are doing just this. There are tensions but they are keeping the Tradition and holding it. They have to have support or they will fall away.




    15. Benedicta March 20, 2014 at 10:20 pm


      It sounds as if rearranging the supply of priests around the country should be done. I don't see in this day and age with cars everywhere that city folk can stay within a 5 k drive of a number of parishes and towns like your own have great distance. I think this mindset has to change….its about people not following the collection plate.

      No…lay ministry as an end in itself won't work. I don't think it has any charism. The priest has the charism to be pastor. Lay people can help but they don't have a ministry. Those who fancy it can talk it up and commit all sorts of resources and call priests parish leaders but it won't last.



    16. Rubyshine March 20, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Thinking further on the idea of sons (not that I have any) entering the priesthood, and it feels horribly selfish. Like I'm willing to take from the church and not give back, which is uncomfortable to relfect on.

      It makes me think of a quote which said something like, "Our children don't belong to us. They belong to God, and we get to look after them for a while." Maybe I need to think more charitably and generously towards the church.

      However, I'm even more reluctant about my daughters becoming nuns because I have very deep joy in my motherhood, and I don't have a very good handle on what nuns do in NZ.

      Perhaps I should just pray for people to find their vocation, whatever it may be, and my opinion can just stay out of it :)

    17. Teresina March 20, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      A few years ago when Hamilton Diocese was looking to establish a monastery a priest was invited to New Zealand who was part of a monastic order.  I understand his order was willing to come to New Zealand to establish a monastery but was turned down by Bishop Browne – the order, althought they offer the Novus Ordo Mass was considered too conservative by Bishop Browne.  Instead the Tyburn sisters were invited to establish a second monastery.  While I love the Tyburns and their monastery I cannot understand the bishop's decision as it would have provided more priests for the Hamilton Diocese.

      Also a very holy priest – who did not want to return home – recently left NZ at the behest of Bishop Browne.

      It seems to me that some dioceses do not want priests.

    18. Werahiko March 21, 2014 at 12:30 am

      This needs labour force management. First of all, we are using rolls Royce priests when a corolla would do. We train them for too long. It is costly and there are no studies indicating quality or productivity improvements. We should be able to cut training back to about 4,000 hours, or about  the same as a hairdresser. Because we can train for long hours in the seminaries this should only take a couple of years. Priests spend hours working on sermons and mostly they are not very good. Specialist preachers should deliver the same sermon simultaneously by video link to many Churches, freeing up huge amounts of preparation time and increasing the SSS ratio (Souls Saved per Sermon). General absolution is less embarassing for those yucky sins, and massively more efficient at eliminating sins. We also pay priests very little, so there is an obvious supply and demand issue. Before the selling of indulgences was banned as a result of political, correctness responding to Protestant sensitivities there was no priest shortage. The solution is simple. A priests' union might help also, with a proper collective agreement. Priests cars cost a lot and contribute to global warming. They should all use scooters (no, the motorized ones, I'm not silly). Cassocks are a saving also, as they require little tailoring and well face it, one size fits all. Just a few thoughts from the practical side of things. 

    19. Teresina March 21, 2014 at 12:41 am

      Werahiko, what you describe is not a vocation but just a job spec.   Priestly vocations come from God through prayer.  We are obviously not praying enough and not generous enough.  Men become priests because God calls them and money, cars, etc, don't come into the equation where a genuine vocation is concerned.

      Here are some stats which if correct shows that NZ isn't badly off priest to laity ratio – going from left to right each number correlates to the years 2009 2010 2011.  In 2011 the ratio was 1 priest to 109 lay people.  Of course we know that ratio is not going to improve unless more priests are invited to come to this country:

      Nation Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae

      2009 2010 2011

      Bishops 14 13 14

      Priests 316 317 323

      Religious Priests 187 204 184

      Permanent Deacons 22 22 25

      Inhabitants per priest 8.581 8.754 8.688

      Catholics per priest 1.055 1.086 109 


      The states are here:





    20. Benedicta March 21, 2014 at 6:42 am


      He seems to me to personify what the Church ought to be far more than it is. He is a builder; he is not in the business of managing decline (as so many of the bishops seems to think it is their business to be). During his time as its provost, the Oratory became a conversion centre, where preparation for reception into the Church has been painstaking and individual (no RCIA here). Vocations to the community have grown. Congregations have grown.

      I think Werahiko has a point in drawing some comparison to 'business models' perhaps not in his particular way but generally. Pope Benedict said (from memory but essentially right) that he thought it strange that sections of the Church would continue to do what turns out to be terrible results. If compared to CEOs of companies they would in effect be congratulating themselves on going into the red.  The investors run a mile?


    21. beyblade March 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      I agree with both  Teresina and Werahiko (Where'a he go?), we need vocations but we also need practicality – i know about Lay formation that is undersupported that leads to lots of stress and failure. I think the Priests definitely need to be paid a lot more and have it stipulated that this is their only job – i have worked for a few that do Chaplaincy and that's where they make money – however it is also time away from their flock and it also removes them from the context within which we all live – I don't have the luxury of leaving my environs for highly paid work elsewhere – this is my turangawaewae.

      I also think as the schools remove themselves from the Church, this relationship needs to become more fiscal; if they use the church as a hall they need to contribute to running costs and cleaning; if they use the parish car park, likewise – then we can use this revenue to support our priests.

    22. John Whyte March 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm


      I'm not sure if you are being serious or not.  I was chuckling across your comment but you seem to have been taken seriously.  

      But two aspects that have dawned on me last night:

      1) We are a very rural country, so whilst our priest numbers are high compared to overseas, its because we have many many small towns with a church.  A flock of 80 needs one priest, but a flock of 450 will only have one in an urban centre.  

      2) What is the ratio of ordaining preists to marriages within each diocease?  I remember being aghast when I got married that the church had had three weddings in the past five years.  :S  Is this a priestly vocation issue, or are there siimply less and less catholics of that age and all vocations are taking a hit.

    23. Dominican March 21, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      beyblade, I know a priest who "does chaplaincy" he is paid nothing personally – it goes to his diocese.  I also know a good number of priests – never ever heard them talk money or the lack of it. Who is going to pay the higher stipend with congregations falling away?  We have  a few priests dotted through the extended family.  I don't believe we prayed for vocations as such but we sure pray for each of them since ordination. Priesthood is not easy – it's not meant to be.

      Just a comment on marriages.  I know the nun's chapel in Hamilton is popular for weddings because of its size and of course with so many marriages being "mixed" secular venues are frequently preferred.  Some parish churches are so ugly the damily farm is the preferred option

    24. Werahiko March 21, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      Yes John I am joking. But it does seem to me that the deployment of scale human resources to do things other than their central purpose makes no sense. If you want a counsellor – go to one. If you want a social worker – go to one. If you want an administrator, hire one or get a volunteer. You don't need to be ordained to do any of those things.