Decline in those entering priesthood cited in parish closings

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(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese in Burlington says it hopes the announcement that a number of parishes will be closed or combined will serve as a wake up call to Vermont Catholics.

Church officials say a decline in the number of people entering the priesthood will have to be reversed to avoid more closings.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) In a letter to Vermont’s Catholics, Bishop Salvatore Matano writes, “It is disturbing to travel throughout our beautiful Diocese and to realize what was and what now is.”

The letter accompanied the Burlington Diocese’s announcement that it will have to close 7 parishes and combine 14 others in response to an ongoing shortage of priests. Vermont has 130 Catholic Churches, but just 80 priests.

(McDermott) “I would hope that perhaps in many ways this is a wake up call, or a challenge presented to the people of the Diocese.”

(Zind) The Reverend John McDermott is Director of Pastoral Planning for the Burlington Diocese. McDermott has helped devise the plan to consolidate and close parishes, which is the result of several years of discussions.

He says families and parishioners need to encourage young men to enter the priesthood.

McDermott says the Diocese hopes Vermont Catholics will respond to avoid even more closings in the future.

(McDermott) “If we can tread water for a few years to give people a chance to accept the challenge, we may not have to revisit closures at a later date with other parishes.”

(Zind) Vermont is not alone. McDermott says New England has been especially hard hit by the priest shortage.

As a short term solution, the Burlington Diocese is turning to Africa. Half a dozen priests from Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria currently serve as chaplains and assist parish priests in Vermont. More will arrive in the coming months.

Bishop Matano has also appointed a priest to talk with young men about joining the priesthood in the hope that someday the Vermont’s priests will be homegrown.

(Mcdermott) “That’s the vision the church would have. If we have a vibrant local church community, a vibrant church in Vermont, that it will produce vocations to support the church in Vermont.”

(Zind) That vision will take time to realize. Only one new priest is scheduled to be ordained next year and two the following year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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