Friday, April 10, 2009

Constant decline in the number of priests puts the Mexican Catholic Church at risk of collapsing

by Mariana Viayra Ramírez
(English trans. by Rebel Girl)
La Crónica de Hoy

The Catholic Church in Mexico is at risk of collapsing from the lack of seminarians and an ever aging population of priests and bishops, who average about 68 years of age, warns Elio Masferrer Kan, president of the Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones.

The expert on the subject mentioned that while about 150 priests are ordained each year in the whole country, around 50 resign and 120 die on average.

"The decline in the priesthood is constant", emphasized the professor and researcher from the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH).

He mentioned that ex-seminarians have stated that their main reason for declining the priesthood is celibacy, "they do not agree with celibacy and comment that it is better to resign than to lead a double life."

After interviewing ex-seminarians, Masferrer Kan noted that they do not think that celibacy is the best gift to God, "they no longer believe that much (...) they don't have any interest in playing hide and seek, they are not interested in living like Marcial Maciel."

He cited as an example that this year only eight young men are going to be ordained as priests in the Archdiocese of Mexico, and other years 18, 20, or 24 young men have been ordained, "that is to say, there are ever fewer people in the seminaries."

According to the Vatican's Statistical Yearbook, in Mexico there is one priest for every 6,300 faithful and the world average is one for every 2,200 faithful.

He also points out that the annual increase in diocesan priests was 173 in 2000, 292 in 2005, and 175 in 2006.

BOYCOTT. In contrast, he indicated that the number of deacons -- who can be married and dedicate their lives to God -- is continually growing, "but a part of the Catholic Church is opposed to this (...), Samuel Ruiz did it, he ordained married deacons and they stopped him because they thought it was contrary to the Catholic Church."

The anthropologist recalled that Samuel Ruiz took that step, ordaining married deacons, to confront the expansion of the Protestant sects, "Benedict XVI has 91 permanent deacons.."

"There are people who want to keep maintaining a life -- so to speak -- in the world, but with certain roles in the Church," he said.

Nonetheless, he pointed out that that is boycotted by a sector in the Church that wants a completely celibate clergy.

He explained that in many cases when bishops see some seminarian is "getting away from the fold and putting forward things they don't like they just don't ordain him, they boycott the ordination."

"Because they have made known positions that don't agree with the Church's they have been left outside, that is quite usual (...) the bishops are not going to ordain somebody who doesn't agree with their line," he stated.

He added that this strikes against the Catholic Church's own dynamic because "it only leaves a clergy that is not innovative and that makes the Church lag behind."

THE LOW DOWN. The Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM), has admitted that 10,000 people a day leave the Catholic Church in Latin America, when faced with tough religious competition.

In that sense, Bernardo Barranco, sociologist of religion, has stated that one of the greatest challenges for the Catholic Church is to recover from the loss of the faithful, the loss of the vitality of Latin American Catholicism when faced with the tough religious competition of the other Christian denominations, like the evangélicos and even la Santa Muerte.

Barranco recalled that during the 5th General Conference of the Latin American an Carribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, the Latin American bishops suggested with a lot of drama that there was some sort of flight of Catholics to other religious denominations.

"Something is happening in the Mexican Church that should worry the bishops a lot (...), it's one of the most worrying phenomena that the Church has ever experienced in Latin America and Mexico is no exception," the expert said.

At the same time, he pointed out that the bishops have committed great pastoral neglect in recent years, which has provoked Catholics to emigrate to other religions like Protestantism.

"Therefore it is a model that is more worrisome in itself, than for the faithful themselves". Because of it, he noted that the Catholic Church needs a sort of pastoral revolution to recover its spiritual leadership.

Barranco, who is also the vice-president of the Centro de Estudios de las Religiones en México, suggested that the statistical trend shows that the Church has continued to lose parishioners from year to year, decade to decade.

"If one compares the statistics from 1990 to date, it is evident that the Catholic sector has been declining -- not in a dramatic way but, yes, substantially," he said.

The sociologist, a specialist on the subject of religion, said that currently most of the people identify themselves as cultural Catholics, but "between that and being really Catholic there is a very big distance."

For example, he said that according to the 2000 population census, 85% of Mexicans are Catholic, but in the real sense, the percentage is much lower, not more than 10%.

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