How Serious is the Priest Shortage in the World’s Largest Catholic Country?

How Serious is the Priest Shortage in the World’s Largest Catholic Country? April 24, 2019
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Some interesting insight from Crux: 

A declining proportion of Catholics and accelerated growth of Evangelical denominations in Brazil since the 1970s have frequently caused anxiety for the Catholic Church, which fears a vocations crisis from which it might not easily recover.

Although the country continues to have the biggest Catholic population in the world with 123 million adherents, a supposed lack of priests could speed up a downfall. But the insufficiency of the clergy in Brazil may not be so obvious.

The emphasis Pope Francis has been giving to the pastoral work in the Amazon in the past few years has made discussion about the number of priests in Brazil rather urgent.

The huge challenges involving the Church’s efforts in the Amazonian region, which spreads over 2.7 million square miles and 9 countries in South America, has led a part of the episcopate to consider the ordination of married men, something that will be discussed during the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region scheduled to happen in Rome in October.

“It’s common to talk about income inequality in Brazil, but we also have a bad distribution of the clergy. There is a clear concentration of priests in the south and southeast of the country. Part of them could be successfully sent to the Amazon,” said Father José Carlos Pereira, who holds a doctorate in sociology and is the author of several quantitative studies on the Brazilian clergy.

According to Pereira, insufficient coverage of the Amazon is related to the immense territories of some dioceses and the lack of infrastructure in the region. Father Valdeir Goulart, in charge of the census of the Brazilian Church and himself a former missionary in the Amazon, adds that work in the region is also expensive.

“Small trips inside a parish may take days in cars or boats. Sometimes a priest has to travel several kilometers alone, in the middle of the forest. It’s not only a matter of number of priests,” he said.

Goulart is currently working on a new system to collect and gather data on each one of the 277 dioceses in Brazil. The next church census will be published in August, but probably will not have significant numerical differences in relation to the last one, organized in 2014, when there were 27,400 priests in Brazil, with 18,200 secular priests and the others members of religious institutes or congregations.

By way of contrast, the United States, with only about half the Catholic population of Brazil, had more than 37,300 Catholic priests in 2018, meaning roughly 10,000 more.

Considering the total population in Brazil, there is roughly one priest to attend to each group of 7,500 people.

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