Skip to comments.Some Decry Retirement Despite Priest Shortage
Posted on 05/02/2005 8:12:34 AM PDT by marshmallow
VIRGINIA BEACH Gruff, opinionated and iconoclastic doesnt begin to describe the Rev. Thomas J. Quinlan , the gravel-voiced, chain-smoking priest of Holy Family Catholic Church in Virginia Beach. During his 47 years of parish ministry, TQ scorned public opinion and doctrine as well, critics say in colorfully preaching his interpretation of Vatican II Catholicism.
Quinlan advocated vigorous lay involvement in the Mass and ministry, and salted services with attention-grabbing twists, such as a famous Palm Sunday motorcycle ride in the sanctuary of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk
But his days as a priest in charge of a parish are numbered. After receiving a complaint from a visitor to Holy Family about the priests unorthodoxy, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo wrote to strongly suggest that Quinlan retire.
I had a visit with him and told him I wanted another year and he said, 'No, Im retiring you, Quinlan said last week after talking with the bishop. About 900 parishioners have signed a letter to DiLorenzo appealing his decision. The priests supporters say theres room enough in the faith for him and they cant understand how a diocese with a shortage of clergy can afford to let him go.
The controversy is threatening to eclipse, at least temporarily, a longer-term problem facing Holy Family and many other parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond: the aging of the clergy.
Quinlan is 76 , one of at least 39 priests in the diocese who are in their 60s or older . In preparation for their inevitable retirement or deaths , and with few replacements in the pipeline, the diocese has recently been relinquishing its one-priest-per-parish tradition.
What may become the new norm: one priest per two or three clustered parishes.
The change was among the remedies suggested by the Commission for Pastoral Planning, which began studying the dioceses chronic clergy shortage last fall.
In the past, the norm was that a parish or a congregation exists alone, and that cant be the norm anymore, said the commissions director, the Rev. William L. Pitt , who is planning to retire this summer. He is the principal of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach.
Pitt said the commission has also recommended that the diocese vastly increase training and educational programs that would equip parishioners to take over certain roles from priests that dont require clergy credentials.
It would offer parishes some vibrant ministry, Pitt said. Its what lay people are called to do, whether priests are here or not, or even if we had an abundance of priests.
Its not clear whether the next priest at Holy Family would have responsibilities for another parish. DiLorenzo, who could not be reached for an interview, hasnt announced which parishes are candidates for clustering. The bishop has clustered two Richmond parishes, St. Patricks and St. Peters , in the past year.
At Holy Family, parishioners are still hoping DiLorenzo will change his mind about Quinlan and let the priest stay one more year to complete his regular six-year term. Hes essentially led Holy Family into Catholic revival, said John Owens , a former Navy pilot. It is now a place where people are on fire in service for Christ and the Catholic mission.
Whether DiLorenzo is willing to reverse his decision should be known later this month when he announces the transfers and new posting of priests to parishes; the assignments take effect on June 13 . There are more parish vacancies than priests.
Many Catholic lay leaders in Hampton Roads strongly expect that some local parishes will be clustered.
Clustering is a strategy DiLorenzo endorsed as the bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu, where he served for 10 years before coming to Richmond last May.
The nationwide priest shortage is rooted in a nosedive in ordinations that followed the social upheaval of the 1960s and the new Catholic policies and practices promulgated at that time by the Second Vatican Council.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the United States had nearly 36,000 diocesan priests in 1965 . There were 28,967 in 2004 . During the same period, the countrys Catholic population rose from 45.6 million to 64.3 million .
The Richmond Diocese has also suffered in the past from a lack of new, home grown priests. There were no ordinations in the diocese in 2002 , one in 2003 , none in 2004 and one in 2005 . Four ordinations are expected in 2006 and two in 2007 .
To boost vocations, the bishop has assigned the Rev. Michael Renninger to be the dioceses full-time vocations director. Renninger, who had already worked part time in that role, said that by next fall, the diocese will have 17 seminarians working toward ordination, which he called a good number for the dioceses size. The diocese, which encompasses southern Virginia from the Appalachians to the Eastern Shore, has about 218,000 members and 145 parishes.
To cope with low vocations, the Richmond Diocese has relied partly on priests from overseas to fill parish vacancies. Priests who are on loan from dioceses in the Philippines are particularly common.
But even the use of foreign priests hasnt offset the problem of an American priesthood crowded with men who are approaching or are past retirement age.
In the Richmond Diocese as of last fall, six of the 111 active priests were 70 or older, and 13 were between 65 and 69 . Twenty were between 60 and 64 , and 52 were in their 50s . Only 20 were younger than 50 years old , and only three of them were younger than 40 , according to the latest statistics available from the dioceses Pastoral Planning Committee. The statistics were published last December in The Catholic Virginian, the dioceses official newspaper.
Priests can retire upon reaching age 70 , and three of the four South Hampton Roads priests currently scheduled to retire in June are that age, or older: Quinlan, Pitt, and the Rev. Thomas Caroluzza , the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Norfolk and the bishops representative in eastern Virginia. The latter two have said they are retiring voluntarily.
The Rev. John J. Dorgan of the Basilica of St. Mary in Norfolk, is retiring for health reasons. He is 65 . At least one other diocesan priest, in Hopewell, is also retiring, according to Stephen S. Neill , editor of The Catholic Virginian.
For Hampton Roads parishes that may be clustered, Southwest Virginia may be a good place to look for what to expect. Priest-sharing is a reality at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Woodlawn , All Saints Catholic Church in Floyd and Church of the Risen Lord in Patrick Springs . Dr. Juan Rios , a founding member of St. Joseph, said All Saints and Risen Lord are small mission congregations that have never had their own priest.
Rios said his priest has a killing schedule that involves celebrating Mass at two different churches on Sunday. The third congregation, All Saints, has no Sunday service Communion is only available on Saturday.
When the priest is sick or out of town, the congregations rely on a permanent deacon who can perform some, but not all, of the sacraments. I think it is better than nothing, Rios said.
Pitt acknowledged that if clustering and priest-sharing spreads, more Catholics face the possibility that their church might have fewer Sunday Masses, or perhaps no Sunday Eucharistic service at all.
Thats a major change, thats a change in our undergirding, he said. Only priests can consecrate the bread and wine for Communion, which is the defining ritual of Catholicism.
In Portsmouth, St. Paul Catholic Church members are aware they could be clustered, perhaps with Church of the Holy Angels in Portsmouth and St. Mary Catholic Church in Chesapeake. The Pastoral Planning Committee discussed the priest shortage and likely remedies with church leaders around the diocese last fall.
We dont know whether were going to share a priest, although we suspect that will be the case, said John Shine Jr., the president of St. Pauls parish council.
For some parishioners, and elderly members particularly, the prospect is scary and unwanted, said Shine, an accountant with a 23-year history at St. Paul.
Yet Shine is hopeful that if clustering occurs, his co-parishioners can rise to the occasion and take on more responsibilities, as some priest-sharing parishes have in western Virginia. Such parishes even distribute Communion, using elements previously consecrated by a priest.
Shine is also optimistic that with clustering, his 181-year-old congregation could adopt a new, broader definition of what it means to belong to a church.
It would be a mind-set change that we are a parish greater than St. Paul, he said. That we are a Catholic community, and I just happen to go to this building for worship and register at this parish.
Even Owens, a leader in the Save TQ campaign at Holy Family, acknowledged at a meeting last week that the parishs future was not bound up in Quinlans fate.
We are the church, he said in the modern sanctuary as several hundred parishioners brooded and listened. TQ is not the church, and his absence should not stop us. We need to move on and do good things, and honor TQ in that way.
Right. Those who were in their 20s and 30s in those marvelous days immediately following Vatican II. Quinlan fits the profile of a wrecko-vator perfectly.
And who'd a thunk that a motorcycle could be used as a liturgical aid? That takes some real ingenuity.
Bump for later.
Sounds like that diocese is trulu infused with the spirit of VII.
And exactly how many new priests did this "fire" produce?
I lived there for several years, and called it the Dreadful Diocese of Richmond (DDR). Former bishop Walter Sullivan was responsible for the decline of the Diocese into modernism. I think that Bishop DiLorenzo is trying to turn the place around, a truly Herculean task. Pray for him.
Like a knight riding a horse into a catherdral. In the middle ages Priests were forbidden to rise horses. Remember Romeo and Juliet where the messenger is delayed because he can't?
Good for Bishop DiLorenzo!
Here in the diocese of Raleigh our(soon to be retired) bishop is and has been a "fellow traveler" of former bishop Sullivan. Perhaps if we are lucky enough, we may get a new bishop who will be able to salvage what is left of the Faith here.
There are a lot of retirement-age priests now who were largely responsible for the disasters of VatII and the misleading of the younger clergy. I think (or hope, at least) that we're going to see lots of retirements being "accepted," both of priests and of bishops.
The good ones can't get in until the bad ones get out of the way.
Thank goodness! "TQ" is a flaming homo, a scandal and a disgrace.
These are the priests responsible for this dioceses's near total lapse into chaos...willing accomplices to the awful Walter Sullivan. Bishop DiLorenzo has his work cut out for him trying to repair what that man has wrought!