23 January 2014, The Tablet

Secular clergy numbers down

The number of diocesan priests in England and Wales fell by more than 15 per cent from 2010 to 2012, according to the latest figures compiled by the Catholic Directory, writes James Macintyre.

The total figure of priests across all dioceses dropped from 3,200 in 2010 to 2,708 in 2012, a decline of 15.4 per cent. Over the same period, there was an increase in the number of retired priests, from 776 to 805, a rise of 3.7 per cent.

The decline in secular clergy is revealed in the new 2014 edition of the directory. The directory did not include statistics last year due to concerns about their reliability but the new editor, Sr Catherine Wybourne, has received up-to-date information from all the dioceses.

While recent years have seen an increase in the number of seminarians in England and Wales, the decline in the number of priests continues to pose a problem for dioceses. Earlier this month, The Tablet reported that at least four churches had been closed in the Archdiocese of Birmingham while the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, has said that he cannot guarantee to provide a resident priest for each parish.

At the same time, the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, disclosed that he is struggling to provide a priest for every parish. Last  December, Bishop Doyle said in a homily that “the reality of fewer priests is beginning to bite” in a diocese planning for 39 priests to serve 69 parishes and 27 Mass centres.

The new Catholic Directory figures show estimated weekly Mass attendance at 848,780, which correlates with recent figures compiled by Anthony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre Trust.

Mr Spencer’s research showed a significant drop in Mass attendance of 12.3 per cent from 2001 to 2011, from 985,000 to 864,700, and a further decline of 0.7 per cent to 858,800 in 2012.

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