The number of lay ministers is growing dramatically in the Roman Catholic Church as the number of priests continues to decline, according to a new American survey of parish life. The mail survey, based on 700 responses, found the number of lay ministers serving parishes up 54 percent in the last fifteen years. The number of priests declined by 28 percent in the same period. More than half of parishes (53 percent) are served by only one priest. 

Project director Jim Castelli, who conducted the survey, said lay participation in ministry is here to stay. He suggested the future shape of the parish could be much like Catholic schools, with almost entirely lay staff and a priest in charge. The National Catholic Parish Survey was conducted under the auspices of Castelli Enterprises, Inc. The Reverend Eugene Hemrick, associate director of the survey, is research director of the Washington Theological Center, a project of several Catholic religious orders.

The survey results mean the changes Catholic seminaries and colleges have experienced in recent decades are likely to continue. Castelli said seminaries may have a job to train priests, but the decline in vocations shows no signs of reversing and the “action” in theological education will be in lay training.

“We found ministry is getting more specialized, based on the needs of the people,” he added. “Lay ministers are not just filling the gaps, they are specializing in areas such as youth, social justice, and Christian education.”

While there are fewer priests, the survey found average parish membership has grown by 23 percent in fifteen years; parish staffing has increased by 9 percent. Members of religious orders serving in parishes dropped by 33 percent, as did the number of deacons. The average Catholic parish now has 2,831 members and five ministers. 

Hemrick, associate director of the study, said the changes “paint a picture of larger churches, parish centers, and parking lots; parish staffs resembling the staffs of medium-sized businesses; fewer teams of priests coordinating a parish; fewer sisters on staff; and fewer young pastors.” 

Hemrick pointed out that the study “turned up things we didn’t know before.” 

For more information about the survey, and ordering a copy of the full report visit: <>.

About Face
The Southern Baptist Convention is poised to declare women ineligible for the pastorate when messengers (delegates) gather in Orlando in June for the church’s annual national meeting. Proposed for adoption is an amendment to the “Baptist Faith and Message,” the denomination’s principal statement of faith, that reads: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture.” 

The “Baptist Faith and Message” was last revised in 1998 with an article asserting that wives should “submit graciously to the servant leadership” of their husbands. Other, less attention-getting changes are also being proposed this year. There is a tightening of language about scripture and salvation: a phrase from the older version describing the Bible as “the record of God’s revelation to man” loses the words “the record of” in the current version. The document stops short of using the term “inerrant.” A statement that “there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ” comes as no surprise after recent Southern Baptist evangelism campaigns targeting Jews and Buddhists. On the other hand, the proposed document no longer calls for “refraining from worldly amusement” on the Sabbath. 

The document, which describes itself as having “no authority over the conscience,” is not binding on any Southern Baptist congregation. It goes on to point out that “Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statement of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time” and that any group of Baptists, large or small, has “the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.”

That being the case, it remains to be seen how much effect the new document will have on the 1,600 women currently serving as pastors within the denomination. 

Bankruptcy Looms

Mounting lawsuits mean the Anglican Church of Canada may have to die and rise again, according to its primate, Archbishop Michael Peers. The church, facing looming bankruptcy as a result of legal claims resulting from its management of Indian residential schools (“Sorry Past, Shaky Future,” In Trust, Spring 2000), considered options for the future when its national executive council met for four days in May.

For Peers, the idea that bankruptcy could happen without a substantial impact on the church is wrong. “Let’s not pretend this is simply a shift from System A to System B,” he said. “It’s a stop. On Good Friday Jesus stopped. His heart stopped beating. His blood stopped flowing. But the story didn’t stop. God’s purposes will not be thwarted.”

The council was warned that the church’s General Synod, its national body, will exhaust its resources next year. Legal costs for the past fifteen months have already amounted to more than $1.6 million, and that is without paying out any of the potential $2 billion in claims from the 1,600 lawsuits arising from the church’s operation of residential schools. Many claims also involve dioceses, which have independent finances.

Yet there is some hope the church will not be liable for as great a percentage of legal damages as recent settlements have indicated. A public opinion poll released by the churches in May indicates more than 80 percent of Canadians believe churches should be protected from bankruptcy as a result of litigation from the residential school experiences of former students. 

The poll, conducted by the Angus Reid Group, a major polling company, asked 1,500 Canadians earlier this year about the issues in the residential schools legal dispute. A majority of 58 percent said the government should pay most of the legal damages, since it asked the churches to run the schools. Only 18 percent agreed the churches should go into bankruptcy if necessary.

Peers told the executive council that if bankruptcy becomes inevitable “we are called to be the body of Christ. Dead. Absolutely dead. And just as absolutely destined to rise.”

The national executive council reaffirmed its commitment to healing and reconciliation with native people. It plans to seek government assistance to avoid bankruptcy by reaching an agreement that will put a low financial burden on the church and more on the government as claims are settled. The council asked church members to write to members of Parliament to express their concern over the government’s handling of the issue. In many cases the government has been responsible for adding the church as defendant when the plaintiff has not named the church.

Funding the Future

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has set $200 million as the initial goal for its “Fund for Leaders in Mission,” according to Cynthia Halverson, fund director. The endowment will be used to support tuition costs for preparing the denomination’s ordained and lay leaders.

The fund will begin supporting students this fall by providing three-year tuition scholarships to eight students—one at each of the eight ELCA seminaries. When fully endowed, the fund will provide full tuition support to every student who has made a commitment to ordained or professional lay ministry—associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers—within the ELCA. 

The ELCA, which has seen little growth in numbers of people preparing for ministry in the last several years, is in the process of producing a study of projected numbers of clergy in the future. There is concern that potential seminarians are unwilling to accept heavy debt loads and then move into low-paying calls. ELCA pastors average $33,000 packages in their first calls and $43,000 at mid-career.

McCullough Resigns

The Reverend Donald W. McCullough, president of San Francisco Theological Seminary since 1994, resigned his post in May shortly before a Presbyterian Church court convicted him of inappropriate sexual relationships with two female staff members of his former congregation. The court, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of San Francisco, subsequently suspended McCullough’s ministerial status pending his completion of a rehabilitation and counseling program at his own expense. The offense for which McCullough was charged, “sexual abuse by misuse of office and position,” arose from relationships he formed while at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in San Diego, California. He pastored that congregation before his election as the seminary’s president.

In his letter of resignation, McCullough told the seminary’s board of trustees that his “inappropriate conduct” took place before he became SFTS president. In a brief statement, the board said it had accepted McCullough’s resignation “with deep regret.” It added that it had thanked McCullough “with great appreciation for his six years of exemplary service to SFTS.”

New Truth
Quebec’s Roman Catholic Bishops, noted in the past for their progressive statements, called on the province’s Catholics to develop a new attitude to truth, authority, and democracy in the church in order to proclaim the gospel in the twenty-first century. “The democratic spirit builds a new relationship to the truth. The church is to proclaim the gospel in a relevant way,” said the bishops’ pastoral letter. “It is not sufficient to insist that the church is not a democracy, even if that statement is correct. Integration into the church in a democratic society leads to a new relation to authority and a different manner of proclaiming the gospel.”

The 101-page pastoral letter, entitled “Proclaiming the Gospel in the Present-day Culture of Quebec,” was issued in 1999 but has only recently been translated into English. Excerpts were published in the Winter 2000 issue of the Canadian journal, The Ecumenist, edited by theologian Gregory Baum, of McGill University in Montreal.

Baum called the pastoral letter a “remarkable statement on Christian truth and its communication in the church.” Baum said the text argues “persons in a modern society have come to understand themselves in a new way, that they constitute themselves by the choices they make, that they do not receive truth by submitting to authority, but that, instead, they involve themselves in the quest for truth and in this process attach great importance to personal experience.”

The bishops said the church has traditionally overvalued the role of the sender and minimized the role of the receiver in communicating its message: “Tradition and teaching are not imposed as a kind of final or definitive word, but function as memory, reference points, and markers or as a word which questions and confronts one’s own discoveries.” Tradition, the bishops said, is no longer the first and foremost source for answers. Instead, believers come to faith by correlating their own experiences—interpreted in faith—with other human experiences lived in faith and attested to in tradition. 

The bishops also appear to differ from current Vatican thinking when they talk about equality: “The nature of Christian institutions ought to favor relationships based on equality and brotherhood/sisterhood and to value attitudes that welcome and liberate.”

This is not the first time Quebec bishops have spoken out. They passed a resolution in 1986 vowing to “remain open” on the question of women’s ordination. Pope John Paul II has declared the subject closed. 

New Hispanic Center
Three Austin, Texas, theological schools will share in a $470,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation aimed at developing an ecumenical center for Hispanic theological education and ministry. Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest (a program of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa) will work together on a three-phase project that will begin soon with the naming of an advisory board. A director for the program will be hired this fall, according to Robert Shelton, Austin Presbyterian president. 

Initial plans call for renovating a classroom building on the Presbyterian campus as a home for the center; it will eventually oversee a certificate in Hispanic ministry as well as offering classes within the schools’ present programs and serving as a research center. 

Bad Investments
Ill-advised investments in land for a planned race track development in Olympia, Washington, and in Arabian race horses have left the Roman Catholic diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, a $17 million deficit, with interest mounting every day. Now the diocese has been told by the Vatican it will have to raise the money itself. Each parish is expected to meet a target from $125,000 to $2 million towards repaying the debt. Catholics are being asked to buy $12 to $14 million worth of bonds in $1,000 amounts, redeemable after three years. 

The botched investments are a legacy of one of Canada’s most colorful and radical church leaders, the recently retired Bishop Remi De Roo. He was known for his resounding calls for economic justice and his liberal views, challenging both secular and church establishments. De Roo has been nowhere to be seen since the story broke three months ago. He issued a public apology recently through his lawyer for the bad investments.

The economic disaster for the diocese has shaken the church throughout Canada. Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, labeled it a “wake-up call.” He will serve on a three-member canonical inquiry team that will investigate how the investments happened. Canon law requires bishops to obtain approval from church financial advisors for any spending over $400,000. Anything over $4 million requires Vatican approval.

The diocese hopes the bond sales will wipe out the debt by the end of June. But that just makes church members the diocese’s bank. The alternative would be selling off the diocese’s $63 million in assets, mostly in church and school buildings and land. 

(Note: All figures in this report are in Canadian dollars. One U.S. dollar is worth about $1.45 Canadian.)

Ruether Moves

Rosemary Radford Ruether will begin teaching at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, this fall. The Roman Catholic feminist theologian, currently teaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, will teach at GTU for the next two fall semesters, and will then join the faculty of the Pacific School of Religion full time for three years.

Changes at the Top
Russell E. Richey will become the dean of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology on July 1. He comes to the Atlanta United Methodist school from Duke University Divinity School where he was professor of church history; previously he held the same position at Drew University. His predecessor, R. Kevin LaGree, left Candler last year to become president of Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.

The board of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg has named Michael Cooper-White as the Pennsylvania school’s twelfth president. He will begin his job this summer as the school prepares for its 175th anniversary. His predecessor, Darold H. Beekman, retired at the end of the school year.

Ansley Coe Throckmorton will step down from the presidency of Bangor Theological Seminary in July 2001. Throckmorton, who has been president of the Maine United Church of Christ school for five years, is planning her retirement to coincide with the completion of the current capital campaign and long-range planning process.

Arthur Bacon has accepted a call to become the fourth president of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta. He comes to the Lutheran Church—Canada school from Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois, where he has been professor of education and dean of distance learning. His predecessor, L. Dean Hempelmann, is the new director of pastoral education for the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. 

Charles B. Cousar has been named acting president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, upon the retirement of Douglas W. Oldenburg on June 30. Cousar, a New Testament scholar, has been on the faculty of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) school since 1960.

Dennis M. Delaney is the new president and rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. Delaney is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the school’s sponsoring body, and most recently served as director of communications for the diocese and editor in chief of its newspaper, the St. Louis Review. His predecessor, George J. Lucas, is the new bishop of Springfield, Illinois.

Dean Loretta Jancoski of the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry is leaving her post as of July 1 for a one-year sabbatical, followed by her official retirement. Her interim successor is the Reverend Pat Howell, S.J. A national search has begun for a new dean. 

The Reverend Gerald Brown, S.S., has been appointed rector of Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, beginning July 1. He succeeds the Reverend David Cruz who completes his five-year term.

The Reverend Stephen Bosso will succeed Monsignor Pablo Navarro as rector-president of the St. Vincent De Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. Navarro is returning to his home archdiocese of Miami for a pastoral assignment.

American religious historian James Hudnut-Beumler will take over as dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School on August 1. His predecessor, Joseph Hough, resigned last summer to become president of Union Theological Seminary in New York.

G. Thomas Halbrooks moves from his position as dean of the faculty at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, to become president of Colgate Rochester/Bexley Hall/Crozer, a divinity school in Rochester, New York, that is related to the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. He takes over on July 1 from James Evans, Jr.

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