Parishes and the number of ordained catholic priests who serve them are shrinking around the world. The Diocese of Belleville is a prime example of that. Monsignor John Myler serves the diocese and explained the intricacies behind using viri probati as a solution to the priest shortage.
To begin with, Pope Francis would like to study the ancient solution before making any decision on whether to use it. It was first employed in the 1st century after Christ’s death, but by the 4th century its use came to an end.
It calls for married catholic men to be ordained as priests. The ancient Latin term translates to proven man, according to Myler who says it was brought up as a solution 50 years ago during the second Vatican Council.
If used today, it would likely only be employed in remote parts of the world where the number of priests per parishioners were extremely low. Myler gave an example of an American priest on a mission to Bolivia. According to Myler, he is the only ordained priest serving 100,000 Catholics.
For perspective, there are about 100,000 Catholics in southern Illinois, so that would be like having a single priest to see to all their needs.
The church already employs the use of married Catholics as deacons for many functions. Deacons can preach the Word of God, they can baptize and marry couples; but they cannot offer mass, celebrate the Eucharist, or give absolution during confession.
The number of deacons, priests, and cardinals have fluctuated over the centuries. Currently, the church is seeing a decline in catholic men attending seminary coupled with the retirement of many aging priests.
In Belleville, fewer parishioners have facilitated restructuring and a need for fewer priests. Still, eventually, time will catch up with them.
Myler says the solution he sees for this problem is two-fold; action and prayer.
“If we priests can continue to be happy, in our priesthood; happy among our people; and if the people of God will continue to pray for more priests; the spirit will call and men will answer,” said Myler.
Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is in a better position. Out of the largest 61 diocese in the country, it is ranked number one for having the fewest Catholics per diocesan priest at roughly 1,538 to 1.