Surveys, statistics, data, graphs, and trend studies have their place when we look at and analyze the “church life” (and “synagogue life,” and all the rest) that makes up a major part of “public religion,” (our weekly topic) in American life. They tell us how things are, collectively and from a distance. Now and then a reporter and a newspaper present the “up close” view which tells so much. Thus, we can talk about “the priest shortage” in national terms and gain some sense of the unsettlement or crisis. A close-up of one jurisdiction or one archdiocese brings the crisis home, where it is felt most.
So it was when Sharon Otterman focused on a story headlined “For One New Priest, a Lonely Distinction,” and subheaded, “Class of 2012 in New York Archdiocese Consists of the Rev. Patric D’Arcy.” One picture shows a pensive Father D’Arcy in an empty church; a second shows him blessing his brother and sister, and a third has him kneeling in St. Patrick’s Cathedral before Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the most influential Catholic cleric in the nation. The gap between the image of the Cardinal in the Cathedral and the life of the lonely priest may quicken more interest than statistics about the priesthood nationally. In the United States there were 58,909 priests in 1975 and 38,466 last year. There were 994 priestly ordinations in 1965 and there were 467 in 2011. In 1965 there were 549 parishes without a resident priest pastor, and there were 3,249 last year.
See what I mean? Cold statistics impress the mind, but do not move the heart.