Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The greying of the priesthood

Now, he is a monsignor, and he has been a priest for 67 years. He still runs a parish, St. Luke’s in Mott Haven, and he is 92, making him the oldest working priest in New York City.

“Maybe in the country,” Father Ryan said recently in his broad, courtly accent that is part Bronx, part Fred Astaire. “Maybe anywhere! I’ve been here forever.”

The priesthood is graying: the average age of Roman Catholic priests in the United States rose to 63 in 2009 from 35 in 1970, according to a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And with fewer young men entering seminaries, more priests are working past 75, the formal retirement age under canon law. In the New York Archdiocese, for example, where only one man was ordained into the priesthood this year, about 25 men over age 75 are still working as priests, and several are older than 85.

He bemoans the state of the Catholic Church — fewer marriages, fewer baptisms. He sees less interest among people in searching for answers to life’s deeper questions. As for the clerical sexual abuse scandal, he simply cannot understand how priests can act that way. “It’s so humiliating,” he said.

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