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Changes ahead in the US

ORLANDO, Florida, United States (CNS): New models of pastoral leadership will be required for a United States Church that has changed significantly from a generation ago and will continue to change.

The changes include an increase in the number of Catholics, a more-educated laity, a decrease in the number of priests and vowed religious, an increase in permanent deacons and professional lay ecclesial ministers, and growing cultural diversity in the Church.

Those changes were identified in a four-year study conducted in response to ongoing shifts in the Catholic Church.

The study, commissioned in 2002 by a coalition of six Catholic national organisations, received a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to conduct the study and to assess its findings.

Director of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project Marti Jewell addressed the major findings of the study on April 21, the first full day of a national summit in Orlando to review and build upon the findings.

An attentive audience of nearly 1200 participants representing all six groups listened, eager to hear the results.

“For those of you who like to flip to the last page of a book, and read the end of a story right away, I’ll tell you what the research concluded,” Ms Jewell said. “Parish life as we have known it has changed.”

With about 28,000 diocesan priests, 70 per cent of whom are older than 55, the United States is moving toward clusters of parishes under the care of a single pastor, she said.

Indeed, nearly half of all US parishes already share their pastor with another parish or mission.

Alan Whitson, a deacon in the Archdiocese of St Louis, was surprised to learn how many pastors are assigned to dual parishes.

“The realisation that nationally we’re losing priests underscores the need for the laity to step up and live the baptismal call to discipleship,” he said.

“It is a challenge to all the baptised.”

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