Ember Days or the Quatuor Temporas are a traditional time of harvest fasting “four times” per year asking God to give us holy priests for the harvest of souls. Dr Taylor Marshall explains the history and Catholic theology of Ember Days and then challenges Catholics to voluntarily take up the Ember Days asking Christ for holy clergy.
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The 2002 Boston Scandal, the Cardinal McCarrick Scandal, and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report reveals that the bishops are at ground zero in this scandal.
Some bishops didn’t properly vet seminarians and admit perverts.
Some bishops ordained mental disturbed, predatory priests.
Some bishops covered the crimes of Judas priests.
Some bishops relocated the predatory Judas priests.
Some bishops made secret payouts to victims to keep them quiet.
Some bishops have been molesting and having homo-relations with seminarians and priests.
The laity are shocked that so-called Episcopoi (Greek word for “bishop” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer”) could do such horrible things and still show up smiling for photos after the post-confirmation ceremonies. How could this be?
Denial of Christian Faith. These clerics are secretly atheists, agnostics, or Satanists who see the Church as a social justice network that pays well and provides a lifestyle of insurance, income, retirement and unquestioned access to compromised men and vulnerable children.
Homosexuality. The 2004 John Jay Report publicized that 80% of priest abuse victims are male. The orientation of abuse was overwhelming homosexual According to James Martin and Larry Stammer, 15–58% of American Catholic priests are homosexual in orientation. Father Dariusz Oko of Poland has suggested that 50% of the bishops in the United States are homosexual.
Evolution of the Mega-Diocese. Since 1900, the concept of the Catholic diocese has morphed into something that would not be recognized by Christians of the medieval period, and certainly not by the Church Fathers.
Today, I want to focus on the third. The problem of the Mega-Diocese: what it is, how it happened, and how it leads to clericalism and sexual abuse.
I am NOT stating that the Mega-Diocese is the root cause of sexual scandal or that eradicating it will fix everything! We need a a refocus on intrinsic evils, formation of true consciences, biblical literacy, removal of sexual active bishops/clergy, orthodox theological, Thomism, liturgical reverence, and heroic priests. But the Mega-Diocese is certainly infertile soil for these changes. Read on to discover the historic origin of this deformation and why it fosters abuse.
Picture above: a bishop gathered with his diocese.
What is a Mega-Diocese?
A Mega-Diocese is a diocese so enormous that a bishop cannot oversee it. Remember “bishop” in Greek is επίσκοπος (episcopos) which means “overseer.” Epi means “over” as in the word epidermis. Skopos means “see” as in the English words scope and telescope.
Parents eagerly search for schools with a low teacher/student ratio. Everyone in education knows that as you raise the teacher/student ratio, scores and academic performance go down. 12 students to 1 teacher proves to produce higher scores and better outcomes. 40 students to 1 teacher proves to produce lower scores and more drop outs.
But we currently have very high Disciple/Bishop Ratios:
What we have created over the last 150 years (since the loss of the Papal States, really) is an insanely high disciple/bishop ratio with regard to bishops. Bishops belong to the magisterium in union with the Pope. Magister is Latin for teacher. The bishop is the primary teacher. So we are discussing a student/teacher ratio here, as well. As the disciple/bishop ratio increases, what do we see? Lay people know their faith less (akin to lower scores), and they drop out at higher numbers (leave the church).
Currently here are the number of baptized in the top 4 USA archdioceses:
1 Los Angeles 4,174,304
2 New York 2,521,087
3 Chicago 2,442,000
4 Boston 2,077,487
How can a bishop manage this? He cannot. Not even Saint Paul could manage this? So how did we get here?
How did we get high Disciple/Bishop Ratios?
In the Patristic and Medieval Church, every wrinky-dink town had it’s own bishop. For evidence look at Italy:
Italy has 227 dioceses. 116,350 sq mi and population of 60,483,973 people
USA has 167 dioceses. 3,796,742 sq mi and population of 325,719,178 people
Here are 2 maps that I created for reference:
What we see here is that the Catholic Church from AD 100-1500 was appointing a bishop for almost every “town” in Italy since a bishop should be able to geographically access his flock.
After 1520, but especially after 1870, the Catholic Church slowed down its bishop appointments, and the Papacy began to settle for “mega-dioceses.” By the 1900s, this problem was everywhere in the United States and has become ridiculous since the death of Pope John Paul II.
In 1950, the bishop of Los Angeles served 832,375 lay Catholics. In 2016, the archbishop of Los Angeles was responsible for 4,392,000 lay Catholics.
How the Mega-Diocese Fails Christians:
The Mega-Diocese is based on the presumption that one man can shepherd a million people and oversee hundreds of priests (both are impossible). The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 1,117 priests and 4,392,000 baptized laity. One bishop can not oversee 1000+ priests. One bishop cannot be shepherd for 4.3 million people. For reference, the entire population of England in AD 1086 was 3.6 million. Imagine if all of England in AD 1086 had only one bishop! Ridiculous.
In order to “fix” this problem, the Popes began to appoint “Auxiliary Bishops.” According to Apostolic example, Patristic custom, and ancient Catholic Councils, a bishop must be a bishop of a geographic place. So you cannot have 3 bishops of the same geographic region. For Saint Ignatius of Antioch or Polycarp, multiple bishops in one place would be a schismatic and heretical act. There is only one geographic bishop for one geographic place.
So the Popes (initially Pope Leo X) created a legal fiction called Auxiliary Bishops with titular sees. The Pope appoints the Auxiliary Bishop to a geographical diocese that no longer exists, and then sends that auxiliary bishop to work inside the diocese of another bishop. Incidentally, the Pope that first allowed this legal fiction was the infamous Medici Pope Leo X (the same Pope whom Martin Luther spoke out against in 1517). Previous popes had banned the custom of auxiliary bishops with fictional titular sees.
For example, Bishop Robert Barron (to choose the most well-known auxiliary bishop) is an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles. However, since every bishop must actually be a canonical bishop of his own geographical area, Bishop Barron is actually the titular bishop of “Macriana in Mauretania” – an ancient Berber town in Algeria.
On paper and in reality, this canonical appointment to Macriana in Mauretania is ridiculous. Bishop Barron has nothing to do with Macriana and we shouldn’t create the legal fiction of bishops over non-existing “sees.”
In the early Catholic Church, Bishop Barron would simply be bishop ordinary of his pastoral region of Santa Barbara. He would simply become Bishop of Santa Barbara – not Pretend Bishop of “Macriana in Mauretania” but really serving the people of Santa Barbara under the auspices of the geographical bishop of Los Angeles. What a mess.
I’m not blaming Bishop Barron or any auxiliary bishop for this situation. They are obeying the directives of canon law and the Pope and are in good faith with regard to their appointments. There are great men serving as auxiliary bishops throughout the world. But when we look at it from a systemic point of view, it reveals an ecclesiological problem that contradicts both the Council of Nicea and biblical and patristic theology about the local ecclesia.
How to fix the Mega-Diocese? Break it up with Subsidiarity
The Mega-Diocese is an offense against the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity – the doctrine that matters ought to be handled by the smallest and most proximate competent authority – not by a Cardinal Archbishop living 90 miles away who also has the direct canonical care of souls for 1 million people. It’s a mistake to ask a bishop to be responsible for 1 million people and 1,000 priests. It’s a crime against the laity, too. The Mega-Diocese is bad for everyone.
When we see a public school teacher with 50 students in a class, we know its bad for the teacher and bad for the students. Everyone loses. Same the episcopal-diocesan structure.
How do we fix the Mega-Diocese problem? Obviously, a diocese of over one million souls is too big and too spread out. We need to follow the custom of ancient popes and have many, many, many more dioceses and bishops appointed. We need ecclesial subsidiarity. If Italy has 227 dioceses and the USA has 167 dioceses, we have an apparent problem. Creating more Mega-Dioceses and more and more auxiliary bishops will yield more abuse inside a broken system.
How big should a diocese be?
There were around 150-250,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Paris during the medieval era. It may seem extreme, but I don’t see the benefit of having a diocese any bigger than that. If a bishop had 100 priests and 100,000 people, it would be a manageable situation.
Still don’t believe me, ask Moses:
The biblical Mega-Diocese of Moses in Exodus 18 and the advice of Jethro:
Moses was exhausted overseeing the 400,000 Israelites under his pastoral supervision. His father-in-law Jethro observed this and rebuked Moses while providing a solution to break up his “Mega-Diocese”:
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law (Jethro) saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone….21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
If Moses couldn’t handle it, so also the modern bishop cannot handle it. Moses followed the advice of Jethro. He appointed men to oversee “thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” He didn’t place men “over 10,000 or even 100,000.” That’s too much! In other words, Jethro tells Moses: “Lets practice pastoral subsidiarity.”
It’s comical that my own enormous state of Texas has – 15 dioceses! The disciple/bishopratio here is horrible. Moreover, bishops spend entire weekends driving out into the country for confirmations at their parishes hours away.
Just like parents with kids in the school district, we lay people should beg and ask for a better disciple/bishop ratios. Say no to more auxiliary bishops. That’s a cheap bandaid covering the wound. The Archdioceses of LA and NYC should be broken into the 5 dioceses. The reason it won’t happen now is money. But in a pastorally sensitive church, those Mega-Dioceses would be prudently divided into 5 geographic dioceses. Let an auxiliary bishop simply be a bishop of that deanery and call him “bishop ordinary.”
Until we break up the Mega-Dioceses, do not expect clerical sexual scandal to get better or heal. The Mega-Diocese is unaccountable, noisy, not policed, and unsupervised. The Mega-Diocese allows the predatory priest (and bishop) to wear camouflage. Meanwhile a bishop close to his people and even closer to his priests as “father to fathers” is both more accountable and a better supervisor as episcopos.
I’d love to hear more recommendations, objections, and thoughts, especially from laity and clergy existing within the Mega-Diocese structures. One thing that I didn’t cover is that Mega-Diocese usually have low native seminarian counts and low ordination counts. They statistically cannot produce vocations. If the bishop is the sacramental “father of fathers,” then he is the overworked “absent father figure” within a Mega-Diocese. Vocations are not conceived by absent fathers.
PS: I would also add that bishops should be chosen from among the local presbytery or at least from near regional dioceses, and not “imported” from elsewhere. Moreover, bishops should not be moved all over the nation like bishop pieces on a chess board. A bishop should stay the bishop of one place for life…like marriage. St John Fisher, pray for us.
Today we arrived at the historic Benedictine monastery at Samos. I detail the building and lament on the collapse of Christianity in Spain (and especially the collapse of monasticism). Click below to listen:
I recently learned from Deacon Greg Kandra that Our Lady of Providence Seminary of of the Diocese of Providence Rhode Island has zero new seminarians:
Over the past five years, between two and six men have entered the seminary every fall but that’s not the case this year.
“Entering the fall we don’t have any new seminarians applying for the Diocese of Providence, which is rare,” Fr. Chris Murphy, the Catholic Diocese of Providence’s assistant vocation director, said Tuesday.
“I cannot remember in recent memory when the last time was,” he added.
A look back at the numbers shows a declining trend. Five men entered the seminary in 2012 and six entered in 2013, then the numbers drop to three, two and four in the years that followed.
Over the years, whenever the “priestly shortage” comes up in conversation, someone is quick to reply with some encouragement like this: “Oh yes, but we have so many young orthodox vocations! Things will change in a few years!”
I agree with this encouraging fact: We have some great seminarians! I’ve personally taught Catholic seminarians in America and in Rome and I can confirm that there are some dynamic, orthodox, and impressive seminarians moving into the sacerdotal pipeline.
But I am also aware of a gaping problem that hardly anyone mentions. The seminarian numbers are not there. We are about to fall off a demographic cliff of priestly vocations.
Yes, an impressive seminarian or deacon-seminarian visits your parish during the summer and does fantastic work.
Yes, you see lots of faces on the “Meet our Seminarians” color poster in the narthex after Mass.
Yes, you’re bishop announces yet another round of ordinations this year.
Praise God! I rejoice in all of it…but still…the numbers are lacking. Let’s take a look at priestly demographics:
For priests, we need to pray for quality and quantity:
Here is table of the number of priests in the USA from 1930 to 2015:
The number of priests exploded in 1950 (partly through migration) and peaked out in 1970. After 1975, you see a slow but steady decrease in the number of priests until the decline becomes steep around 1990.
More troubling is the fact that the tsunami of priests ordained from 1970-1980, will be reaching retirement age between the years 2015-2025 (age 25 + 45 years of service = retirement age 70).
Discovering the 1 Priest to every Catholic Ratio:
We have already begun to feel the scarcity of priests and you’ll understand why when you examine the numbers in light of the ratio of priest per Catholics. Check out these numbers:
In 1950, there was 1 priest to every 652 Catholics in the United States.
In 2010, there was 1 priest to every 1,653 Catholics in the United States.
In 2016, there was 1 priest to every 1,843 Catholics in the United States.
A numeric study shows that the tipping point in the USA happened around the year 1983. This is when our priest/Catholics ratio began to tank:
When it comes to priest/Catholics ratio, our priestly manpower is 33% of what it was 1950. Meanwhile there millions more lay Catholics in the pews.
And depending on the city, the ratio can be much worse. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have pretty discouraging ratios, but none are hurting as badly as my neighboring diocese of Dallas:
Diocese of Dallas: 1 priest to every 6,229 Catholics.
Diocese of Los Angeles: 1 priest to every 3,931 Catholics.
Diocese of New York: 1 priest to every 2,055 Catholics.
Diocese of Chicago: 1 priest to every 1,624 Catholics.
Meanwhile there are model dioceses that have wonderful ratios that beat even the 1950 national ratio:
Diocese of Lincoln: 1 priest to every 598 Catholics.
And the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), which offers the Latin Mass from the 1962 Missale Romanum currently has this ratio in its parishes:
FSSP: 1 priest to every 250 Catholics.
Vocation Decrease among the Jesuits
Compare the growth of the FSSP to that of the global membership of the Society of Jesus:
In 1977, the Jesuits had 28,038 members.
In 2016, the Jesuits had 16,378 members.
The Jesuits have declined 41.5% since 1977. The average age of a Jesuit priest in 2018 is 63.4 years old. Considering that mandatory priestly retirement is age 70, this does not look good for the Jesuits. They will decline by more than 50% in the coming decade. If things don’t change, there will be less than 10,000 Jesuits on earth in the next few years.
[For reference, there are 6,058 (male and female) Dominicans on planet earth in 2018. That’s the size of three Texas high schools.]
Sad but True (plus some Hope):
It is true that we have many great young men in formation to be holy Catholic priests. I’ve spent hours talking with them after class and I know that we will have an excellent crop. The sad news is that it is small crop. A priest is only one man and if you spread him over 3 parishes, he will be less effective.
My prediction is that we will see a great Catholic migration over the next three decades. As that surge of vocations from 1970-1980 begins to retire and depart to their reward, we will see massive parish closings and consolidations. Priests will be rare. It is already obvious that bishops and dioceses like Lincoln Nebraska attract vocations to the holy priesthood. These bishops and their dioceses will thrive. Meanwhile, dioceses like Providence will shrink while they try to import priests from other parts of the world.
The solution is to pray for vocations, but also beg the question:
Why does Lincoln, Nebraska have a plethora of vocations (1 priest to every 598 Catholics!) while others are not only short on vocations but losing priests year after year?
Is it liturgical?
Is it ethnic or based somehow on immigration?
Is it doctrinal?
What leads young men to inquire about a priestly vocation?
How do they organize their altar server programs?
Does youth ministry play a role or not?
How do pastors play a role?
To which seminaries does each diocese send seminarians?
How does seminarian retention rate differ from diocese to diocese?
How is the bishop involved in the vocation process?
If “coffee is for closers,” Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska is drinking Roman double espressos.1 priest to every 598 Catholics. Someone should study the vocations process in place under Bishop Conley of Lincoln.
My personal acquaintance with Bishop Conley (he helped guide me into the Catholic Church in 2006) is that he is orthodox, Thomistic, dignified, fatherly, and favors the template of Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy.” And if I’m honest, every single impressive seminarian that I meet…is shaped from the same mold. Like begets like. Like father, like son.
And even if you aren’t on board with the template of “orthodox, Thomistic, dignified, fatherly, Spirit of the Liturgy,” the numbers don’t lie.
Pray for holy bishops, holy priests, and holy seminarians!
Question: How is your part of the world doing with priestly vocations? What makes for a good seminarian? You can leave a comment by clicking here.