Nearly a third of parishes in Britain could be without priests by 2005, according to a new report launched at Heythrop College this week. 'Diocesan Dispositions and Parish Voices in the Roman Catholic Church', published by the Queen's Foundation for Theological Education in Birmingham, claims that many parish priests will either retire or die in the next 10 years, and there are not enough seminarians in training to take their place. The number of priests in Great Britain is expected to drop by half in the next 10 to 15 years. The report also says there is currently no organized strategy to cope with the shortage. It said the problem was worsened by a continuing decline in church attendance. There are 4.8 million Catholics in Britain, of which 1.3 million go to Mass weekly and another 500,000 attend once a month. By comparison, fewer than 1 million Anglicans go to Sunday services. Six dioceses took part in the study of authority and governance in the church and 450 bishops, priests and lay people were consulted. According to the Catholic Directories, the number of diocesan priests dropped to 4,831 in 1999 from 5,210 in 1990. The peak was in 1970, when there were 6,203. In 1999 122 men began the seven-year training for the priesthood, a rise of ten on 1998. The report says: "The implications for the parishes are immense. The role of the priest will inevitably change and he will not be accessible as he once was." The research places the blame partly on the "narrow focus" of parishioners who are concerned about internal matters such as Mass times, car parking and parish halls and not vocations or mission. In an earlier study, commissioned by the Catholic Media Trust, when Catholics were asked to name the ten issues they considered most important, the first concern chosen by 32 per cent of people questioned, was the numbers of young people leaving the church. The shortage of priests was considered the seventh most important issue. The Queen's Foundation have published two further studies in their Authority and Governance Project: 'You aren't one of the boys' a survey on authority and the priesthood, and 'A Painful Process' on those who have left the religious life. More information on these publications is available on The Queen's Foundation website at www.queens.ac.uk/.
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