Shortage prompts Chicago to borrow priests from abroad

September 28, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CHICAGO -- The stockyards and grain elevators of Chicago's past shared the title of champion producer with another exporter, the Roman Catholic Church, which sent Chicago sons to be priests around the world. Now the Chicago church finds itself in the position of borrower from abroad.

As they say at the Board of Trade, Chicago will soon have a negative balance of trade. Because of the shortage of priests, the archbishop of Chicago, the Most Rev. Francis George, proposes to borrow priests from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

The rest of the nation has been grappling with a shortage of priests since the 1960s. Now this heavily Catholic city has to contend with the problem.

"It's kind of a humbling experience for us," said the Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, chancellor of the archdiocese. "We are used to being self-supporting. To have to ask someone for help is hard."

In changes that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, lay people are leading parishes in Chicago, pastors are working in two parishes, and priests are being asked to delay retirements. For every new priest ordained, six die, retire or leave the priesthood.

The deficit is most acute in parishes with large immigrant populations. To serve 728,000 Hispanic parishioners, one-third of the flock, Chicago has, at most, 10 Hispanic parish priests.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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