.- Parishioners in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, are considering what to do with their priest shortage, given their growing church population in the southern part of the state and shifting demographics.
Representatives from the diocese's 31 "clusters" of churches, each a geographic group of parishes, are discussing ways to continue meeting parishioners' needs despite the increasing lack of available priests and professional staff.
Parishioners are considering closing or merging churches or cutting back on masses at a given parishes. All parishioners agree, however, that more involvement from the laity is necessary and that all Catholics must have access to mass.
The clusters have formed task forces and each region will prepare a report. These will be forwarded to the diocese's 10-member Long Range Planning Commission, which will present a final report to the Bishop John McCormack by the fall of 2006, said Fr. Robert Gorski, the commission's director and chairman.
Fr. Gorski told reporter Terry Date that the number of men entering the priesthood is not keeping pace with demand in local parishes, and the ranks are aging.
The diocese has 109 priests for 117 parishes and 22 missions. By 2012, the diocese will have only an estimated 75 priests available for assignment. Currently, 70 percent of priests is older than 51, and in seven years, nearly 33 percent of active priests will be over 69.