Bishops and vital dioceses

Bishops and vital dioceses

In the Feb/Mar issue of Crisis magazine is a study of the relative vitality of the dioceses in the United States. The study looked at several criteria for diocesan health, starting from the viewpoint that the quality of the man who sits in the cathedra is a key aspect of that vitality. (However, they did not see simple population numbers of Catholics as meaningful, since migration of population is affected by many factors not directly related to the state of the Church in the region. But are their other numbers just as arbitrary?) Significantly, they saw priestly morale as a key indicator of a bishop’s effectiveness and the health of the local Church and they measured that morale by changes in the number of active priests over a decade and the number of ordinations in 2005. They also considered the number of adults received into the Church.

While these particular factors are not bad indicators, I have to wonder whether they are sufficient. There many other factors which indicate the health of a diocese which can’t be quantified by looking at numbers and statistics. But then you can’t do a study like this with them. But if we grant them this for now, the results are interesting. For one thing, New England as a whole is on a lifeline with regard to vitality, while the South is doing the best. I can’t argue with that conclusion.

As for individual dioceses, the top ten in order are Knoxville, Tennessee; Savannah, Georgia; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Alexandria, Louisiana; Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Birmingham, Alabama; Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia; Anchorage, Alaska; and Biloxi, Mississippi. The bottom ten—starting with the lowest—are Hartford, Connecticut; Rockville Centre, New York; Rochester, New York; Metuchen, New Jersey; Albany, New York; Pittsburgh; Madison, Wisconsin; Allentown, Pennsylvania; El Paso, Texas; and Camden, New Jersey. These are based entirely on the aforementioned criteria of change in the number of active priests, number of ordinations, and reception of adults into the Church.

Arbitrary standards?

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  • I’m in the diocese of Kalamazoo.  If we’re one of the top ten, then the Catholic church is in deeper trouble than I ever thought.  It is like a cemetery in winter here.

    We did get rid of the founder of our “ministry formation/brainwashing program” so our number of seminarians did increase and, wonder of wonders, they seem to be male.  Perhaps that’s what they’re looking at. 

    That’s a funny story actually……This ministry formation type we had been stuck with for years went off in all her wedgie-shoe/poodle-do glory to Liturgy Training Pubilications (LTP) in Chicago (the big time) just before Cardinal George arrived. And we had already filled her neat little office chair with someone else.  Too bad, so sad.

    About the survey, I think they’re looking at the wrong criteria.  If they count those coming in, they’d also ought to count those leaving.  I think it’d be a draw, at least.  I’m on the ground here.  I know a lot of people and surveys like this are only picking up what they want.  The real truth is still out there.

  • Santa Fe in the top ten?  I think my sister would dispute that massively.  Also, in the people coming in category – that’ll put Arlington, VA in the top next year because of a massive influx of the Episcopalians jumping ship (there are forty or fifty in my parish) – but, that’s not an indication of our health but of their sickness.

  • Strange that here in Madison, WI, supposedly one of the ‘worst’ dioceses in the nation, we have Robert Morlino as our bishop.  He is joyful, vigorous and orthodox in his faith, devoted to vocations, unwilling to ‘acquiesce to decline’, etc.  We have a relatively large incoming class of seminarians, and all of the ones I have met are both serious about the vocation and solid in the faith.

    I’d love to hear their explanation for the ‘Morlino effect’.  Or would they say that since he has only been bishop for 5 years, he doesn’t count?

    Or is it that the older and outgoing priests all hate him because they mourn the loss of the good old days when Madison was at the heart of the revolution and they could safely expect to raise up a generation of dissenters with gooey feelings about people who are different from them but little grasp of the fundamentals of Catholic theology?

    Don’t want to be too grouchy here, especially since Morlino has human faults like anyone and may be failing in ways of which I am unaware, but I really wonder what the results of that study really mean to the Catholic in the pews.  And admittedly, I am a member of one of the more traditional parishes in Madison, which might bias my impression of the diocese.  But honestly, I would much rather be at my parish in Madison, WI than in the numerous blah suburban parishes I have visited throughout the country, or the ones that I grew up in.  To me, our diocese seems active, lively, and in the midst of renewal under Morlino’s active evangelization (sometimes even of his own priests).


  • Yes, dannyboy, I’d observed the same qualities in Bp. Morlino (from a distance—I’m in Milwaukee.)

    Besides that, he was an absolute STAR on the gay-marriage question.

    But then, Madistan is, ah, a challenge to anyone who actually believes in God.

  • We haven’t had a bishop in the Birmingham diocese in about two years.  Bishop Foley retired and acts as an administrator until a new Bishop can be found. So far, four candidates declined. Someone told me it was because of EWTN.  They should just leave it alone and all will be well. 

    The Church is growing in the south though.  I suppose it is good to have to live the Catholic faith in the middle of a Baptist society and culture.