Bishop Monforton cited a priest shortage in the Diocese of Steubenville as one of the reasons for the proposed extinctive merger.
While we would love to have more priests to help in our parishes, Steubenville is actually in much better shape on this score than any other diocese in Ohio.
The Diocese of Steubenville covers 13 counties along the eastern and southeastern edge of Ohio. In those thirteen counties there are about 496,000 persons, 29,000-30,000 of whom are Catholics. They are served by 36 priests. (Source) This means a priest-to-Catholic ratio of 1:805, with a priest-to-citizen ratio of 1:13,777.
That’s one priest for every 805 Catholics, and one priest to every 13,777 souls in the Diocese.
Columbus, on the other hand, covers 23 counties in central and southern Ohio. In those 23 counties are about 2.5 million persons (as of 2006, the most recent number I could find), about 278,000 of whom are Catholic. They are served by 147 priests. (Source) That means Columbus has a priests-to-Catholic ratio of 1:1,891, and a priest-to-citizen ratio of 1:17,007
So one priest for every 1,891 Catholics, and one priest to every 17,007 souls in the Diocese.
Also, Steubenville has five* seminarians to Columbus’ 18. That’s a seminarian-to-Catholics ratio of 1:6,000* for Steubenville, and 1:15,444 for Columbus. So if the Bishop’s concern is a large number of upcoming retirements against a low number of pending ordinations, well, Columbus isn’t in better shape there either.
So Columbus has more than double the number of Catholics for every priest (1,891 vs. 805), and two-and-a-half times the number of Catholics for every seminarian (15,444 vs. 6,000). Even the priests-to-souls overall number is considerably better in Steubenville than in Columbus.*
Heck. We might say that Columbus should be merged into Steubenville, if “shortage of priests” is the metric we’re using!
But nobody wants that.
Another astounding fact to consider is that Steubenville, unlike Columbus (and nearly every other diocese in the country) does not seek out or accept applications for seminary or incardination from foreign-born priests. All of our priests are home grown, or moved here from elsewhere in the U.S.
Other dioceses, like Columbus, welcome foreign-born seminarians and priests as a way to deal with their shortage of home grown priests.
So if this merger happens, the rich pool of priests in the Diocese of Steubenville will be diluted by being incorporated into Columbus.
We will be much more likely to suffer parish mergers and closures, fewer priests at parishes, and we will almost certainly lose some of the younger and more excellent priests we’ve come to appreciate — sons of our own parishes — as they are transferred to other parts of the Diocese.
And at that point the Diocese of Columbus would be 36 counties, or 41 percent of the 88 counties in the state of Ohio, the seventh-most populous state in the nation.
The “shortage of priests” numbers simply do not support merging Steubenville into Columbus. That merger would deleterious affect the faithful in what is now, and, God willing, will remain the Diocese of Steubenville.
*Update, October 20, 2022: The seminarian number I had originally for Steubenville was outdated. The text is updated to reflect the current number of seminarians.