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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Priests' colleges face closure
A Catholic priest
The Church says college drop-out rates have fallen
A severe shortage of trainee priests has forced the Catholic Church to consider closing two seminaries.

Its four priesthood colleges could be merged into two because only half the training places have been taken up.

The proposals were considered by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales on Monday, which recommended the seminary leaders meet their archbishops before November to discuss the matter.

The Vatican in Rome will also be consulted before a decision is reached.
Priests' Training
Takes six years
Costs up to 80,000 each
Four English seminaries, plus two in Rome, one in Spain, have 500 places
Only 230 currently being trained
Drop-outs peaked at 50%

A spokesman for the Church said any move would be based on the best interests of the priesthood and not solely on money.

A Church-sponsored commission on the seminaries concluded that St Cuthbert's College in Ushaw, near Durham, and St Mary's College in Oscott, near Birmingham, should merge to create one seminary for the north and Midlands.

It also recommended St John's Seminary in Wonersh, Surrey, and Allen Hall, Chelsea, south west London, could merge to become the south of England's seminary. Welsh trainees could use either.

As well as these four seminaries in England, trainee priests are also sent to two colleges in Rome and one in Valladolid, Spain.

'Unrealistic'

Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, the conference's general secretary, told a news conference in central London: "The numbers in the seminaries have fallen and the numbers are likely to remain at about that figure."

He said the Church wanted to study "the most appropriate way to train priests in the 21st Century".

Mgr Summersgill added: "Finance would have to be one element of that but this process is not driven by finance at all, it is about the end product, how you get good priests."

Although the commission said its recommendations should be implemented by September next year, Mgr Summersgill said that was unrealistic.
Pope John Paul II
The Vatican will be consulted

He said the Church was looking to increase trainee numbers but the number of lay people administrators meant the Church would survive regardless.

The commission also recommended men spend a year preparing for priesthood before undergoing formal training, possibly at St Alban's College in Valladolid.

A statement issued on behalf of the Bishops' Conference said: "We are increasingly aware of the diversity within our present seminary system and of the variety of needs the seminaries are required to address in the formation of priests for our dioceses."

It said the meetings between the seminary leaders and their archbishops should take place before November this year and that discussions must also be held with the Vatican.

See also:

26 May 02 | Wales
26 Mar 02 | N Ireland
27 Jun 01 | Scotland
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