Catholic Church turns to Anglicans to fill U.S. priest shortage

(CBS News) MILWAUKEE -- Sunday is anything but a day of rest for Father Tim Kitzke. On the Sunday we followed him, the priest said Mass at three different Milwaukee churches, held a luncheon for dozens of parishioners and baptized a baby.

Kitzke and one other priest are in charge of seven churches in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. There used to be a time when 14 priests covered the seven churches.

Father Tim Kitzke
Father Tim Kitzke
CBS News

"It's not only -- maybe not the old model ... but it's the old reality," he says.

The number of Roman Catholic priests in the United States has steadily dropped from nearly 59,000 in 1975 to just under 39,000 last year. But the number of Catholics in the United States has increased by 17 million.

Asked if he worries, Kitzke says, "Definitely, yes, we obviously need more priests -- that goes without saying, we need more vocations."

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The impact of the shortage ranges from the spiritual, such as delays for baptisms, to more earthly concerns, including parish finances.

Mark Lewis
Mark Lewis
CBS News

So the Catholic Church is doing something once unthinkable: expanding the pool of priest candidates to include former Anglican priests, like Mark Lewis, who converted to Catholicism. He's married with two children.

"We knew that this was the right way to go," Lewis says.

In 2009, Pope Benedict issued an order allowing Anglican priests who disagreed with the teachings of the Church of England to convert to Catholicism. One-hundred-twenty former Anglicans have been ordained Catholic priests.

"It was like God was opening up the door for us to truly become members of the church," Lewis says.

Watch: The next generation of Catholic priests, below.

But nearly 4,000 parishes in the country remain without a resident priest.

Kitzke says he never imagined he'd be in charge of seven different churches.

Asked if he has a lot on his plate, he responds, "Yeah, but who doesn't?"

Father Kitzke expects to keep up his Sunday sprints until he retires. He has good reason: Last year seven priests were ordained here, but 13 retired.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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