COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS)--As a result of the priest shortage, some clergy are trying to fulfill unrealistic demands, leading to health problems, burnout, and little time for prayer and renewal, said Bishop James A. Griffin of Columbus.

The situation prompted Bishop Griffin to issue a new document called "Guidelines Regarding Expectations of Priests and Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest."

"I believe the time has clearly come to prepare the clergy and faithful alike for a new approach, one which acknowledges that there will be times when, due to a lack of an available priest, there may be no Mass on Sunday in a given place," the bishop said.

Preparations for "priestless Sundays" must be carried out "in a well-planned, pastorally, and liturgically effective manner," he said.

Bishop Griffin said there has been a steady decline not only in the number of diocesan priests but also in the number of "substitutes," typically religious priests, retired priests, seminary professors, and chaplains.

"This trend will only worsen as more priests enter retirement, the retired become infirm, and the remaining clergy are stretched even further," he said.

The guidelines discuss ways to help priests be renewed by adequate opportunities for rest and study and ways the laity can respond to situations when no priest is available.

Regarding expectations for priests, the guidelines state priests are entitled to a full day off each week and should not be expected to celebrate more than three Masses for Sunday or holy days.

Also, priests are generally not expected to participate in more than one scheduled session per week of hearing confessions or more than 50 hours of active ministry, including extra-parochial work.

The guidelines also say priests are entitled to a three-month sabbatical after every 10 years of completed service following ordination, and four weeks of vacation each year.

Priests are expected to live in the rectory or parish house unless another arrangement has been approved by the bishop. They should take emergency calls but at the same time be protected from unnecessary intrusions, the guidelines instruct.

As for the laity, the guidelines urge parishioners to be adequately prepared and trained for Sunday or holy day celebrations without a priest.

The first step to take in the absence of a priest is to seek a neighboring priest as a substitute, which may not always be possible, the guidelines say.

When a substitute priest cannot be found, each parish should have a group of trained persons who will see to the implementation of the parish's own plan for priestless Sunday or holy day celebrations, the guidelines state.

Bishop Griffin said he hoped the guidelines would "help to maintain the observance of the Lord's Day even in the occasional absence of a priest."

He said he also hoped the guidelines "will help our priests to be better ministers and to be renewed by adequate opportunities for rest and study."

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