Skip to main content

Parish Priests

Volume 497: debated on Thursday 15 October 2009

Figures are published at the end of December. On 31 December 1997 there were 7,471 full-time parochial clergy of incumbent status, compared with 6,450 on 31 December 2007, the latest year for which figures are available.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that parish priests play a crucial role, especially in rural parishes? Because the number of priests has fallen, the size and number of parishes that they are being asked to look after has risen. That is putting huge pressure on them, and is obviously quite stressful. What are the hon. Gentleman and the Church Commissioners doing to try to increase the number of parish priests, particularly in rural areas?

I know that the hon. Lady has strong views about the adequacy of the stipend to attract priests, especially in rural parishes. The Church is keen for stipends to be flexible enough to allow it to put clergy where they can best be deployed, consistent with preventing their mobility from being impeded.

As the hon. Lady has said, the number of ordinants has risen. In 2007, 552 new clergy were ordained, the highest number since 2000. We welcome the upward trend in ordination numbers, but recognise that owing to deaths and retirements the number of stipendiary clergy is falling overall.

It is good to hear that there are more priests in training—particularly, one imagines, women priests—but, in addition to the amalgamation of many parishes, another growing trend which I consider worrying is that priests are expected to do at least a part-time job, if not a full-time job, as well as being priests. That puts enormous pressure on them. What research is the Church undertaking to ensure that those people can cope with the new work load, and are not unfairly put upon?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. At the end of 1997, 6 per cent. of parochial-incumbent status clergy—or 426 overall—were women, whereas in 2007, 15 per cent., or 974, were women. I fully accept my hon. Friend’s point about the work load of priests. During the recess I was up in Teesdale, where I visited many churches and was surprised to learn that one particular vicar covered at least five churches, which seemed to me an enormous work load. The problem is recognised, but how we deal with it shall have to be discussed with the Archbishops Council.