SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Many churches have seen the signs that this issue would come to light for roughly 30 years now, so to help plan and fill in the gaps, the church created what they call, pastoral planning.

“We track how many people attend mass, we track how many baptisms, marriages, funerals. And so when you look at the data and you see those numbers diminishing and at the same time see the numbers of priests and active ministry diminishing,” said Deacon Mark Prosser, pastoral planning director with the Diocese of Sioux City.

The Diocese of Sioux City includes 90 churches and roughly 89,000 catholic members. However, they’ve seen a decline of parishioners over the years as well as priests. 

“In our Diocese, we’ve seen the numbers go from triple digit down into the 40s now and of the 43 priests, give or take one or two that are in an active ministry in our 24 counties, 50% of those are eligible for retirement within the next 10 years and we have just eight or nine men in the seminary at this time,” said Deacon Prosser.

Rural communities are facing a more extreme shortage with multiple parishes sharing a single priest.

“Our bishop has been actively involved in merging parishes, at one time we would have one or two priest at one parish or one church or in one community. Now, we have one priest covering one and a half to two counties,” said Deacon Prosser.

The priest shortage is also complicated by rules governing how other priests can cover a service for another priest.

“Last Monday, one of my priests was sick another one was out, so I had to celebrate two masses which is the maximum that our church allows,” said Father David Esquiliano, the judicial vicar with the Diocese of Sioux City. 

“We do strongly rely on retired priests, they’re very generous with their time in assisting our parishes, but our numbers of retired priests who are able to assist at a parish level they’re dwindling also,” said Deacon Prosser.

Deacon Mark Prosser with the Diocese of Sioux City says they are working to make sure 20 years from now there are enough pastors and priests continuing to preach and teach.