From WKYC Radio - Cleveland Ohio
Sunday was a big day for young Henry Daniel Gruler at St. Hilary parish in Fairlawn, Ohio. At the beginning of Mass, the baby boy was welcomed into the Catholic Church by immersion in the baptismal font.
Father Gordon Yahner held the infant as he recited the age old invocation, "I baptise you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
In his long career as a Catholic priest in the Cleveland diocese, Father Yahner has baptised hundreds of youngsters and adults. But after forty four years serving God, Father Yahner is stepping down as the head of St. Hilary next month.
His retirement is part of a growing problem for the Catholic Church in Northeast Ohio and across the country. There just aren't enough young men being ordained to take the place of the men who are retiring.
In 1976, the Cleveland diocese had 406 active parish priests. By last year, that number had dropped to 106 with another 85 in "retired" status.
The shortage of priests wasn't a problem for Craig and Amy Kaltenbach in Parma. When they wanted to get married, they found a priest on website called "Rent A Priest. The site provides a way to locate married priests who are willing to provide a variety of services.
Father Steve Sabanos is the man who pronounced Craig and Amy "husband and wife". Said Amy, "you could tell he likes what he does and he cared. And that really came through in the way he dealt with us."
Father Steve Sabanos and his wife, Mary live in Strongsville. Before they married, Steve was a parish priest in the Cleveland diocese. A few years after his ordination, he fell in love with Mary and was forced to leave his parish.
"I needed to remain true to the wonderful gift of the priesthood that i had," said Steve. "But I also became aware that there was a wonderful gift of marriage that God was sharing with me."
Pope Benedict the 16th met with Vatican officials a few months ago and said "the choice of priestly celibacy in accordance with catholic tradition was reaffirmed".
Even though the Vatican has clearly said rejected the idea of married priests, many Catholics are wondering if it's time to reconsider.
"Letting priests marry would be my number one preference," said Marlette Lewisin. "Because I don't see in my own mind marriage being a negative. I see it as positive for priests."
Fellow parishioners Harry Covington and his wife, Marie agreed with that sentiment. Said Harry, "the Church has to think outside the box. That means married priests and women priests."
At Borromeo Seminary celibacy is mandatory for the young men preparing for priesthood. Father Tom Dragga is director of the seminary. He told Channel 3's Mike O'Mara that the number of vocations seems to be increasing. However, this year only four men will be ordained.
"Once a man is ordained, he is ordained forever", said Father Dragga. "However, in terms of their ability to serve, if they've made that choice to move on or move out of ministry, then they would not be able to serve in that capacity as a priest."
Father Steve Sabanos does not agree. "I didn't give up my vocation because I got married", said Sabanos. "Matter of fact, God has enhanced my vocation".
Down in Akron, Father Phil Marcin thinks the Vatican policy on celibacy is a huge mistake.
For twelve centuries, the Catholic Church let priests marry. In fact, several popes were married and had children.
Said Father Marcins, "I've done weddings, funerals, baptisms, in people's homes, outside, and even in our own home. I am here to serve whenever someone requests my help."
Before he married his wife Linda, Father Phil Marcin was a parish priest at st. Bernards in Akron. He graduated from St. Mary's seminary in 1963. Now the father of two sons, Marcin has joined the rent a priest movement.
"If I'm going to love God, does it have to be as a celibate?" asked Father Marcin. "The answer came to me that I can serve god as a married person."
His wife Linda added, "there really isn't a good argument for mandatory celibacy. So it makes no sense. It's heartbreaking, and it's totally frustrating."
At St. Hilary's, Father Yahner may be retiring, but as he approaches his 70th birthday, he remains open to new ideas that may be contrary to the Vatican policy.
Said Father Yahner, "I, as a priest, have no problem, pardon me, with anyone - man or woman, who wants to come to work as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let it happen."
In the meantime, Catholics pray for guidance and the shortage of priests continues to grow.