A Richmond miracle? Diocese boasts largest group of seminarians in decades

From the Virginian-Pilot: 

A decade after the clergy sex-abuse scandal began to rock the Roman Catholic Church, the Diocese of Richmond has more young priests in the seminary pipeline than it has had in years.

In all, 22 seminarians – including eight from Hampton Roads – are preparing to take the vows of ordination in the diocese, according to church officials. That’s the largest contingent in decades and a huge increase since 1997, when just three candidates were in training.

To the Rev. Michael Boehling, who oversees clerical vocations for the diocese, it is “a promising sign that bodes well for the future.” While a nationwide priest shortage that began in the 1960s shows no sign of ending, he said, “the Lord continues to call young men to serve the church” in Virginia.

For the most part, he said, those who are answering the call are younger, better educated and more devoted to traditional church teachings than many seminarians in the past.

The typical candidate, he said, is in his early to mid-20s, a college graduate with a degree in history, science or mathematics. “They are articulate and bright, well-rounded individuals who are mature for their age,” Boehling said.

Young priests today also are described often as more conservative than some of their predecessors.

Boehling said priests who were ordained in the 1960s tended to be drawn to issues of social justice and war and peace, where today’s young priests seem more committed to doctrinal orthodoxy and to combating abortion and defending traditional marriage.

“The call to the priesthood has always been a countercultural impulse,” Boehling said.

“In the ’60s, they were responding to a culture that said, ‘Let’s go to war.’ Race issues were intense at the time.”

Today, he said, “young people see a world of secularism and relativism where anything goes and your truth can be different from my truth, whereas the church would say there is one truth. The world changes, so what they are countercultural to has changed as well.”

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