Fewer priests, fewer Masses? Ask more questions

With that whole election thing over (yeah, right), so I suddenly feel a need to turn to Something Completely Different. Thus, it’s time to visit the tmatt folder of GetReligion guilt.

Recently, the Newspaper That Lands in My Front Yard decided to take on a very important story. For years, mainstream coverage of the American Catholic Church has focused — rightly so — on the clergy sex abuse crisis. Meanwhile, in the background, people who care about the future of the Church of Rome have been able to hear the loudly ticking clock of another crisis.

The Baltimore Sun recently took a look at the declining number of Catholic priests, entering that giant subject through a perfectly logical door — cutbacks in the number of Masses celebrated in parishes in the city and some of its suburbs. Here is the totally predictable, but still effective, lede:

With Father Patrick Carrion away, a nun led a morning service last week at St. Mary Star of the Sea, directing the gathering of 15 worshippers in Catholic hymns and prayers, and distributing the Communion that the priest had consecrated before leaving.

The pastor could not find another priest to fill in for him while he left his South Baltimore congregation to take a brief vacation. He returned in time to say four weekend Masses, but in the meantime left condensed daily worship services to Sister Victoria Staub.

This circumstance at one parish underscores the critical shortage of priests across the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In response, church leaders are asking its 153 parishes to evaluate Mass schedules and consider cutting back, particularly if similar services are offered nearby. In Baltimore alone, there are 50 parishes. Several within blocks of each other have identical Mass schedules and many services are lightly attended.

The elephant in the living room room, of course, is the basic, but astonishingly complex, question: Why is this happening?

As you would expect, the Sun story proposes an answer. In this case, it is an answer that seems to have resulted from actual interviews with Catholics in pews. The problem is that this answer is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Ready? Here we go.

Nearly half of the archdiocese’s 153 active priests will reach the retirement age of 70 within the next 15 years, and 17 are already eligible to retire, church officials said. If the trend continues, there may be fewer than 100 priests by 2025. … While the number of American Catholics has remained fairly constant at about 22 percent of the population, the number of priests continues to decline, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

“When the number of priests comes close to the number of parishes, the problem is approaching critical,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate. “Unless there is a significant increase in ordinations, the shortage will only get worse.”

Some scholars trace the decline in priestly vocations to the sweeping changes, including alterations to the Mass, that occurred in the church after Vatican II, a council of church leaders who worked on areas of religious concerns from 1962 to 1965.

Many Catholics found the changes difficult to accept and vocations to the religious life have fallen off ever since. Also, many men have been unwilling to dedicate their lives to the priesthood and its vows of celibacy and service.

Now stop and think about this for a moment.

If the reforms of the Second Vatican Council caused confusion and grief among some Catholics, leading to a decline in priestly vocations, wouldn’t it be just as logical that the spirit of Vatican II would also cause a corresponding rise in vocations among those who welcomed and embraced the changes? Why haven’t these progressive Catholics flocked to altars?

This is a question that is rarely asked. Answering it leads to many other questions, including questions about the actual teachings of Vatican II — as opposed to the “spirit of Vatican II” that is often cited by dissenters. Some believe the church didn’t change enough. Some believe the church changed too much. Some believe the changes were appropriate, but are being twisted in some parts of the church more than others. Some believe that the changes were appropriate, but that the vocations crisis is being affected more by other factors.

While researching the clergy-abuse crisis, I ran into a liberal priest — the often quoted seminary leader Father Donald B. Cozzens (click here and here for samples) — who repeatedly stressed another reality (a harsh reality that also affects Catholic school closings). That reality? Collapsing birth rates. Catholic mothers and fathers with four or five children are much more likely to welcome a child’s decision to become a priest or a nun than parents who have one or, maybe, two.

So, what parts of the church are growing in Baltimore and what parts are declining? What parishes are producing priests? What dioceses in the United States are producing more clergy than others? Those questions will often lead to this other painful question: Where are the young Catholics?

So is it just Vatican II? Is this crisis primarily linked to Vatican II?

I have this question for Catholics who read this blog (and others who want to chime in, with URLs pointing to additional information): What are the essential questions that must be asked by journalists who are attempting to write about the vocations crisis and the aging of the Catholic priesthood in America?

I must admit that I also wondered if some members of the Sun team had theories of their own about this story. Sure enough, a few days later, columnist Dan Rodricks weighed in with this, under the classic headline, “Not enough Catholic priests? End celibacy, ordain women.” Here’s a sample:

The answer to the priest shortage is the end to celibacy, the acknowledgment that it imposes an inhuman condition on those who are called to serve Catholic families as priests performing the sacraments. Celibacy once provided priests with what Garry Wills, author of “Why I Am a Catholic” and many other books, describes as a special aura — “the prestige of holiness” — grounded in the concept of sacrifice and abstinence. But celibacy eventually sent many good men out of the priesthood and constituted a barrier for others. It also left bishops with fewer priests and, among them, the misfits and deviants who moved from parish to parish, damaging thousands of children along the way.

I have acknowledged many times (each time I take up this subject) that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy. It’s the ultimate top-down organization. The Mel Gibson Catholics, they of the Latin Mass and the repeal of Vatican II, always respond to calls for the end to celibacy and the opening of the priesthood to women with jerking knees — to kick the heretics out — followed by genuflection to the status quo. But the status quo is just drying up the church’s lifeblood, its future leaders.

Their church is not a democracy, but Catholics who still care about this can do something about it. They can speak up. They can demand change. They can present their bishops with sensible solutions.

So, if the Catholic Church will flourish if and when it, well, embraces the strategies of the Episcopal Church.

That’s an important opinion. That’s a question that must be asked, one question out of many.

List. Discuss.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://thisministry.net Emilio Silvas

    I can’t see the Catholic hierarchy allowing female ordination or married priests. It’s just not in the DNA at this point. Even a shrinking list of priests and pedophiles have not forced a change. It will require Catholic laity to make their voice heard. I was raised Catholic, graduated from Notre Dame and now worship in the Episcopal church. I left in part because of a desire to marry, despite hopes of becoming a priest. I accepted the top-down organization as part of being in church. While I have not become an Episcopal priest, I am a youth minister with a large voice in what happens on Sunday morning in my class. That ability to speak your mind and contribute, whether joined by female priests or married males priests, would help the Catholic church immensely. If for no other reason than the laity will feel more involved. However, I don’t believe they have it in them to question their priest, much less the Pope.

  • SPG

    I would encourage any journalist looking into the declining vocations rate to try to figure out whether there might be a correlation with the decline in the number of parents who are sending their children to Catholic schools.

    I have a habit of asking priests and religious about their vocation stories, and more often than not, they tell me that the example of religious life modeled by their primary- or secondary-school teachers led them to consider religious life.

    With fewer kids attending Catholic schools, and with fewer religious to staff them, it would stand to reason that young people just aren’t getting the exposure to religious life that they did in previous generations.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    Something I often see left out of these stories is the fact that there are married priests in the Roman Catholic Church. The uniates, the eastern rite Christians in communion with the Roman Pope have married priests. Once in a while a news story will mention this fact but I’ve never seen an explanation in a newspaper of why the western rite Catholics don’t acceppt the, apparantly, okay practice of the eastern rite catholics. They are the same church but one side thinks married priests are no big deal and the other side acts like married priests are an abberation.

  • teomatteo

    I wish the Journalists would look into a possible rise in the number of vocations in ‘traditional’ seminaries. Maybe do an article on the interest in the Extraordinary Form of the mass TLM and the number of men seeking this area of priestly life.

  • Jerry

    The context of this trend needs to be explored as well. For example, I found this site http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=2072519&ct=6460071 http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/32Ang/Epis/ECUSAWastlnd.htm and a different story here http://www.sj-r.com/beliefs/x780099480/Too-many-pastors-not-enough-work There’s also the rise in Christian intentional communities that should be added to the mix.

    So this is one area that cries out for a look at the “forest” and not the “trees”.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Mattk makes a good point. Part of the problem is that the married priesthood and female ordination are always presented in tandem, as though they work together to decrease vocations. The fact is, married men could be made eligible, and women could not. The line has been drawn in the sand on the latter. Even if the Church wanted to, I don’t think it could back down on that.

    SPG’s suggestion is an excellent one, too. The lack of vocations is a vicious cycle there. Not enough religious, so not enough kids are being influenced to become religious, and so on. I seldom see that mentioned in analyses of the clergy shortage.

    I think the emphasis on sex in our society is the ultimate root, which goes back to the Protestant underpinnings of the culture. Everybody ought to marry (or at least hook up), and anybody who isn’t has something wrong psychologically with them and is probably taking it out secretly on altar boys.

  • Tony de New York

    The episcopal and anglican comunion r dying, another point is that in latin america, africa and asia there r lots of vocations.

    The liberal way is a suicidal way.

  • Tate

    mattk – it should be added that in the rites that do allow married priests, the bishops are chosen only from the ranks of the celibate priests.

    Journalists should look to the religious orders that are experiencing growth, and ask them why. They should also educate themselves on why the Roman Rite demands celibacy, and why the Church can’t ordain women to be priests, and ACCEPT that reasoning, even if they disagree. The interview with Cardinal Ratzinger titled “Salt of the Earth” is an excellent place to start.

  • Padraic

    The Mel Gibson Catholics, they of the Latin Mass and the repeal of Vatican II, always respond to calls for the end to celibacy and the opening of the priesthood to women with jerking knees — to kick the heretics out — followed by genuflection to the status quo.

    Is Dan Rodrick’s implying that schismatic Catholics actually have a say in what happens in the Vatican? I don’t think he is, but the label “Mel Gibson Catholic” is a terrible label for a journalist to use.

    Also, there are plenty of NO mass attenders that believe in the status quo. He is definitely letting his bias show through.

  • Bill Haley

    Some pointed questions:

    How is it good for a man to live celibacy?

    We have seen priests who have given their lives for others in heroic gestures of self-sacrifice. We have also seen priests who have abused innocent people in some of the most inhumane and base actions man is capable of. What in celibacy brings out the best and the worst in man?

    What does the life of a priest have to do with self giving?

    Why do many traditionally directed congregations have “different kind of vocation crises” and are bursting at the seems as exampled in the need to purchase cultural centers as a house of study?

    Beyond just the use of contraceptives, how do the contraceptive mentality and radical feminism which emasculate men into selfish brutish behavior contribute to a lack of sacrifice on the part of men?

  • Bruce

    The seminaries in St. Paul, MN are full to capacity right now. So, whatever shortage there is, will be short-lived.

  • David

    Joel says, “Even if the Church wanted to [ordain women], I don’t think it could back down on that.” I think you’re right, Joel. Pope John Paul II used the full magisterial authority of the Church to assert that the ordination of women is simply impossible, yesterday, today, and forever. George Weigel describes the infallible nature of this decree quite clearly in his book, “Witness to Hope.” For the Church to now back down from this decree would be tantamount to admitting her teaching authority is not infallible. From the POV of the Church, this case is absolutely closed. As the old saying goes, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est!” The Church will not be considering the ordination of women as a possible solution to the shortage of priests.

  • Ed Grimley

    The number of Catholics is less important than the number of practicing Catholics. I have read that the ratio of priests to practicing Catholics is unchanged since the good ‘ol days.

    The difference with today is that Catholics just don’t regularly attend Mass like they used to. If baptized Catholics don’t go to Mass, you don’t need as many priests and/or Masses. Once Catholics start attending weekly Mass in greater numbers, the vocations will come.

  • Maureen

    Re: pedophilia/celibacy, that dog won’t hunt. Married men are pedophiles. Single men are pedophiles. Romans and Greeks who were having sex every night with their female slaves vastly preferred being pedophiles.

    Re: women’s ordination, I don’t see how they think Catholic women who won’t become nuns will become priests, or Catholic women who won’t volunteer for anything in the parish are suddenly going to quit their jobs and go to the hills for seven years of seminary, just because they can have married female ordination. The youngest and most enthusiastically service-minded Catholic women are, on the whole, traditional Catholic women. (And a good chunk of them are Sisters of Life, or Dominicans from Ann Arbor or Nashville, or are members of other traditional orders.)

    One of the major reasons we don’t have priests is that you have to have a college degree before you start the seven years of seminary. In the old days, you started seminary a lot younger, before you had to give up your job and your apartment and find a place to store your stuff.

    The other is that most young Catholic men don’t have any idea what’s involved in becoming a priest, don’t really know any priests including their own pastor, and basically can only view the job as something strange and exotic they only glimpse on Sunday — because career talks about vocations are just not done. (Backlash against pre-Vatican II constant drumbeat of urging schoolchildren toward vocations.) Whenever archbishops hold Andrew Dinners or priests just mention the possibility of a vocation to young men, priest numbers rise hugely. If corporations non-recruited the way most archdioceses do, they wouldn’t have any employees either.

  • David

    I wonder if one of the problems surrounding the shortage in priests is something like a loss of certainty in our culture. There seems to be a sense today that there is no such thing as an objective, eternal truth. Yet it is the role of the priest to proclaim that there are such truths and that they can be located in the gospels. I wonder if many young men do not become priests because they are not so certain themselves of the teachings of the Church.

  • tonia tamayo

    God does not change, does not evolve, therefore the church cannot give way to liberalism. There will always be more priests as God will sustain His Church but will the liberal catholics be accepting of them?

  • Mark V E Y

    I agree with MattK about mentioning that included in the Catholic tradition are the Eastern Rites that allow married priests. I would also like to see if there is a percent count of married priests in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox traditions that allow married clergy. I was told that even in these traditions, the majority of priests voluntarily stay celibate.

    I would also like to see if there is some sort of connection to the amount and frequency of Cathechism (number of programs or amount of money spent) about the use of artificial contraception to the number of priests produced in a certain diocese.

    Loosening the requirements for priesthood might produce more priests but not help in acquiring quality priests. Sure, we may double the number of priests if we allow women to be priestesses but what would that say about the Catholic stance of staying with the Truth of Sacred Tradition?

    As for married clergy question, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church have this discipline for a long time and has proven to be beneficial, at least in my opinion (I would appreciate in the reporting if they could mention the historical basis for this discipline and the current theological defense of it). If someone truly believes that he has the calling both to the sacrament of holy matrimony and to offering the holy sacrifice of the mass, then that man should consider the 22 other rites of the Catholic Church that allow married priests.

  • Sara

    The large percentage of priests approaching retirement age is the product of an unusually high number of priestly vocations in the US in the 1950s.

    I would like to see more journalists put the situation in a bigger historical context. Why are there 50 parishes in Baltimore and several within blocks of each other? When were those parishes built and why? Were there always American born priests in charge of those parishes, or has that only been the case since the 40s and 50s?

  • http://hereisthechurch.wordpress.com/ Allie

    I think a great trend for them to look at would be the background of those who are looking at a vocation to the priesthood. Eric Sammons made a great point here.

    It has often been noted in the past two years that those groups of women religious which are experiencing vocation booms are those which adhere to traditional values. Well, the priesthood is universally the priesthood, and not as much choosing to be done, so why not look at these seminarians’ backgrounds?

    Ultimately, though, I think this all does point back to Vatican II. How do the traits these people exhibit, those things which draw them to a religious vocation, how did Vatican II promote and/or distort them (either implicitly or explicitly)? As a recent (and young) convert to Catholicism, I obviously have my own thoughts on this, but it would be interesting to hear about this from those pursuing religious vocations.

  • Jon in the Nati

    I would also like to see if there is a percent count of married priests in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox traditions that allow married clergy.

    In the Eastern Catholic Churches, especially outside their ancestral homelands, the norm has been clerical celibacy even though married clergy are technically allowed. This is especially true in the United States, where Eastern Catholics were often under the jurisdiction of Latin Rite bishops who had little knowledge of the traditions of those churches, and enforced celibacy anyway.

    If someone truly believes that he has the calling both to the sacrament of holy matrimony and to offering the holy sacrifice of the mass, then that man should consider the 22 other rites of the Catholic Church that allow married priests.

    I recall reading that this is not allowed. The idea, of course, is that a man raised in the Latin church cannot circumvent the requirement of celibacy by simply ‘changing rites’. The same idea is coming to the fore with the traditional Anglicans returning to communion with Rome: a man raised Catholic, who converted to Anglicanism and is now a married priest, cannot be re-ordained to Catholic orders.

  • Clifford Stevens

    The simple reason for the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church is that the priest-pool is smaller, and not necessarily for the result of Vatican II or a breakdown in spirituality. It is also due to the G.I. Bill of Rights and the collapse of the many ethnic Catholic sub-cullures, where most of the vocations to the priesthood and religious life came from. Before the 2nd World War, the best thing a Catholic young man could do was to become a priest or religious. But, after the War, the government through the G.I. BIll of Rights educated Catholic young men in every kind of career, profession, and skill in American society.
    The problem may be a sociological one rather than a spiritual one.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska

  • Tony S.

    Starting with the general assumption that celibacy is an “inhuman condition,” I would point out the general trend in “today’s youth,” Catholics included, to “mask their egos with altruism.” Mark Galli had a great article at Christianity Today recently describing the “yearning for significance” that characterizes Generation Y:

    Generation Y is into social justice . . . That Generation Y cares about social justice is linked to another aspiration: the yearning for significance. This generation wants to make a difference in the world, to work on things that matter, engage activities that change the world . . .

    First, the yearning for significance can be nothing more than ego masked as altruism . . .

    Second, the search for significance, especially if it requires changing the world, can blind us to the everyday tasks, the mundane duties, and the dirty work that is part and parcel of the life of discipleship . . .

    When we think of making a difference, we think about making the world a better place for the next generation, not taking care of people who have no future . . .

    I think part of the problem is that the general view of the “significance” of the priesthood has changed. The priest is no longer revered. The priest is either the practitioner of obscure and mundane arts or an activist. The activist angle has potential for “Generation Y,” but it requires a difficult and mundane path without the reverence that used to be the earthly reward for the sacrifices. People aren’t willing to make boring sacrifices anymore. Far from “inhuman(e),” celibacy is simply a boring sacrifice.

    Similarly, as Emilio points out above, people seem to want “a large voice” but aren’t generally willing to stick around if they don’t get it. You could draw an analogy to the building of cathedrals in the Middle Ages – who, these days, would spend their life working on one small project in a massive cathedral knowing in advance that they will never be remembered for it and could die before finishing it? Why did they do it back then? Why can’t we now? Those are the sort of questions journalists need to ask.

  • Martha

    Married and women priests! Sure, that’ll solve everything!

    Sorry for the snark, but it seems to be a hobbyhorse and panacea every time any discussion of the Church occurs.

    The sex abuse scandal? Solution: married and women priests!

    Declining rates of practicing as against cultural, recovering or lapsed Catholics? Solution: married and women priests!

    Decline in vocations? Solution: married and women priests!

    The Martians land tomorrow on Horsham Common and their tripods bestride the land, hunting and killing? Solution: married and women priests!

    The problem goes deeper than that. It goes to the whole root of worldliness, and the reason why people can say “I’m spiritual, not religious” and “I don’t have to go to church for an hour on Sunday to be with God”. It’s why do Catholics call themselves Catholics and reject so many teachings and practice, e.g. divorce, contraception, abortion (the hot-button issues)?

    You could find yourself with the opposite problem that some of the non-Catholic denominations have: loads of second-career clergy and not enough parishes to support them, since the congregations are shrinking and aging.

    And I can vouch for the Church of Ireland (which does permit married and women clergy) having the same problem; my brother-in-law is a CoI minister, and his last two parishes (the one before and his current one now) have meant that he’s been running around on Sunday mornings trying to cover three or four different churches. No vocations there, either. Amalgamations of parishes, and of dioceses (his current diocese is a monster of a size, resulting from the merger of three former CoI dioceses) due to not enough clergy to cover the same territory and the congregations not being able to support the old parishes because they’re getting older and smaller in size.

  • Martha

    I’d like to point out that advocating married and women priests is also a form of clericalism, in that it treats the clerical state as being superior to that of the lay and thus instead of raising lay men and women to greater influence, it presents the solution instead of making them clergy, not laity.

  • http://nil Emmanuel Jude

    There may not be an end to this topic of married priests and women priests to get over the shortage of celibate priests in countries like the USA.There have been and will continue to be disparate views,perspectives ,opinions and call it what you like on these twin issues.Against this shortage of priests in some countries,in some other countries including parts of India,from where I come, there is growing numbers for priestly vocation.
    I am of the firm view that priestly vocation is in direct proportion to firm faith,faith in the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH.We are from a country where Hindus and Muslims outnumber Christians, leave alone Catholics, though Catholics are single largest of the christian population. Here,however,Faith is vibrant,churches burst in the seam on Sundays and Feast Days,daily masses are well attended,and Pilgrimages to Shrines are contnuously happening,and with piety.Because of such practising faith,there will be surging numbers for priesthood.I am proud and happy to say that on any Sunday most churches in a city like Chennai,with a Catholic population of little over 600,000,have atleast 4 to 5 Holy Masses.All of them have atleast 3 Holy Masses,leave alone separate vernacular services in some churches.In a state like Kerala adjoining my state of Tamil Nadu where seminaries are full,faith is very deep.
    So,friends in America, I would request you to ponder over this fundamental criteria of faith in such countries.I dare say,it is weak,from what we read in these blogs and news letters.
    And, the problem of shortage of priests does not get solved by ordaining women or married men;such experiment may lead to furtherproblems for the church instead of solving the problem.
    What is rightly required for the church in developed countries is a sort of reevangelisation,and reinviogration of faith.When there are more Catholics attending Sunday Masses and praying regularly,there will be more priests.
    This is the only way to get over this problem dear fellow Catholics.
    Let us pray,that faith returns where it is not now.

  • Martha

    Interesting statistics from the Church of England, which is open to married men and women clergy (and is embroiled in the question of permitting gay/lesbian clergy) :


    Total clergy – Full-time stipendiary clergy, part-time stipendiary clergy, self-supporting clergy (except ordained local ministers), ordained local ministers among self-supporting clergy: 11, 658.

    Broken down between 8,257 men and 3,401 women (still nearly 2.5 times as many men to women; this is especially clear in the full-time stipendiary clergy while the other categories are half-and-half, more or less).

    “If present trends continue, there will be fewer clergy in stipendiary ministry in future years. Numbers of women are expect to remain steady for several years but the decline will come especially from the high numbers of men reaching retirement age. In contrast, the number of non-stipendiary clergy continues to increase, gaining both new ordinations and former stipendiary clergy.”

    They attribute this to “Estimates of retirement patterns take the age profile of present clergy into account and consider what proportion of clergy of similar age have retired in recent years. Because of a high proportion of clergy born shortly after 1945, retirements are expected to rise until 2012 and remain high thereafter. The annual losses in clergy numbers due to deaths in service and resignations are likely to decrease because they are dependent on the decreasing number of clergy at the start of the year.

    Ordination numbers are estimated several years ahead in consultation with the theological institutions and dioceses and there will be factors influencing these figures that cannot be anticipated at this stage. The most recent information available anticipates 317 candidates will complete training in 2010 and 311 in 2011. A small allowance is made for a proportion to defer their entry into stipendiary ministry. From 2012, a moving average of stipendiary ordination figures starting from three past years and two anticipated years has been used.

    The greatest uncertainty comes from movements into and out of stipendiary ministry aside from ordination, death and retirement. Some resign and leave completely. For others, there is two-way exchange with self-supporting ministry, chaplaincy, other provinces and the Diocese in Europe. Other clergy are remaining stipendiary but for altered hours. These projections apply a combined moving average of all such movements to future years. As transfers to self-supporting ministry and part-time working become increasingly prevalent, it may be that the projection mechanism will need to be refined to deal specifically with them.”

    In other words, there were a lot of clergy due to the bump in births after the war and as these get older, there will be a lot of retirements all at once. So the numbers are going down due to both natural wastage and low vocations.

    They also have the problem, like the Catholic Church, of increasing vocations amongst the young. They’re projecting that the age of clergy will increase:

    “The average age of ordinands to stipendiary ministry has risen since 1999 from 40 to 43 for women and from 35 to 38 for men. These projections assume that the ages will not rise any further, but the situation is continually reviewed.

    If present trends continue, there will be fewer clergy in stipendiary ministry in future years. Numbers of women are expect to remain steady for several years but the decline will come especially from the high numbers of men reaching retirement age. In contrast, the number of non-stipendiary clergy continues to increase, gaining both new ordinations and former stipendiary clergy.”

    If only the Church of England permitted men to marry! If only women could be Church of England ministers!

    Oh, wait…

  • Jason

    No priests, no mass. No mass, no church.

    Lay person can’t consecrate a thing, so priests are necessary. Even the most liberal journalists recognize this which is why this topic is taken so seriously

  • joye

    From sometime in the 1630s, to around the 1860s, Japan had no priests. None. At all. When foreign priests returned in the 1860s, they were absolutely stunned that not only were there still Japanese Christians, but that they sought the priests out.

    In 1934 in Mexico, there were 334 priests to serve 15 million people. There were 17 states that had no priests at all. Of course, everyone knows that the Catholic Church is now dead in Mexico. [/sarcasm]

    I have met a missionary priest in Western Africa, who is the only priest in his area. He was preaching at a parish I attended, and he said he laughed when he heard about the US “crisis” of not having having enough priests. He is the only priest for some 180,000 souls.

    That’s not to say that the vocations issue in the developed world isn’t important. But I think articles ought to mention some of these things sometime.

  • http://stthomashawk.blogspot.com Tomas

    I think the major issue with the reporting on these issues is that the actual reasons behind clerical celibacy and not ordaining women are normally treated as some kind of arbitrary, untouchable law. It’s a matter of bias that traces back to a number of issues, but mostly religious illiteracy.

    People, including journalists, may know quite a few facts about the various Churches and religions, enough to pick each out in a crowd. However, they don’t really know the inner life of the faith, the theology and spiritual centers and currents which lead to the outward manifestations.

    It’s hard to swallow, but the questions that need to be asked are not one’s that really can’t be. It’s a matter of actually choosing to step into the reality, mind, and heart of the Catholic faith. Journalists don’t, and really can’t, do so in a world of impending deadlines, sound bite quotes, and individuals trained to find a story at the expense of slowly and discerningly contemplating the information and data gathered.

    For instance, some of the comments here have shown that those discussing these issues don’t fully see the whole picture of the Catholic Church. The “Eastern Catholic Rites” are actually sui juris Churches alongside the Roman, each properly named x Catholic Church (Roman Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church etc.). Rome is only 1 of 23 local Churches which make up the “Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam” (though admittedly makes up 99% of that “Unam Ecclesiam”). They aren’t just Rites, which are a collection of traditions and canon laws. They’re actual Churches in Full Communion with the Rome Catholic Church to form the Communion of the Catholic Church.

    The same issue occurs with Celibacy. Most don’t know that the tradition (little t) is only a matter of discipline, and a beautiful one at that. However, if it would be healthier for the Church, and the move will not cause great scandal, the discipline can be changed. Benedict XVI has been quoted years ago, as Cardinal Ratzinger, that he believes that clerical celibacy may go the way of the dodo in much of the Catholic Church. As Pope, he actually opened the issue for discussion; he quickly had to close it as it became apparent that both sides were either militantly for celibacy or militantly against. No one was willing to “dialogue” about the issue, just condemn the other side as semi-heretical at best. I’ll see if I can find the sources for this.

    As for women’s ordination, the theology and spirituality behind this is solid and concrete and unable to be changed. To do so would cause great damage to the deposit of faith (starting with theological anthropology: what does it mean to be man and woman?, followed by The Incarnation: what was the import of Christ becoming man?, followed by Mariology: how is Mary a model for woman? etc.). In the matter of women’s ordination, journalists ask all the secular questions (gender equality, vocational rights etc.) and ignore the theology that backs it up or the theology it will affect or even nullify. They want an answer to this question, though they know not the firm grounding from which it grows.

    Reporting on Catholicism (and this goes for Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy too) really can’t be properly done by an individual who has heavily imbibed protestant, non-Christian, or agnostic/atheist culture and has not taken the (admittedly difficult) step of understanding deeply the culture of traditional Apostolic faiths. One will look at the issues in solely sociological or political views. If neither are placed in the context of theology and spirituality, they can never be understood.

  • AWanderer4Truth

    Contraception leads to smaller families which lead to fewer parents encouraging vocations… Wouldn’t an essential question revolve around contraception?

  • Alison

    The Diocese of Bridgeport in CT currently has 32 seminarians. The answer is simple – Prayer. Stop trying to figure it all out and spend some time before the Tabernacle in adoration.

  • Julia

    Thanks for the question.

    1) What are “stipendiary clergy” and “self-supporting clergy”? Is “stipendiary” like the “livings” you used to read about in Jane Austen novels? Are the positions endowed by the lord of some manor? Are “self-supporting” clergy part-time with regular jobs during the week?

    2) In Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic Churches a married man may be ordained, but once ordained a priest may not marry.
    Also – bishops are chosen only from the non-married.

    3) In 1962 I graduated from Catholic high school and entered St Louis University, a Jesuit school. We studied Vatican II documents as they were being debated. Irrational exuberance broke out all over the place. My war baby cohorts expected that our parents’ church was going to be transformed. The infamous “St Louis Jesuits” were thinking up guitar songs for Mass in their dorms and we attended their guitar Masses in the basement of college church, thinking we were part of the new Catholicism.

    There were at least 6 in my High School cohort who entered seminary. VII and the birth control pill and the hippy era combined produced a very confused period. Some of you may have seen the movie with Mary Tyler Moore as a nun and Elvis as a priest doing social justice work in the inner city – well, they fell in love. It described something that was really happening. Three of those friends who went to seminary left to join in the new scene that considered celibates dopes. Later another three left after ordination to marry – two of them to ex-nuns.

    One of the reasons THE VATICAN drug its heels “de-frocking” pedophile priests is that first Paul VI and then John Paul were being inundated with priests’ requests to be dispensed of vows in order to marry.

    During this period when priests were leaving by the droves there was also a dearth of vocations. Why enter something that so many were fleeing and then bad-mouthing?

    Now there are young men called the John Paul generation of priests, many of whom became interested in the priesthood at World Youth Day events. JPII was a priest-hero after a generation of people deriding the priesthood.

    4) In addition to the coinciding of VII, the sexual revolution and the pill, the new Mass of 1969 was put together by a committee influenced by VII to believe that there would soon be a healing of the split known as the Reformation. The reason the new Mass looks so much like a Lutheran service is that the committee had 6 Lutherans as advisers. There was an effort to eliminate everything that would offend the Lutherans and prevent re-union.

    So what it meant to be a Catholic was up in the air and maybe there wouldn’t be a celibate priesthood any more. My children learned pablum about their faith in Catholic school in the 70s and 80s. No wonder there was no rush to the seminary for something so ill-defined and changing every week.

    5) As somebody wrote earlier, many Catholic priests have always come from abroad. My childhood pastor was born in Ireland as were many American pastors; and most bishops were the children of Irish immigrants. Too many priests in Ireland because it was a career move to get out of the grinding poverty there. So we didn’t have as many home-grown priests as people think.

    6) A big question considering the immense number of Irish-born priests we used to have – why are we not getting lots of vocations from Hispanic immigrants? Considering the economic reasons most Hispanics come here, one would expect that priesthood would be a good move as it was with the Irish. Is it the availability of government college loans to enter other professions? Is it machismo rejection of the celibate life? Hispanics will soon make up half of the American Catholic Church – so I don’t know why this question is not being asked.

  • Julia

    The “Eastern Catholic Rites” are actually sui juris Churches alongside the Roman, each properly named x Catholic Church (Roman Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church etc.). Rome is only 1 of 23 local Churches which make up the “Unam, Sanctam, Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam” (though admittedly makes up 99% of that “Unam Ecclesiam”). They aren’t just Rites, which are a collection of traditions and canon laws. They’re actual Churches in Full Communion with the Rome Catholic Church to form the Communion of the Catholic Church.

    Actually the Pope is the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Western Latin church. The Eastern Catholic Churches are in union with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) who is also head of the universal Catholic Church. There is no Roman Catholic Church, but the Latin Church’s predominant liturgy is the Roman Rite, in addition to the Ambrosian and a few others.

    Here’s Cardinal Mahony on how he realized how confusing the term “Roman Catholic” is from the Eastern Patriarchs at the recent Synod:

    One interesting point is that some of the Latin rite bishops thought we all belonged to the one Roman Catholic church. As they listened to some of the bishops from the Eastern churches, they thought, wait a minute … you’re equating ‘Roman Catholic’ with ‘Latin rite.’ We see the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Roman Catholic church, therefore we’ve seen ourselves as brothers and sisters all along.


    Problem is that there are Eastern (Greek) Catholic Churches that use a variety of rites; and there is the Western (Latin) Catholic Church that uses predominantly the Roman rite. People are mixing up the word “rite” with “church”; and both with the universal (Catholic) Church whose HQ is in Rome but is not “Roman”.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    “People are mixing up the word “rite” with “church”; and both with the universal (Catholic) Church whose HQ is in Rome but is not “Roman”.”

    Which is exactly why I think the press should cover the non-Roman rite catholics who have married priests when it writes about the possibility of married priests in the catholic church. They already exist in the church headed by the pope but so often reporters seem not to know it, or not understand why it might or might not have any thing to do with roman catholic clerical celibacy in the U.S. I think it is a glaring omission for the press not to cover this. Instead they always suggest married priests like it would be someting new, when it isn’t.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I’m starting to spike comments that are either silly or just plain ugly.


  • Sean

    An all-male, celibate priesthood has been the norm in the Western Church for 2000 years; the vocation crisis began in the 1970s. Should we really attribute the vocations crisis to the celibate, male priethood?

    The changes that followed VII substantially altered the practice of the faith, for priest and laity alike, and it coincide with the crisis. This is the obvious place to begin inquiry. Check out this article from Latin Mass Magazine: http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/articles/articles_emasculation.html

  • Julia

    non-Roman rite Catholics

    “Roman rite” only refers to a particular liturgy used in the Western/Latin Church. There are also Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Sarum, and a few more.

    The particular rite/liturgy used does not affect rules on celibacy for the Western Church.

    The Eastern Catholic Churches have a larger variety of rites/liturgies – some churches share the same or related rites although they are distinct churches.

    Source: http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/catholic_rites_and_churches.htm

    The use of the term “rite” to refer to the Eastern and Western Churches has now become rare. A publication of the then-National Council of Catholic Bishops explains: “We have been accustomed to speaking of the Latin (Roman or Western) Rite or the Eastern Rites to designate these different Churches. However, the Church’s contemporary legislation as contained in the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches makes it clear that we ought to speak, not of rites, but of Churches. Canon 112 of the Code of Canon Law uses the phrase ‘autonomous ritual Churches’ to designate the various Churches.”[13] And a writer in a periodical of January 2006 declared: “The Eastern Churches are still mistakenly called ‘Eastern-rite’ Churches, a reference to their various liturgical histories. They are most properly called Eastern Churches, or Eastern Catholic Churches.”[

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Catholic_Churches

  • DennisD

    Has anyone ever asked why priests are being “retired” at age 70? In our diocese one retired priest continued to celebrate Mass daily and heard confessions until age 92. Another just retired as pastor at 91. The whole notion of retirement doesn’t make sense. The priesthood is not just a job.

    Of course, if a priest is too ill or enfeebled of course he should retire. But if he’s orthodox and on fire–why force him to abandon what Christ called him to do?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    How about the media paying more attention to the married clergy the Latin Church now has–Deacons.
    There was a time huge swaths of a priest’s time were taken up with marriages, marriage preparation, baptisms, baptismal instructions for parents of babies or for adult converts, wakes, funerals, graveside services (sometimes miles away eating up whole parts of a day), and all sorts of administrative–non-priestly duties.
    Deacons can do all of these freeing up huge amounts of time for a priest to say Mass and hear confessions (the two duties only a priest can do).
    A researcher I read about in a Catholic publication a few years ago claimed there is no priest shortage and will not be one in the future if deacons were more fully utilized. His claim was that it is a scheduling problem more than a priest shortage problem.

  • Clem Shea

    We have been listening to the priest shortage problem for years. Do you have any idea how many men over age 40 who have been trying to enter a seminary and cannot get a bishop to sponsor them. Men have been actually told that it wouldn’t be cost effective to take a man age 50 and send him to a seminary.
    The Catholic church is the cause of it’s own problems and has no one to fault but themselves. I have been trying to enter a seminary for years, now I am seventy years old and am very bitter toward the church and its buracratic nonsence. I will go to church on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. No more voluntering and helping out these ungrateful buracrats.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Has anyone ever asked why priests are being “retired” at age 70? In our diocese one retired priest continued to celebrate Mass daily and heard confessions until age 92. Another just retired as pastor at 91. The whole notion of retirement doesn’t make sense. The priesthood is not just a job.

    We have a priest who’s still filling in at 90ish in our parish. I don’t think they could retire him if they tried; they’d have to shoot him instead.

  • http://www.iPadre.net Fr. Jay Finelli

    The problem isn’t a vocations crisis as one of our vocation directors once said in a homily in my parish. God is still calling men to the priesthood and men and women to religious life. The problem is with people answering the call to priesthood and religious life. Why they are not answering is another issue. I believe the problem is a number of issues.

    1. Young people (and generations for at lease the last 40-50 years) have not received the Faith. What they received in religious education and everyone in most homilies has been a bunch of fluff. People just don’t know the Catholic Faith, the whole and unadulterated faith.

    2. How many priests and religious give the example of a person who is happy in their life? Who wear an outward (sign, collar, cassock, habit, veil) of their consecration to the Lord and His Church?

    3. How many priests and bishops have preached the doctrine and morals of the Church without making excuses (of course with love and compassion)?

    4. How many Masses are celebrated with reverence, love and devotion as if it really means something?

    I’m sure the scandals have caused some to rethink a vocation, but we haven’t had a scandal for the past 40/ 50 years! Young people want to give their lives to something that means something. If I make a commitment, I don’t want to commit to something that is going to give up it’s identity! They want priests and religious who give an example of dedication and holiness, not some ordinary Joe. “I’m just like you!” attitude. I am not better than you, but I am not like you, I am a priest. I have a responsibility to God and the Church that you don’t have! I am called to be a public witness to the Faith and to scream it by the way I live and act and dress, it should exude from my being. Until we priests and religious do that, we are not going to fill our seminaries and convents. You might call my take on the situation simple minded, but Jesus said that we have to be like children, or we are not going to get into the kingdom.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    To paraphrase Bill Clinton: It’s the holiness stupid.

    Diocese that stress holiness are getting men to join them. Dioceses that fell into the “being with it” mindset are dying.

    And I have no problem with married men becoming priests, but not priests marrying…maybe start by ordaining our lay deacons over age 50…

    But you still run into the problem observed by Paul: That married men are divided in serving God and family. This problem is not just in clergy (I’ve seen a lot of divorced and unhappy physicians’ families because the physician put patients first).

    The “must have married priests” faction, alas, is too often being pushed by a faction that has a much larger agenda against the church’s teachings in sexuality. The major error of this faction being the denial that men and women are different biologically and psychologically and that societies are best built when the customs and laws harmonize with these differences. But that is another story…

  • FM

    “The answer to the priest shortage is the end to celibacy”

    Typical liberal nonsense: churches where priests or sherppards can get marriage have also fewer and fewer vocations and fare no better than the C.C.

  • Passing By

    Questions to ask:

    What happens when a priest gets a divorce? What happens when his kids get in trouble, and I don’t mean childish mischief. Let’s say an adult child has an affair in the parish and breaks up a family?

    If marriage is the cure for what ails the priesthood, an end to an inhuman condition, then perhaps we ought to ask what life is like for priests. Are they satisfied with their lives? Oh! The LA Times! You have to love it. After a paragraph and a half of The Church is in a Terrible Crisis, we get this data:

    Nine in 10 said they are very (70%) or somewhat (21%) satisfied with the way their life as a priest is going these days. Six in 10 said their life in the priesthood has turned out better than they thought it would and more than seven in 10 said they would definitely make the same choice again, along with another two in 10 who would probably do so.

    Ok, I’m moving beyond questions to be asked and into questions that have been asked, but here’s my point: real data needs to be made that compares the lives of priests to the lives of laymen. And there’s a lot out there. Google “are priests satisfied with their lives?” and see what you get.

    I can’t resist one more: Even America gets into it and no one would mistake them for a “Mel Gipson Catholic”.

    I wonder how priestly adherence to celibacy stacks up to married men staying chaste? As someone noted above, this is really about priests remaining chaste in the celibate (unmarried) state, but the language is pretty well accepted: priests don’t get married and sex is for married people. So do priests keep their vows at the same or a better rate then married men? Google was less help here. I got a lot of argumentation and several good examples of how “everyone knows” that priests are all messing around. Ok, the sins of priests are a favorite source of titillation, and always have been. But some facts would be helpful, again in the context of all men.

    I’m not going to get too deep into the sexual abuse issues, except to note that most sources I’ve read for the past 15 years put the rate of offense at about the same – or less -for priests than for other men. Again, it’s common knowledge that celibacy causes sexual abuse of children (adolescents, actually), so I suppose it’s fruitless to raise those questions again.

    Odds and ends:

    Three of the finest Catholic priests I know are married, including my current pastor. They are, however, older men with grown children.

    Here’s a decent Wiki article on the subject. It sort of covers the history and theory.

    The bottom line is that celibacy has worked pretty well for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, not to mention the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches at the episcopal level. Moreover, it’s a sign to a sexually obsessed culture that another way does exist. A life without sexual activity is not a sexless life, but a life in which sexuality – a good – is subordinated to something that’s better: obedience to, and knowledge of, the God who loves us and gave Himself for us.

  • http://williampriceiii.com/wordpress William Price

    Of the 44 comments posted so far to this blog- this blog which explicitly asked for responses that posit critical questions, I count only 7 responses which are focused on offering a question to be investigated. The other 37 give their answer to a question no one asked them.

    Why do we care to talk SO much more than to listen? To answer more than to ask?

    It seems that virtue is missing as much as vestments.

    This leads me to ask, what cultural anemia, disease and corruption has lead us to the point that, as a whole (and often as individuals), the western world has abandoned the idea that service, sacrifice and self-denial are more glorious and honorable than self-satisfaction and material gain?

  • Lynn

    Many very good comments have been made about this issue. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to add your insights.

    It seems clear that something happened between 1965 and 1970 which drastically reduced the number of men seeking the priesthood. A graph shows that the number of seminarians were steadily increasing up until 1965. But by 1970, the number of seminarians was shockingly less. And that decline has continued.

    Julia’s comment about the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s is a good reminder that the decline may have causes outside the Church. Fr. Stevens mentions also mentions societal changes which may have reduced the number of men responding to the call to the priesthood.

    However, many people here have pointed out decreased reverence and understanding of the faith as important influences. Fr. Finelli lists several related factors, including the comment that people want priests to be holy and dedicated, not some ordinary Joe. And this raises the question: were priests more respected 50 years ago? Has the cultural status of the Catholic priest changed?

    I have also sometimes heard that requiring less of Catholics, such as no longer requiring meatless Fridays (except during Lent) was a bad idea. This makes a certain amount of common sense to me. After all, we tend to value more highly what we sacrifice for. What do others think?

    And the topic of falling Catholic school attendance raises another issue: falling Catholic birth rate. I’ve seen several reports that Catholics tend to use artificial birth control at the same rate as Protestants… and tend to have about the name number of children. If parents have only two children, are they less likely to support a son who expresses an interest in the priesthood, compared to 1960 when families had four children on average?

  • Passing By

    One more point:

    I spent a fair amount of time in the 80s with some priests who had left. They had married, but actually left because they didn’t like taking orders from their bishops. They simply wanted to “do their own thing”, as we said back then.

    Three men isn’t data, but it does raise the question as to whether the reason for leaving is actually sex?

  • Julia

    the question as to whether the reason for leaving is actually sex?

    After the availability of birth control pills, people started not actually committing to a marriage for life – too onerous to expect anybody to really commit to that.

    So, too – it became a really strange idea to commit to priestly celibacy and obedience to a bishop for life.

  • Julia

    I figure any reporter reading these comments can find the topics for good questions embedded in the comments.

  • Leoanrd

    I always find it amazing when journalist chime in on very complex issues such as this article. The journalist states that in order to increase vocations in the church, the church should dispense of the all male, celibant priesthood. And the church should ordain women. This is not the problem. If the church were to follow this recommendation I doubt very seriously that married men and women would flock to the front gates of the seminaries. Other faith traditions, with the exception of the evangelical, are having problems retaining their ministers for various and complex reason. Opening up the male priesthood to women is not going to solve this problem. The problem lies with our society as a whole. We are only interested in making money and obtaining material things. We have to have a change in attitude toward dedication and sacrifice. We also have to address the fact that many Catholic couples are not having as many children as before nor are some of them encouraging their sons or for that matter daughters to enter consecrated life. Becoming a priest is very hard work; seven years for a secular priest and 12 years for a religous, can be a daunting endeavor. We can only pray that the Holy Spirit hears our prayers. As I write, there are a number of young men who are entering, but we are going to require more. A friend once said to me, “that even if you were to ordain 25 men a year, there will still be a shortage of priest”.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “The Church will not be considering the ordination of women as a possible solution to the shortage of priests.”

    True, but this will not stop the media from highlighting women being ordained in faux Catholic “churches.”

  • Hector

    Re: And I can vouch for the Church of Ireland (which does permit married and women clergy) having the same problem; my brother-in-law is a CoI minister, and his last two parishes (the one before and his current one now) have meant that he’s been running around on Sunday mornings trying to cover three or four different churches. No vocations there, either. Amalgamations of parishes, and of dioceses (his current diocese is a monster of a size, resulting from the merger of three former CoI dioceses) due to not enough clergy to cover the same territory and the congregations not being able to support the old parishes because they’re getting older and smaller in size.

    For the record, last I checked the Anglican Church of Ireland was growing. It’s as far as I know, the only Anglican province in a developed nation which is growing, and as such is probably the exception that proves the rule, but still, it is what it is.


  • Sean

    Thanks to Lynn for posting the link from Seattle Catholic.

    The questions I would like to see reporters ask are: why, in 2010, does VII continue to elicit such divergent responses in the Church, and secondly, what is the Church doing to address this divide?

  • http://www.vivacristorey.blogspot.com Donna

    I have a friend who, for many years, has been lobbying for a married priesthood. When the subject comes up, I always ask her two questions. The first is, “How long would you last as the wife of a priest in, say, our parish?” She laughs and says, “About three months.” Indeed, what woman would want to live in the roiling transparent fishbowl that is a parish? The sad reality of most parishes is gossip and innuendo. What family could easily withstand that? Not only would dad be married to his vocation of holy priesthood, he would be married to the vocation of matrimony. One vocation or the other would always be suffering from lack of attention. We would have a whole new generation of PKs, but they would become Priests’ Kids, not the traditional Preachers’ Kids. We just need look at the dismal stats for PKs.

    The second question I ask her is this: “Given that a married priest’s family would need to be supported much more generously, would you (and, indeed, the whole congregation) be willing to double or triple your weekly offering – or even tithe?” This is usually met with a sigh. A couple of dollars or a fiver would not cut it anymore.

    It is one thing to casually pass opinions; the realities are quite another issue.

  • dalea

    Curiously left out of the discussion is something that we have discussed several times here. That is the fact that a large number of seminarians are gay men. If you track the decline in seminarians and priests with the expanse of gay acceptence, it becomes clear that the two are related. As it has become more acceptable for gay men to live openly, gay men have become less interested in a priestly life. Back in the 70′s, when a minor seminary announced an event for gay alumni, hundreds of men responded. What is left out of the discussion is the role of gay and lesbian people in the decline of vocations.

  • http://veritas-in-caritate.blogspot.com Matthew Hysell

    Celibacy is not an “inhuman condition.” It is a superhuman condition because it is a charism.

    Matthew G. Hysell, MA MTh
    St Joseph Seminary
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • Hector

    Re: Given that a married priest’s family would need to be supported much more generously

    Presumably the priest’s wife would be working too, as most women do nowadays, so I don’t see why the offering would need to double or triple.

    FTR, my priest back home lives by a vow of celibacy (I’m Episcopalian) and I have a deep respect for those individuals who do choose that path, I just don’t see why it should be mandatory.

  • Julia

    The connection to size of family is very worth exploring.

    My father, born in 1917, had among his many cousins:
    2 Jesuit priests, 2 missionary sisters, 2 education sisters. He had 6 aunts who were teachers and 2 brothers who were university professors.

    I was born in 1944 and have 5 siblings and 39 cousins. NONE of them became priests, brothers or sisters. So it isn’t just the size of the family or unfamiliarity with religious – we had them over frequently for dinner and holidays. All my cousins had Catholic educations and still no vocations.

    Something else is also going on.

  • Julia

    The relatives who became priests and religious were all from small towns or farms. During the Depression the rest of them moved to the cities and large towns. So – no family members of my generation were born in rural areas or small farm towns.

    Noticing the obits of priests and nuns in the local paper, the place of birth is almost always a small town or farm more than 30 miles from the metropolitan area.

    Perhaps citified Catholics are aware of more options in life or think they are too sophisticated?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I recall reading that this is not allowed. The idea, of course, is that a man raised in the Latin church cannot circumvent the requirement of celibacy by simply ‘changing rites’.

    But it HAS been done, just as married ex-Protestant clergy have been ordained. A friend of mine knew a married “late vocation” who went Byzantine.

  • Passing By

    RE: #56 -

    Except that vocations are on the rise, even as society becomes more accepting of persons with same-sex attractions and the Church becomes more restrictive of admitting those persons to Holy Orders.

    The question is valid, although arguably more interesting with respect to religious orders than the diocesan priesthood. Neither situation presents a simple pictures, though.

  • http://none DEACON KEN ARNAUD


  • Michael from NE

    I have some quick statistics to focus the conversation comparing the diocese of Lincoln, NE with Baltimore. The Baltimore diocese has a Catholic population of over 500,000. It has 37 seminarians. The Lincoln diocese has a Catholic population just under 90,000. It has 41 seminarians. Less than 40 seminarians for a population of over half a million, just over 40 seminarians for a population of less than 90,000. Something is being done right in Lincoln, and it is in regards to several diocesan policies. For one, the diocese is very conservative, probably the most conservative in the country. The bishop here brooks no liberal nonsense. He even excommunicated a great number of local Catholics who were members of a number of groups, including Planned Parenthood, Call to Action, and, to balance out, the Pius X Society. There were a few others, also. When some individuals gathered near the cathedral to demonstrate against certain policies, he did not allow them onto Church property, but forced them to remain on the sidewalk. Secondly, and I think this is very significant, there are no female altar servers allowed, nor are any women allowed to distribute Communion. They can function as cantors, or as readers, but that is it. Thirdly, there is an aggressive program for vocation recruitment, centered primarily, but not exclusively, at the Newman Center on the University of Nebraska campus. Fourth, the diocese has its own seminary, although not one for the last four years of priestly training. Indeed, it is the smallest diocese in the nation with its own seminary. It also hosts the Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary of the Order of Peter, which is dedicated to training in the Tridentine liturgy.

    What is the result of all this. Every parish in every larger town has at least two resident priests, and while some smaller rural parishes share a priest with another, there are never more than two that share a priest. Here in Lincoln daily Mass is not unusual for many. There is a daily noontime Mass at St Mary’s near downtown Lincoln that generally has at least 50 attendees, with the number doubled on First Fridays. Late afternoon Masses at Cathedral and the Newman Center are also well attended. On Ash Wednesday, not a holy day of obligation, the churches are usually full, sometimes SRO. There is NO liturgical experimentation. Masses are by the book, and the new liturgy will be welcomed warmly here on its arrival at Advent next year.

    True, there are many casual and cafeteria Catholics here, just as in every other diocese, but for those who are serious in their spiritual life, there are more than adequate resources to aid them in their quest for heaven. All in all this is a healthy diocese with good prospects for the future, to be seen in those 41 young men preparing for a life in the priesthood.

    Incidentally, for those seminarians there is another aspect to their life, and that is that their home parish virtually adopts them, making his journey through seminary almost a parish project. Parishes with a seminarian included prayers for him in the Prayers of the People each week, and his ordination is cause for a parish celebration also.

    The final note – if you want to find out how to get more priests, don’t listen to those who want them married or women, look to Lincoln, because, with God’s help, it is doing something right.

  • craig


    After Vatican II, most “catholics” do not attend Sunday obligations (Pew studies); TRADITIONAL catholic seminaries and masses (number of and attendance) are on the rise (see Priestly Fraternity of Peter/FSSP, Institute of Christ the King, and Ecclesia Dei sites); and less vocations apprently due to BOTH fewer births and seminarians–direct results of Vatican II misinformation/modern inlfuences.

    To follow Vatican II’s main reasoning is to evangelize the one, true, Faith-not water it down and become like other religions.