The number of men in Philadelphia and South Jersey seeking to become Catholic priests took a dive in the mid-2000s when the church was rocked by the clergy-sex abuse scandal. However, that trend is starting to reverse itself, and some claim it’s thanks to a phenomenon known as “the Francis effect.”
Five years ago, the Rev. Michael Romano was happily serving as a parish priest in South Jersey when the Bishop of Camden gave him a new assignment. He was told he’d be the diocese’s vocation director — the guy in charge of recruiting new men who felt called to the priesthood.
Romano begrudgingly accepted his new job.
“When I started, it was a little depressing,” he remembered, looking out the large window of his office in Camden with a view across the Delaware River to the Philadelphia skyline.
Morale was low in the church following the scandals, as well as a slew of parish and parochial school closures and consolidations. At that time, the Diocese of Camden was sending only one or two new guys to seminary each year.
“And then, all of a sudden, in the summer of 2013 into the fall of 2013, more men started making contact with me,” Romano said.
…The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s vocation director, the Rev. Stephen DeLacy, believes the bump in new seminarians has a lot to do with …“the Francis effect.”DeLacy didn’t coin that term — it’s also the name of a documentary about the first year of Francis’ papacy — but “the Francis effect” has become shorthand for a shift in attitude toward the Catholic Church.
…But is the pontiff really prompting more men to join the priesthood?
“I’m certain that the inquiries have definitely increased because of him,” said the Rev.Chuck Frederico, vocation director for the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, the order of priests known as “the Jesuits” of which Pope Francis is a member.
In the last two years, his office went from getting two inquiries a week at most to as many as seven a week. Those most serious about exploring a vocation tell him the pope has motivated them, Frederico said.