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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Article in Los Angeles Paper about Shortage of Priests

This is a decent article with some interesting points, but with skewed views toward a married priesthood. As I've said before a married priesthood would not be the long term answer to the shortage of priests. The reality is it would cause many problems and "solve" only one proposed "problem". Yes, there have been, and continue to be married priests in the Church, but they are the extreme minority compared to scores of holy celibate priests in the history of the Church. Priests model the purity of Christ in a fallen world and a culture that is seemingly obsessed with sex. We don't need a married priesthood - we need heroic, virtuous, counter cultural men to be Alter Christus in societies that desperately need their witness (even if they don't realize it). We have a shortage of vocations for any number of reasons: contracepting culture, abortion, priests that fail to encourage more men to follow them, families that fail to encourage their boys to consider the priesthood, the relentless effort by many to elevate the laity and diminish the significance of the priesthood, terrible catechesis, watered down theology, vocations directors with agendas, Bishops that do not lead the way in promoting vocations, BAD liturgies, etc, etc, etc. If, by the grace of God, a young man manages to run the spiritual gauntlet of those problems and still think he might be called to the priesthood - it would be little wonder that celibacy (in a disordered and sex obsessed culture) could be the straw that breaks the back of his vocation.

When was the last time you asked a young man if they had considered a vocation to the priesthood, or told them they woud be a great priest?

My emphasis and comments below.

Catholic Church Faces Priest Shortage
By Tony Castro, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 11/10/2007
From: LA Daily News

On a recent Sunday, the Rev. Robert J. McNamara of St. Bernardine of Siena Parish in Woodland Hills found himself baptizing four babies - all boys - and quipped that perhaps they would all grow up to be priests.

"The joke bombed," McNamara recalls. "The parents looked at me stone-faced. I even tried the joke a second time. It bombed a second time."

But it is no laughing matter in the Roman Catholic Church, which today finds itself with an all-time shortage of priests - so much so that many dioceses in the country are looking to Latin America to recruit seminarians.

"We, unfortunately, are typical of the trouble the church is having in recruiting men for the priesthood," said the Rev. Jim Forsen, who was ordained 28 years ago and is now vocations director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Forsen makes the rounds of parishes, speaking during the homily about the joys of a religious vocation with the charisma befitting a college football recruiter.

At St. John Eudes Church in Chatsworth, for instance, he summoned all the children at the Mass to the altar and asked who among them wanted to be a lawyer, a dentist, a firefighter, a teacher, a doctor or a veterinarian.

Children eagerly raised their hands at each profession.

"How many of you want to be a priest?" Forsen finally asked.

He was greeted with a round of nervous giggles and laughter - but no hands.
He then prodded the altar boys. Still no takers. (I have to wonder how many altar girls were sitting next to them? Though I may irritate people with this question, the reality is that it is a problem - like it or not. Adolescent and teenage boy psychology is simple - they don't like doing things like serving Mass with girls. Our parish has twelve altar boys at each Mass, and they show up early to get one of those slots. If girls served with them, that number we drop immediately. Sad, but true.)

"Don't you want to be a priest?" he asked one of the boys who shrugged. "Sure? Maybe? No way?"

Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese in the country, has fewer than 400 diocesan priests to minister to more than 4.3million Catholics, according to its Web site.

In the next five years, the San Fernando Region of the diocese, much of which is made up of the San Fernando Valley, will have an estimated 40percent fewer pastors than it does today.

At St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, the seminary for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, only 45 of the 92 seminarians are earmarked as future priests for this archdiocese, which encompasses L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"For almost all men who are considering the priesthood," Forsen is quick to acknowledge, "the main difficulty is celibacy."

But that's only one of the issues for the priest shortage. Across the country, religions that don't require celibacy are experiencing a shortage, as well.

Jewish synagogues and Protestant churches are reporting similar problems in recruiting rabbis and ministers. Some Episcopal and Presbyterian churches have a clergy shortage, and some congregations of Reform Judaism and the modern Orthodox wing of Judaism are without full-time rabbis.

For Protestant denominations, the declining clergy population has been blamed on the attraction of more lucrative careers in the private economy as well as retirements. For Jews, until a few years ago there were more rabbis than congregations, and officials say recruitment was not emphasized, causing their shortage.

But the Byzantine rite Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which allow their priests to be married before ordination, get plenty of vocations.

For the Roman Catholic Church, however, the clergy number across the country has been falling some 26percent since 1980, according to reports.

The archdioceses of Omaha and Atlanta, each of which serves about 250,000 Catholics, average around seven vocations a year each. In 1999, the Los Angeles Archdiocese recruited three men for the priesthood . Since then, the number has varied from none in 2001 to six in 2000 and 2004 (from 4,349,267 Catholics in the Archdiocese! Meanwhile the Diocese of Lincoln has only 89,000 Catholics, yet they sent 19 men to the seminary this fall! Could it be possible that the orthodoxy of the Diocese has something to do with the number of vocations, rather than saying that celibacy is the problem?).

St. John's ordained nine seminarians in September, five of whom were assigned to Los Angeles.
According to a study by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, celibacy ranks as the main reason for the dwindling numbers of priests, along with the attraction of successful, private lives.

"Our culture also places an emphasis on living a full, active sexual life; the priesthood calls one to chaste celibacy," Forsen said.

"The priesthood is, as it always has been, countercultural - not anti-cultural but clearly countercultural. The more countercultural our parishes and families become, the more likely it is that young people will want to live committed countercultural lives as priests and religious."
Lost in concerns over the priest shortage and the reasons behind it is the belief that the priesthood is a calling from God.

"Let us at least begin to see it as a possibility that God may be calling some of the young people we know to serve him as a priest or sister," McNamara wrote in his church's Sunday bulletin about his recent experience with parents who didn't want their infants growing up to become priests.

But Forsen says the challenge the church faces is connecting with youngsters. He tells the story about a high school principal who cautioned him about reaching out to her students for vocations.

"Good luck, Father. You priests do not live in the imagination of the young," the principal told Forsen. "They dream about being astronauts, or professional ballplayers, or rock stars, or even video-game designers.

"But they don't dream about being priests. You're not even on their radar."

Possible solutions, Forsen says, include taking steps to make Catholic life in general, and priestly and religious life in particular, attractive and spotlighting vocations as priorities - undoubtedly made more difficult in the wake of the clergy sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the church.

"A lot of people see only the sacrifices that go into the priesthood - the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience," he said. "There are people who ask, `How can you be a priest?' And to them I say, `How can you be married?' My point is that when you love, there is no sacrifice at all. (I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. I love my wife and children, but we sacrifice constantly. Oh, and I think there was something about Christ loving us and making some kind of sacrifice. EVERY vocation has sacrifices and suffering, it can not be avoided, but if you are living the vocation God called you to, He will give you the grace to bear them couragously. This flawed idea that the priesthood is all sacrifice and marriage has none is another promblem with vocations today, both the shortage of priests and the incredibly high divorce rate.)

"It's the same with a priest. I feel that as a priest, I am trying to change the world for the good, and I am doing it for the same reason as people who are married. You are doing it for your kids."

1 comment:

A Simple Sinner said...

"But the Byzantine rite Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which allow their priests to be married before ordination, get plenty of vocations."

We do?

Since when?

I have to call my bishop and let him know this.

For 70 years we (US Byzantine Catholics) had only celibate clergy and we kept over 400 parishes (most smaller than 300 members) fully staffed. Romans would have drolled at our priest-to-faithful ratio.

Once the ban on married clergy in the US was lifted our seminary... well the numbers dropped. The doors weren't beat down, the beds weren't filled, the bishop's phone did not ring till it melted...

And the Orthodox in the US?
See also:

Are lots of part time priests who can only serve in the city they did a study-from-home course in a vocational success story?

You decide.