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Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Priestly vocations starting to ascend"

As the U.S. Catholic Church revives from scandal, clergy ranks increase

From the Daily News/Los Angeles
By Karen Maeshiro, Staff Writer

Photo by Evan Yee

William Crowe Jr. made a good living as a machine-shop worker and later as a computer programmer, but he always sensed something was missing.
Though he was materially successful, there was a spiritual void that possessions could never fill.

A product of Catholic schools, the 49-year-old Granada Hills man did not realize his true calling until he started becoming active in his church again during the 1990s.

"I began to realize that God was calling me to work in the church," Crowe said. "The emptiness started disappearing. The satisfaction was there. I felt God was preparing me to do something."

Crowe was among 12 men ordained May 31 by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown L.A.

The 2008 class is the largest ordained for the Los Angeles Archdiocese in the past 19 years. Most years, the class size had averaged between four and five, according to the archdiocese.

Even as the Catholic Church recovers from a sex-abuse scandal that battered its public reputation and its bank account, the number of men entering the priesthood has started gradually increasing, researchers say.

For decades, the priesthood had been declining as a vocation, at least in the United States. Some researchers attribute the recent increase to greater efforts to recruit Catholic immigrants. Also, more mature men are becoming priesthood candidates after having worked at other occupations for years.

Between 1965 and 2000, ordinations of new priests across the country declined by 55 percent, according to the Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

But in recent years, they rose slightly - from 442 in 2000 to 456 in 2007.

"The church is trying very hard to bring this out - to let young men know that this is a worthwhile endeavor and noble calling," said CARA senior research associate Mary Gautier.

The average age of U.S. priests is over 60, and the average age of priests ordained this year is 37, an indication more men are entering the priesthood after other careers, Gautier said.

Crowe said the sex-abuse scandal did not make him think twice about entering the priesthood.

"I saw it as a purifying of the church, and I was thinking I was called by God to do this," Crowe said.

"I knew God was calling me into this, and he would give me the strength to get through it."

One way archdioceses have been recruiting new priests is through the ranks of Catholic immigrants.

One-third of this year's new U.S. priests were born outside the country, up from 22 percent in 1999, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Poland and the Philippines, according to a CARA study done for the nation's Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The faces of Catholicism have changed in recent years. A survey this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that immigration is a factor in explaining how the Catholic share of the U.S. population has held fairly steady over recent decades, although former Catholics outnumber converts 4-1.

The survey found that 46percent of all immigrants to the U.S. are Catholic, compared with just 21 percent of the native-born population, and that 82 percent of the Catholic immigrants were born in Latin America.

Besides Los Angeles, other dioceses around Southern California have seen increases in new priests. In San Bernardino, the diocese ordained six new priests this year, the most in its 30-year history. The diocese had ordained only a total of seven in the entire previous decade, according to spokesman John Andrews.

"The diocese has been much more focused on promoting vocation to priesthood throughout the parishes," Andrews said. "It's really important when someone is considering this that they have a lot of support from their parish." (This is a point I have been trying to make for some time. Until Pastors, parishioners and parish communities understand their responsibility to promote and foster vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, dioceses will continue to face shortages. There is no reason parishes should go years, even decades without produce a single candidate for the Priesthood, while others continually produce candidates - sometimes multiple candidates at a time!)

Read the rest of the article HERE.

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