By John Norton - OSV Newsweekly, 4/29/2012
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this month looked at recent data on “steadily increasing” priestly ordinations in the United States, and concluded, with some justification, that “renewal is coming.”
“The future is encouraging,” wrote the authors. “There were 467 new priestly ordinations in the U.S. last year, according to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate [CARA] at Georgetown University, up from 442 a decade ago.”
The authors attribute that growth, with some justification, to a less ambiguous, less apologetic, more “traditional,” more honest presentation of the sacrifice and joys of priesthood to young men that is being practiced in many dioceses, and echoes an approach of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (who, for example, this month spoke to priests of the “joy of faith” and “radicalism of obedience”).
Setting aside for a moment the causes of the gradual growth, though, it is fair to ask if the “priesthood shortage” is a crisis that can be relegated to the past.
The answer, according to CARA researcher Mark Gray in a blog post, is: Not nearly yet.
The problem, in short, is that there are still many more priests lost through “death and departure” each year than are being ordained. In 2010, for example, there were 402 diocesan priests ordained (along with 65 priests for religious orders). But that same year there was a loss of about 700 priests, yielding 301 fewer U.S. diocesan priests at the end of the year than there were at the start.
So: Simply to stabilize the number of priests right now in the United States, we’d need to increase the number of priestly ordinations each year by a whopping 75 percent.
Is that possible? CARA’s Gray acknowledges the tough odds, but points to one straightforward solution: Develop a stronger culture in the laity of encouraging priestly vocations.
He notes that 3 percent of Catholic men say they have considered a vocation “very seriously,” and about 1 percent of them actually enter a seminary and reach ordination. “If the Church could just increase that to two or three in every 100 who ‘very seriously’ consider this, concerns over priest shortages would end.”
Gray adds: “There are more than enough men [he calculates about 840,000] who say they have ‘very seriously’ considered becoming a priest. But are there enough people around them encouraging them to follow through on this consideration? Nearly seven in 10 U.S. Catholics say they have not encouraged vocations and that they would not do so in the future.”
How about you? Are you counted among the 70 percent of Catholic Americans who has never encouraged a young man or woman to consider a priestly or religious vocation?
If so, it might be time to rethink that — and not solely to ensure your future convenient access to the sacraments.
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