The vocations crisis

I am linking to a very interesting article that offers analysis about the dearth of priestly vocations in the Roman Catholic Church, whilst bishops and the Roman Curia continue to laicise and banish clergy for reasons other than child abuse.

The real reason for the vocation crisis – part 1, part 2.

I have always thought of celibacy as being for a purpose, but:

The Church has always recognized the importance of marriage as an institution uniquely geared to provide the aforementioned human needs. The model of family had been virtually emulated for priesthood prior to Vatican II. Even the title “Father” lent itself to the family model. However, enamored with a naïve optimism regarding the modern world, the bishops after the Council decided to imitate the techniques of contemporary business for human resource management. In doing so they created structures whereby the bishops became CEOs and their priests employees. This surreptitiously eroded the priest’s sense of security, belongingness and love, and eventually began to change his identity. Sociologists tell us that structures do shape reality. Theologians are also well aware that polity goes hand in hand with belief (Pelikan, J., 2003). The new structures began to undermine the traditional theology of the priesthood. They particularly affected the system that supported a celibate priesthood. Pious words and protestations of support for celibacy are not enough.

If bishops are serious about promoting vocations and desirous of maintaining a celibate clergy, the following changes should be made to certain policies affecting the lives of their priests.

The most important point about the second part of this essay is considering the use of what I have come to call “spiritual capital punishment” in the Church. The Church used to deal with “fallen” priests by putting them in city parishes under supervision and in primitive conditions of life, or send them to monasteries. Nowadays, they just disappear and cease to be persons.

Of course, I cannot sufficiently express my horror and disgust upon hearing about a priest sexually abusing children or other vulnerable persons, but the Church at the same time owes a pastoral approach to all sinners and those who err and for whom a pastoral approach to help them correct their lives. Of course, science seems to indicate that paedophilia is incurable as are various personality disorders involving the absence of moral conscience or empathy. But between exposing the rest of us to danger and killing them, there is a via media. The problem here is that some clergy are being “put to death” for issues of canonical irregularity that could be corrected by means of canonical dispensations and pastoral care.

How the bishops responded to their recalcitrant priests in this crisis is further indicative of how much they have departed from the family model of priesthood, and therefore more devastating for vocations. The Dallas protocols and the desire at that meeting of many bishops to quickly laicize as many problem priests as possible is symptomatic of the business model they have been working out of for years. When a worker is a problem, business gets rid of him. However, this flies in the face of everything we encourage Christian families to do. We rail against divorce. We proclaim for better or for worse. We tell parents to stick with their children even in tough times. We remind them of the Prodigal Son. But when one of the bishop’s sons is in trouble they want to cut him off, get rid of him quickly.


No doubt we have some guilty priests and others who are unjustly accused but whatever the case, is it right that they are being shunned by a Church that is their life? I remember when I was ordained, the bishop gathered the priests in attendance and said to the ordinandi, “Behold your brothers.” He didn’t add, “until they make a mistake!” In this crisis we have stripped men of their priestly identity, their church family and in many cases their livelihood by giving them a pittance to live on. So much for my loving father the bishop! Why would a young man want to risk his whole life on a family like this?

The most damaging effect of these policies is the psychological effect they have had on one of our basic beliefs about the Sacrament of Orders, “Thou art a priest forever!” All those trained in theology know the fine points of the indelible character placed on the priest’s soul. But how is this translated in the practical mind to the average person when priests are being dismissed and having laicization forced on them? It makes priesthood look like a job that offers little security, no family belongingness or love. Even the theological and spiritual elements seem to have disappeared.

A new article describes the harrowing and absurd story about how a number of Roman Catholic priests joined the Anglican Communion and were allowed to exercise their Orders. They are being forcibly laicised, a process that surely costs time and money when Curial officials could be occupied with more important questions.

Why encourage vocations? Why encourage a young man to risk becoming a pariah who is incapable even of making his way in the secular world because he was trained over many years to be a priest? Who other than the Church needs a man with a degree in theology?

Family breakdown has been identified by sociologists as the major cause of deviancy in America. It is the root of illegitimacy, low birth rates and an increase in crime. Mutatis mutandis, might we not posit the same for the current dismantled model of family in the priesthood? The divorce of bishops from their priests, the separation of priests from a parish family, as well as many illegitimate notions about priesthood and priestly life, are all major causes in the vocation crisis. Unless bishops are willing to fix the faulty structures that I have outlined above, they will further discourage vocations, alienate those already ordained and lead to the further demise of the priesthood, as we have known it. The bishops must realize that actions speak louder than words.

This is powerful stuff, and surely justification for a Goliard blog!!!

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1 Response to The vocations crisis

  1. Pingback: The vocations crisis | As the sun in its orb

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