Importing foreign priests is not the answer

roman curia

Pope Francis this weekend will ordain eleven new priests for the Diocese of Rome. At a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter, otherwise known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the pope will also ordain five other men for two different religious orders.

But only five of Rome’s 11 new priests are Italians, having done their formation at the diocese’s major seminary. The other six who will be incardinated into the pope’s diocese are non-Italians. They are members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way.

They did their preparation for ministry at the movement’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary and will likely be sent abroad to serve in one of its many missionary apostolates or parishes.

The ordination Mass is taking place on the 55th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations. And in earlier-released message for the occasion, Francis said:

“Each one of us is called – whether to the lay life in marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration – in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now.”

“In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial, there is a need to listen, discern and live this word (of God) that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness,” he said.

In short, the pope focused on all the various types of Christian callings. But he did not say anything about what almost everyone recognizes today as a very real “vocations crisis” in the Church – especially regarding the priesthood.

Some loathe clericalism, others revel in it

There are various aspects to what might be better called a priesthood crisis.

La Croix International recently published two articles that looked at one of those aspects – the clericalist mentality that seems to be a disease (or at least a temptation) inherent in the very ethos of the ordained.

If you missed those articles the first time, please take a look at Joe Holland’s “Get rid of the clergy – But keep Holy Orders” and Andrew Hamilton’s “Clerical culture produces poor fruit.”

Admittedly, these essays are dealing with a subjective element of the priesthood and how it likely relates to the current vocations crisis.

People will debate whether clericalism is turning young men away from exploring a call to priesthood or whether, on the other hand, it is attracting questionable candidates who actually revel in it.

There are other subjective issues relating to the vocations/priesthood crisis that need to be urgently looked at, as well. And, at least on paper, the Congregation for the Clergy has issued guidelines to help bishops and people involved in formation programs to do just that.

While the quality of seminaries and the priests they produce are largely subjective categories, quantity is not.

Objectively, the figures do not lie. It is a fact that the numbers of young men joining the seminary and being ordained presbyters are not keeping pace with the overall increase in the numbers of baptized Catholics. Nowhere.

Not even in Africa, where some people would have us believe the situation is not so dire. And where they believe that the “vocations-rich” African Church will become the protagonist of some new, “reverse evangelization” of the now greatly secularized, established Churches of Europe and the developed world.

They are very wrong.

Stats and the vocation gap

The latest Vatican-published Statistical Yearbook of the Church shows that in Africa there are currently just over 5,000 Catholics for every priest. It’s even worse throughout Latin America where the ratio is upwards of 7,000 to one.

Compare that to the Churches in Europe, North America and Oceania where the figure hovers around 2,000 Catholics for every priest.

There are a number of possible steps that could be taken to shorten this widening gap.

But the most likely to be accepted at this time, also for historical and practical reasons, would be to change the criteria for admission to Holy Orders by expanding the pool of candidates to include married men of proven virtue – the so-called viri probati. Continue reading

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