The sad fact is that there aren't as many vocations as there once were. But the solutions of ordaining married men and women isn't a solution, it's an excuse for dissent which doesn't even look at why there seems to be so few vocations.
Where did this begin? Well, the obvious demarcation line seems to be Vatican II. Not that Vatican II is to blame, but rather the times and the distorted teachings of Vatican II contributed greatly to the decline.
In the 60's, we saw a general distrust of 'any' form of authority, including religious authority. It was the "Age of Aquarius", a time for 'mystic crystal revelations', and the mind through liberation. We saw a move away from established churches to a more 'natural' kind of church. The 'non-denominational' church. Christian cults arose, Jesus Freaks, the Children of God, etc. To answer this 'crisis' many in the Church turned to Vatican II and hacked it to pieces to try and 'draw' them back. Guitar masses (once a once-a-week rarity, now the norm), priests in wild vestments, or none. Anything goes and anything went. It wasn't 'cool' to be in charge, to be 'the man', so many rejected the priesthood, seeing it as just another way of imposing the Church's will on the masses. (You may note a similarity between that rhetoric and the rhetoric of groups like Call To Action) Many who did join the priesthood, did so to 'change the system from within'. Many of these didn't remain, leaving the priesthood later to marry, etc. Some however, hung in there. So we saw the foundation of dissent in the priesthood being laid. It didn't help that many seminaries turned to "Madison Avenue" types to foster an increase in their seminaries. Maybe you recall billboards equating seminary with any fun college campus. In his autobiography, Cardinal O'Connor said his seminary was like a boot camp. If you weren't serious about being a priest, you'd never make it. In this way, the seminaries were assured of producing educated, motivated, and prepared priests. But the 'kinder, gentler' seminaries began producing priests that saw truth as relative, not motivated to serve God but their parish (not even the pastor), nor prepared to deal with the hard issues they would face.
To this we couple another newer trend, the discouragement of a religious vocation. A young man goes to his parents about his desire to be a priest. Today, more often than not, they will try to talk him out of it. "You're just running away from responsibility." "You're just running away from the world." "You're afraid to fail so you want to hide in the rectory." Etc. Being a priest isn't considered an avenue to success. There will be no BMW's, no lovely wife, no children, no nothing but an obscure life. Slowly then, over time, fewer and fewer young men are found entering the seminary. Until we hit a 'crisis'. But the crisis isn't in the number of young men called to the priesthood, but rather one of faith.
We often get a short blurb on the pulpit about vocations about once a year. By and large, vocations today are neither discouraged, nor encouraged. To fill the gap of this 'crisis' we hear everyone tell us we have to ordain women, and married men. Yet, there's a ray of hope (often obscured and unseen by many). A number of seminaries are showing a marked increase in vocations. Not just warm bodies, but quality young men going against the grain to enter (or try to enter) the seminary.
What are they doing that others aren't? In his article "Crisis in Vocations? What Crisis?" Archbishop Curtiss of Omaha writes: "When dioceses and religious communities are unambiguous about ordained priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines these calls; when there is strong support for vocations, and a minimum of dissent about the male celibate priesthood and religious life loyal to the magisterium; when bishop, priests, Religious and lay people are united in vocation ministry-then there are documented increases in the numbers of candidates who respond to the call."
And it continues to say: "It seems to me that the vocation "crisis" is precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church's agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines the ministries. I am personally aware of certain vocation directors, vocation teams and evaluation boards who turn away candidates who do not support the possibility of ordaining women or who defend the Church's teaching about artificial birth control, or who exhibit a strong piety toward certain devotions, such as the Rosary. When there is a determined effort to discourage orthodox candidates from priesthood and religious life, then the vocation shortage which results is caused not by a lack of vocations but by deliberate attitudes and policies that deter certain viable candidates. And the same people who precipitate a decline in vocations by their negative actions call for the ordination of married men and women to replace the vocations they have discouraged." (Our Sunday Visitor; Oct. 8, 1995, pg. 18)
Interestedly enough, shortly afterward, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR and bastion of dissident Catholicism) wrote an article which, instead of contradicting the Archbishop's article, confirmed it. According to them, they are interested in quality rather than quantity. In short, if a candidate doesn't embrace their agenda, they aren't a quality candidate. If a seminarian (according to the NCR) is "rigidly orthodox", or they "lack psychological and emotional health", if they are unable to be "open to whatever the future may bring", then they are not good candidates. The NCR even quotes a sociologist who says that the male celibate priesthood is "no longer viable". Throughout the article, the NCR equated rigidity (cause for rejection) with orthodoxy (supposedly not a cause for rejection).
Of course, the charge is made that these seminaries accept those candidates that are rejected, implying they are taking anyone who can walk and maybe chew gum at the same time.
Father Gould responds to this charge with two points. "The perception is that Arlington-and all traditional dioceses-will take anyone," he said. "The reality is that only six out of 42 seminarians (studying for Arlington) are from outside the Northern Virginia area. "The perception I get is that men are being denied places (in seminary formation) because vocations directors or vocations teams are keeping them out because of their traditional views," Father Gould adds. "The so-called vocations shortage may be more artificial than we realize. There are some vocations directors keeping good candidates out. When questioned about the ordination of women or married clergy, if the candidates answer in support of the Church, they are often rejected." (WHAT WENT RIGHT by Michael F. Flach)
Now 42 seminarians may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that Arlington, Virginia has only 275,000 Catholics, the ratio is better than larger cities. Interestingly enough, Arlington is one of two diocese's which do not have girl altar servers (the other is Lincoln Nebraska which also has a large number of seminarians [44 from only 82,000 registered Catholics])
"…the diocesan chancellor, Father Robert J. Rippy, in a November letter to priests explaining the diocesan policy on altar servers. "One of the best expressions-and reinforcements-of an early inclination to the priesthood is often found in a young boy's voluntary offer to assist the priest at the altar, where the possibility of a role-model scenario is clearly present." He added: "Perhaps that might explain why over 85 percent of our priests formerly were altar servers." (Ibid) Needless to say Call To Action has done what it can to try and derail this success story.
Another attack which tends to diminish the increase in vocations is an attack on the priesthood itself. It seems that, increasingly, the priesthood is portrayed as a haven for homosexual pedophiles. (And nuns are often seen as lesbians) These 'predator' priests, are more often than not, products of the 'enlightened' seminaries championed by NCR and Call To Action. They claim that if the Church removed it's discipline of celibacy we would have more priests, and no 'predator' priests. (The fact is that the FBI found no difference in the likelihood of sexual crimes between celibate priests and married Protestant ministers. And both showed that they were far below the nation norm overall)
But Cardinal O'Connor points out that celibacy isn't the issue, rather, obedience is. "The fact is that certain of the media cannot accept today what they have never really accepted through the centuries: 'Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia' - 'Where Peter is, there is the Church.' We believe that John Paul II is Peter, as were John Paul I and Paul Vl and John XXIII and countless others before them. To some segments of the Irish press, the American press. the Austrian and other presses and to a certain number of other people, our belief is both absurd and infammatory. That's the real problem. And that's really what is at issue here, not with the Irish bishops, of course, but with those who would exploit their speculations and those of others. Neither they, nor other pundits can accept any teaching authority other than their own. 'FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE' Isn't it extraordinary, for example, how many of the current spate of articles calling for abolition of celibacy always chant the same litany about 'freedom of conscience' regarding abortion, sexual activity, receiving Communion regardless of life-style, marital status, etc.? Everything has become a 'human right' and as soon as this Pope dies, they assure us smugly, Catholics will be liberated! Even without this incessant litany of alleged oppressions said to be single-handedly perpetrated by the current pontiff, I have to disagree with the reasons most frequently given for abolishing celibacy. One of these is simply outrageous, namely that it would end such tragedies as pedophilia." (CELIBACY ISN'T THE PROBLEM by Cardinal John J. O'Connor)
Cardinal O'Connor points out that pedophilia occurs most often in families; that even married men (and women) are tempted to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage. So how could marriage 'cure' the wayward priest? But again, celibacy is held up as one of the road blocks to vocations. Yet again, Cardinal O'Connor says: "We cannot ignore the repeated proposal that our shortage of priests and prospective priests is attributable to the requirement for celibacy. This seems to be the primary concern of one or two Irish bishops. I disagree with them. Virtually endless studies of men eligible for the priesthood have been done. Why doesn't that answer, if true, leap out at us? But it does not. I talk to literally hundreds of young men and women about vocations to religious life. The 'problem' of celibacy is generally far down on their list of reasons for hesitating or turning away. Why would so many be advancing into early middle age with no intention and often no serious desire to marry if celibacy were the primary obstacle to priesthood or a religious vocation? I'm not speaking of profligates. I'm speaking of good, decent people. On the contrary, I find many men who have thought little about becoming priests, women of becoming religious, because no one ever seriously asked them." Ibid)
So why a crisis in vocations? Again, it appears to be a multi-tiered problem. "Indeed, some will tell me that parents, peers or even priests and religious have discouraged them! There are far more complicated reasons for shortages of vocations. Why did we go for centuries with huge numbers of vocations in the United States, where celibacy has always been a priority? Why was there a day when some seminaries would accept no more candidates, some bishops ordain no more priests, unless they agreed to serve outside their own diocese? Yes, times have changed, but are we to believe seriously that men and women are more 'sexed' today (not more tempted by a promiscuous environment, but more 'sexed')? Nor do I believe there has been a quantum change in the need or desire for companionship. Had those who became priests 50 years ago, as myself, or women who became religious, no desire to marry? Were we some kind of freaks? Has celibate life been easier for us? Fewer hormones perhaps? I don't believe any such thing. It was tough then, it's tough now. The Church will survive and flourish with a celibate priesthood. And one day, sooner rather than later but in any event in God's time - we will be bursting our seams once again with joy-filled healthy celibate priests willing to make the sacrifice." (Ibid)
In fact, as Arlington, Virginia shows, as Lincoln Nebraska and Omaha show, as the North American College in Rome shows, vocations are on the increase. But you won't hear that from groups like Call to Action, nor publications like the NCR, or even from NBC, ABC, or CBS (and definitely not CNN).
Archbishop Curtiss noted that: "Young people do not want to commit themselves to dioceses or communities that permit or simply ignore dissent from Church doctrine. They do not want to be associated with people who are angry at the Church's leadership or reject magisterial teaching. They do not want to be battered by agendas that are not the Church's, and radical movements that disparage their desire to be priests, Religious or loyal lay leaders in the Church. Basic orthodoxy The dioceses and religious communities that promote orthodoxy and loyalty to the Church; the ones that mobilize priests and people to call young men to the ordained priesthood despite the opposition of those who rail against a male, celibate priesthood; the ones that want their members to be real churchmen and churchwomen that are committed to prayer and holiness as a primary requisite-these are the dioceses and communities that will enjoy increasing numbers of candidates and will disprove the forecasts of decline in vocations everywhere in the Church because of their successes locally." (Crisis in Vocations? What Crisis?)
This is a growing phenomenon which shows the problem with groups like Call to Action. They're like an Easter chocolate, nice and sweet on the outside but hollow on the inside. The young are increasingly disillusioned with the relativist talk coming from them. In fact, even a secular study found this to be true. "Religious organizations are stronger to the degree that they impose significant costs in terms of sacrifice and even stigma upon their members" ("The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, sociologists) In fact, they found that "that the more a religious organization compromises with society and the world, blurring its identity and modifying its teaching and ethics, the more it will decline."
Well, Call to Action is in decline, but statistics show that vocations are on the increase. Especially in seminaries faithful to the Church and loyal to the Magesterium. And where vocations are actively stressed, encouraged, and nurtured. How's your Diocese doing?