Return of the Vocations Crisis

CP&S – We thank our old collaborator, Geoff Kiernan, for bringing this interesting article to our notice. We regret the information is so disheartening, but a realistic awareness of the worrying situation should spur us on to double our efforts to overcome it. Above all, we must PRAY as never before, and make sacrifices, that Heaven will hear our supplications for help, and send many holy vocations to His Church to revitalize Her anew.


by Marco Tosatti on FIRST THINGS

The recovery in priestly vocations seems to be over. Between 1978 and 2012, after the great crisis of the 1970s following Vatican II, seminaries around the world enjoyed a season of growth. The growth was not constant, nor was it uniform across countries and continents. But the trend was clear. Numbers revealed recently by the Central Office of Statistics of the Holy See show that in the past five years, the vocations crisis has returned.

The greatest gains came under John Paul II. In 1978, the year Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, vocations worldwide totaled 63,882. In 2005, the year he died, they totaled 114,439. The numbers continued to rise during the reign of Benedict XVI: Vocations reached their modern peak in 2011, with 120,616—an increase of 6,177 since the papal transition year. After 2011, they drifted downward: to 120,051 in 2012, and 118,251 in 2013, the year of Benedict’s resignation. Thus, vocations in 2013 were down 2,365 from their height under Benedict, and up 3,812 from their height under John Paul.

In March 2013, Pope Francis emerged from the conclave as the new ruler of the Church. Data suggest that his pontificate has not accelerated the decline in vocations from their height in 2011, but has not reversed or arrested it, either. In 2015 there were 116,843 seminarians—a drop of 1,408 from 2013. If this rate of decline continues, then in a year or two vocations will be roughly where they were when John Paul died. Yet we will actually be in worse shape than we were then. As Catholics grow more numerous worldwide, the Catholics-per-priest ratio worsens. For instance, there were 2,900 Catholics per priest worldwide in 2010, and 3,091 in 2015.

The vocations downturn is particularly evident in the West, especially in European countries where secularization and religious liberalism are strongest: Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland. In countries such as Poland and continents such as Africa, where Catholicism remains more traditional, the situation is different. Vocations hold steady, and sometimes flourish.

A few examples will serve to illustrate. In the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, a liberal atmosphere prevailed until 2003—a year that had six seminarians. Robert Morlino became bishop that year, and his efforts brought the number of seminarians to 36 in 2015. Following the advice of Robert Cardinal Sarah, Bishop Morlino recently suggested that the faithful should receive the Eucharist on the tongue and while kneeling. A similar situation may be found in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Bishop James D. Conley has explained to the Catholic World Report that, in his opinion, the growth of vocations in his diocese had its root in fidelity to the traditional teachings of the Church.”

In western Europe, the landscape is totally different. In Germany, vocations have become practically nonexistent. In 2016, there was just one new seminarian in Munich, the historic capital city of German Catholicism. In Belgium, the situation is perhaps still worse. In 2016, there was not a single new Francophone seminarian in the country. The heroic André-Joseph Léonard, archbishop of Brussels from 2010 to 2015, had given life to a new association, the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. In a period of three years, the Fraternity had assembled twenty-one seminarians and six priests. The current archbishop of Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, was appointed a cardinal immediately upon his installation—an honor denied to Léonard. De Kesel quickly dissolved the Fraternity. The official reason was formal and flimsy; the real one was substantial. The Fraternity was not liberal enough; it respected tradition.

Brussels is not an isolated case. A few years ago, the bishop of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, was removed without a clear explanation. Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano belonged to Opus Dei, and he was not popular among his brother bishops in the region, who were mainly progressives. His seminary was full of young people, while neighboring dioceses lacked vocations. Livieres Plano happened to be in Rome when news of his dismissal reached him. He tried to gain an audience with the pope. He never got it. He went away, and less than two years later he died of cancer.

It seems that Rome keeps a particularly piercing eye on religious orders that revere tradition, and that happen to enjoy many priestly vocations. The eye belongs to two persons: João Cardinal Braz de Aviz, a Brazilian sympathizer of Liberation Theology; and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, a Spanish Franciscan. The former is the prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; the latter is its secretary.

There is the case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI). A relatively new order, rich in vocations both in Europe and in Africa, the FFI was inspired by St. Maximilian Kolbe and approved by John Paul II. Four years ago, it was put under the authority of a Vatican commissioner, and nobody knows when this arrangement will end. The founder of FFI, Fr. Stefano Manelli, has been segregated from his order, in order to limit his influence. The only known accusation against him and his followers is that of “Lefebvrist drift.” One of the problems seems to be FFI’s love for Church tradition, and for the old form of the Mass. Vocations of both sexes to FFI dropped after this intervention by the Vatican.

There is the similar case of the Family of the Incarnate Word. This religious order, begun in Argentina in the 1980s, has more than one thousand members in twenty-six countries on five continents, including in regions where nobody else is willing to go. The Family has roughly 800 seminarians. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then archbishop of Buenos Aires and president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, did not care for the Family. He made reference to it, while addressing the bishops: “In Latin America we happen to find in small groups, and in some of the new religious orders, an exaggerated drift to doctrinal or disciplinary security.” At one time, he blocked the ordination of the Family’s priests for three years. The founder, again, is more or less segregated from his order.

There is also the impending apostolic visitation of the Heralds of the Gospel. (The visitation will be undertaken by a three-person commission: a bishop, a canon lawyer, and a nun.) The Heralds are an association of pontifical right, begun in Brazil in the last years of the twentieth century, from a highly traditionalist order known as Tradition, Family, and Property. The Heralds have many priests, many seminarians, and great vitality. The reasons for the apostolic visitation are far from clear.

In June, Vatican Insider, a platform closely associated with Pope Francis’s Vatican, published a report on the Heralds. The author, Andrea Tornielli, claims that the Heralds believe in an “occult doctrine supported by the devil,” involving worship of their founder and unconventional exorcism rituals. According to Tornielli, this revelation proves that the upcoming visitation is not part of a “witch hunt against those more traditional and conservative associations”—that, on the contrary, the Vatican has “more than solid reasons” for the visitation. It seems likely that the Vatican anticipated criticism of this investigation and sought to silence it.

The prefect of the Congregation for Religious is Brazilian, like the Heralds, and he has said that the new Church movements must be kept under surveillance, since the founders sometimes seem unable to handle so many vocations—and so much money. What does the pope think? One episode may shed some light. The pope received 140 superiors of religious orders in the Vatican last September. He said to them: “When they tell me that there is a congregation that enjoys so many vocations, I am worried, I admit. The Holy Spirit does not work with the success method. He has other ways. … Some of [the seminarians] are Pelagians. They want to come back to the ascesis, they make penance, they seem soldiers, ready to fight for the faith and the good morals. … Then some scandal of the founder or foundress comes to light.”

No one can doubt the need to root out aberrations in new, growing orders, which today tend to be traditional. But one wonders why similar attention is not brought to the great established orders, which are now shrinking. Compare the light treatment of the progressive nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with the heavy discipline imposed on the traditional priests in the FFI, and it is hard not to notice a double standard. Meanwhile, a weakened Church finds its vocations once again in decline.

Marco Tosatti is a Vaticanist who writes from Rome.

See also Father Z’s take and perceptive comments on this post that he entitles: Tradition = vocations – It isn’t rocket science!

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10 Responses to Return of the Vocations Crisis

  1. Certainly, as noted in the introductory paragraph, this information is “disheartening.”

    In one respect, though, it is encouraging. It is good to know that congregations and dioceses where faithful Catholics prevail are thriving, in spite of everything.

    It is this remnant of faithful Catholics that one day will rebuild the Church, when the horrors of the present pontificate are a thing of the past.


  2. Roger says:

    The future is with the persecuted Church’s whom have stayed with the Faith.
    If you want a prophectic vision of how to claw the way back from the jaws of Hell then read St Don Bosco’s Dream.Prepare for the satanic backlash and fury which is inevitable.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    “Après moi, le déluge.”
    Pope Benedict XVI, 28 February 2013


  4. GC says:

    I’d have thought that a constant dwindling in vocations to the priesthood is something that the Spirit-of-Vatican2 establishment has long cherished. They think that this would not only force the Church to ordain married men to make up the numbers but also, for many in the establishment, to ordain women too while they’re at it.

    Oh how they were miffed when, instead, many dioceses in the West started recruiting priests from India and Africa to serve in the parishes. They said that these “mercenaries”, being from poor developing countries, would not understand or fit in with the “culture” of the parishes in the West. It would be far better to give local married blokes or wimmin the jobs.

    Not only that, it appears also to have upset their plans for “empowering” the laity within the Church. You know, the new way of being Church and all that.

    Really, they got to the point of verging on racism in the kinds of things they would say about these foreigners.

    Has anyone seen this before?


  5. Roger says:

    Yes GC I agree!


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Good (as in depressing) link, GC.
    In other sad news, one of our mutual YouTube favourites has moved on.


  7. GC says:

    Yes, I noticed that, JH. His uncle, also very involved in the music world, died early in similar circumstances about 4 years ago. The old kidneys.

    Did you see other stuff about his last days? He wasn’t a well person at all.

    Back to the Germans. I read in today’s Catholic paper over here (now more and more “Franciscan” in its material and tone) that the German diocese of Münster is disappointed that they could not find a woman to be their diocesan pastoral director. Reluctantly, it seems, they had to appoint yet another man.

    Let’s pray that they all cheer up soon.


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    God rest his soul. He was given such a hard life, but made such a wonderful life.
    “Everything Sublime Is Born From Sacrifice”.
    But will “God rest his soul”? No salvation outside the Church? I raised this issue a few days ago on the MercatorNet website in reference to “Betty Cuthbert: Australia’s Golden Girl”, who died two weeks after Dr Yunupingu. Other commenters on that thread thought that I didn’t understand the meaning of the doctrine. Perhaps I don’t, and I will be content if that’s so, as I prepare to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the death of my Protestant mother on Tuesday’s Feast of the Assumption.


  9. GC says:

    But will “God rest his soul”? No salvation outside the Church?

    Let’s ask those German churchmen again, JH.

    The philosopher who poisoned German theology, with a thankyou to the Catholic Herald.


  10. Roger says:

    God doesn’t create souls to fill Hell. A soul cannot be judged on what it does know and not or what it didn;t know.
    The Church is the mystical Body Of Christ , the part we know and or see is the Church Militant. Its by considering these matter that we should understand the True statement “No Salvation outside of the Church”.

    St Padre Pio and the Protestant King George V
    “..On January 20, 1936, Dr. Guglielmo Sanguinetti and several other men were visiting Padre Pio in his cell. As they were talking, Padre Pio suddenly interrupted the conversation and asked the men to kneel down with him and to pray. “We must pray for a soul who will soon appear before the judgment seat of God,” Padre Pio said. When they were finished praying, Padre Pio asked his friends if they knew who they had been praying for. They replied that they did not know. Padre Pio told them that they had been praying for George V, the King of England..”
    “..what do we know of the King? We know that he was a man of faith and that he made it his practice to read from the Holy Scriptures every day. As a Protestant, he treated the Catholic Church with admirable respect. When George V became the King of England, he made a decision in favor of the Catholic Church. He refused to abide by the tradition in his country that called the Catholic Mass “superstitious and idolatrous.” History tells us that as the King of England, George was diligent and committed, and he influenced his country for good ..”


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