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Study finds religious persecution spread to more countries in 2015

April 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Global religious persecution spiked from 2014 to 2015, the Pew Research Center noted in a new report released this week.

“Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years,” the latest annual Pew Research Center report on “Global Restrictions on Religion” began.

In 2015, there were “very high” or “high” levels of animosity shown towards religious groups in 40 percent of countries, the report noted, either through restrictive government laws targeting religious groups or violence or harassment toward adherents of specific religions by other members of society.

The 2015 percentage was up six points from 2014, when 34 percent of countries reported such levels of hostility to religious groups.

Pew’s report drew from various sources on global religious freedom, both from the U.S. government (annual international religious freedom reports of the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom), the European Union and United Nations, and other non-governmental organizations.

The report was part of the “Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project,” funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.

Certain countries and regions of the world showed especially high hostility towards religious groups. Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria all showed both government harassment of and social animus toward certain religious groups.

Some of the most common instances of hostility included “mob violence” waged against people for their religious beliefs or violence conducted in the name of religion, and also “government harassment and use of force against religious groups” Pew explained.

Certain regions fared worse than others on religious tolerance. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa featured the highest median levels by far of both “government restrictions on religion” and “social hostilities involving religion,” Pew reported.

However countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed the “largest increase” in the median levels of government restrictions in 2015, Pew noted, and both Europe and sub-Saharan Africa showed marked increases in “social hostilities involving religion.”

In Europe, there were many reports of harassment or violence against Muslims and Jews, continuing a pattern of both anti-Semitism on the continent and verbal or legal harassment of Muslims as the European Union deals with an influx of refugees from Muslim-majority counties like Syria and Iraq.

For instance, Switzerland showed an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including the desecration of a Muslim cemetery and an assault of an Orthodox Jew where one perpetrator shouted “Heil Hitler!”

Mosques and Muslims were targeted for vandalism or violence in the wake of the January, 2015 terror attacks on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and on a kosher market in Paris.

“France’s Interior Ministry reported that anti-Muslim incidents more than tripled in 2015, including cases of hate speech, vandalism and violence against individuals,” the report noted.

Thirty-two countries in the continent showed “social hostilities toward Muslims” in 2015, more than the 26 countries reported in 2014. Meanwhile, the number of European countries where there were social hostilities shown towards Jews remained high.

“The widespread harassment of Jews is notable because about eight-in-ten of the world’s Jews live in just two countries – the United States and Israel – but Jews continue to be harassed in a relatively large number of nations (74 in 2015),” Pew stated.

However, government officials also showed hostility to religious groups either through restrictive laws or rhetoric.

France and Russia in particular showed a spike, with over 200 “cases of government force against religious groups,” the report noted. These were mostly due to laws aimed at specific religious groups targeting the public exercise of religion, from France’s burqa ban to Russia’s treatment of some Muslims and groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists, jailing them without due process.

Some governments have been particularly restrictive of religious freedom for years, like those of China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Uzbekistan, the report noted. Others have more recently shown greater hostility, like Iraq, Eritrea, Vietnam, and Singapore in 2015.

Some of the government restrictions on religion were supposedly in reaction to terrorism. For instance, Muslim women in Cameroon and Niger were barred from wearing full-face veils after militants wore those veils to conceal bombs.

Both Christians and Muslims saw a sizable increase in the number of countries where they experienced harassment in 2015. Christians “were targeted by the highest number of governments in the Asia-Pacific region, where 33 countries harassed Christians in 2015,” the report said.

[…]

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Nebraska prays for pro-lifers injured in vehicle accident

April 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Lincoln, Neb., Apr 14, 2017 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Lincoln is praying for several pro-life witnesses who were struck, unintentionally, by a vehicle as they were praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city on Friday afternoon.

“Please join the Diocese of Lincoln, Bishop Conley, and those involved in praying for those who were injured, and for the driver of the vehicle,” the Lincoln diocese said in an April 14 statement. “And please join us in praying for a culture of life, an end to abortion, in union with those who were injured today.”

The driver of a white pickup “veered to the right when he tried to stop for a vehicle slowing in front of him,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

 

LPD says hit was unintentional. A car was slowing down in front of him, so he veered and didn’t see the group of people outside #LNK

— Nichole Manna (@LJSNicholeManna) April 14, 2017

 

Three or four persons were struck by the pickup.

According to the diocese “the roads were quite slick in that area, and traffic was heavy. There is nothing to suggest the accident was intentional. Those who were hit are receiving medical attention now. The injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.”

“Bishop Conley, along with other priests who were present, were able to pray with those who were injured.” As many as 200 were present at the prayer vigil.

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It’s the law: once again, states can stop funding Planned Parenthood

April 13, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2017 / 02:03 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders applauded President Donald Trump for signing a repeal of what they called President Obama’s “parting gift to the abortion industry.”

“Today we thank President Donald Trump for restoring states’ freedom to direct taxpayer dollars away from abortion providers in favor of supporting community health centers that deliver comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber abortion providers 20 to 1,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said Thursday.

In December, President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that states could not deny federal funds to health clinics simply on the grounds that they provided abortions.

The funding program, Title X, consists of “family planning” grants for services like contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Those federal grants, dispersed by the states, had to go to clinics that provided the “family planning” services, HHS said, and could not be denied to any clinic that provided those services.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced H.J. Res. 43 to the U.S. House of Representatives, which nullified the HHS rule. The measure passed the House easily and then passed the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence as the tie-breaking vote.

President Trump signed the resolution into law April 13.

Susan B. Anthony List thanked Rep. Black and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), saying they “led this effort in Congress.” When the measure was introduced, Rep. Black had said that her state of Tennessee had tried to stop giving Title X grants to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in order to redirect those grants to other health providers.

The HHS had explained that the rule was created in reaction to states that tried to stop funding abortion providers.

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser added that “prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health care alternatives is a winning issue.”

She pushed for Congress to take up more legislation to strip Planned Parenthood and abortion providers of other federal funds like Medicaid reimbursements. She said they should “redirect” federal funds to other health providers that do not perform abortions.

“The resolution signed today simply ensures that states are not forced to fund an abortion business with taxpayer dollars,” Dannenfelser said ahead of the signing of the bill.

“Rather, states have the option to spend Title X money on comprehensive health care clinics that better serve women and girls,” she said.

[…]

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US bishops back religious freedom for adoption, foster care providers

April 12, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Apr 12, 2017 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three chairmen of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference have voiced strong support for a measure that would restore certain religious freedoms to child welfare providers.

The recently introduced Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 would prevent the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.

Under the previous administration, several faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

In the case of Illinois, more than 3,000 children were displaced after religiously affiliated adoption and foster care services had to close their doors. Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois decided to cut ties from their affiliated Catholic diocese and operate as a separate Christian non-profit in order to maintain consistent services for the children.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln expressed their support for the Inclusion Act in letters to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the U.S. Senate, who introduced the bill.

“The Inclusion Act would remedy this unjust discrimination by enabling all providers to serve the needs of parents and children in a manner consistent with the providers’ religious beliefs and moral convictions,” the bishops said.

“Our first and most cherished freedom, religious liberty, is to be enjoyed by all Americans, including child welfare providers who serve the needs of children. The Inclusion Act protects the freedom of all child welfare providers by ensuring they will not be discriminated against by the government because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions,” they wrote.

The Bishops also stressed that the Inclusion Act respects the religious freedom of parents who are looking to place their children into adoption or foster care services.

“Women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose an agency that shares the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions. The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.”

[…]

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Pope Francis dismisses from clerical state priest who stole $300k

April 12, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Manchester, N.H., Apr 12, 2017 / 04:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has dismissed a New Hampshire priest from the clerical state, after the priest was convicted of stealing some $300,000 from the local diocese, a hospital and a deceased priest’s estate.

“On February 28, 2017, Pope Francis decreed Edward J. Arsenault dismissed from the clerical state, and dispensed him from all obligations subsequent to sacred ordination, including that of celibacy,” the Diocese of Manchester said in a statement last week.

“By virtue of this decree, Edward J. Arsenault has no faculties to act, function, or present himself as a priest.”

In 2014, Arsenault was sentenced to four years in prison. He was ordered to repay $300,000 in restitution, according to local media reports.

Arsenault was convicted of writing checks from the dead priest’s estate to himself and of billing a hospital for consulting work he never did, according to the Associated Press.

He admitted to spending the money on travel and expensive restaurants for himself and a male partner. He pleaded guilty to three charges of theft in 2014.

Last week, Arsenault was moved to house arrest. He is up for parole in February next year, the Associated Press reported.

As a priest, Arsenault had previously worked for the Manchester diocese. He helped to handle a clergy sex abuse scandal in the state and to implement new child protection policies.

 

[…]

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With united voice, thousands of Catholics visit Texas capitol

April 10, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Austin, Texas, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over 4,000 Catholics visited Texas’ capitol in Austin, including  bishops from the state’s 15 dioceses, to meet with legislators and discuss legislation under consideration.

“It’s important that we present a united voice,” Helen Osman, communications consultant for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, told CNA April 10.

“It took many hours of coordination, but the Texas legislators knew that the Church was present in the Capitol on April 4 – and we were there not in self-interest, but for the good of all citizens in the state of Texas,” she added.

“Our motivation – to speak on behalf of the vulnerable and the poor, for human life and dignity – gives our voice a gravitas that many special interest groups lack.”

For Catholic Advocacy Day, each of Texas’ 181 legislators received a visit from a team of “Catholic advocates” who live in his or her district.

They focused on issues grouped under the topics of protecting human life; children and families; health and human services; justice for immigrants; protecting the poor and vulnerable; and criminal justice.

“The team had a list of bills that were prioritized by the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops since they were relevant to the bishops’ agenda, had been reviewed by the Catholic conference, and were active in the legislative process,” Osman said.

“We also held a rally outside the Capitol, where the bishops addressed all participants,” she added.

Osman said the group was among the more favorably received groups of capitol visitors.

“We bring a spirit of joy and generosity to our conversations, and the legislators appreciate that!” she said.

“These events can persuade a legislator to consider changing his or her position on important legislation. Catholics can effectively exercise their call to be faithful citizens by working with their bishops through their state Catholic conferences. “

Pro-life bills under consideration address partial-birth abortion, “wrongful birth” lawsuits, mandatory reporting for abortion complications, and efforts to increase penalties for abortions coerced by human traffickers. There is a bill concerning parental choice in education and several bills concerning foster care. The Texas bishops oppose a bill that targets sanctuary cities for immigrants, while they support a “targeted, proportional and humane” bill that would increase punishment for unlawful immigrants who commit violent crimes and also guarantee their deportation by authorities.

Some criminal justice bills concern accurate instructions to jurors in death penalty cases and the establishment of a special anti-human trafficking unit in the state’s Department of Public Safety. The Texas Catholic conference backs a bill that would provide better access to mental heath and substance abuse treatment, as well as a bill to establish a state grant to match donations to organizations that provide mental health programs.

On environmental issues, the conference opposes a bill that would limit a local community’s ability to control the export of its groundwater, on the grounds it violates subsidiarity. It also opposes a bill that would repeal the contested case process for environmental quality permits, on the grounds that it “limits the community’s ability to protect health considering potential environmental hazards.”

Osman encouraged Catholics to look to their bishops for guidance.

“The bishops use their state Catholic conferences to research and monitor active legislation, and to convey the Church’s moral guidance.”

Ahead of the event, Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Dallas said it was an exciting opportunity to visit legislators.

“We are able to stand in solidarity as people of faith to meet with our local legislative leaders in order to work together for the common good,” he said, according to the Dallas diocese’s website.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said the event was an “exciting opportunity” for Catholic constituents.

“They are able to stand in solidarity with their bishops, and meet their local legislators who are interested in hearing their point of view on these important issues,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

[…]

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San Bernardino bishop prays for school community after deadly shooting

April 10, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

San Bernardino, Calif., Apr 10, 2017 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After two people were killed in a shooting at a classroom in a San Bernardino elementary school on Monday, the city’s bishop is praying for the victims and the school community.

“I’m praying for the victims&entire school community after today’s tragic shooting@NorthPark Elem.May God console us in this time of sorrow,” Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino tweeted April 10.

A gunman opened fire this morning in a classroom of North Park Elementary School. Police have said the two victims are adults, a woman and the suspected shooter, and that two students are in critical condition.

The police chief Jarrod Burguan said the incident is suspected to be a “murder-suicide” attempt, the BBC reports.

There have been several shootings at schools in the United States in recent years.

In December 2013 an individual opened fire at Arapahoe High School in the Denver suburb of Centennial, and in December 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as well as his mother and himself.

San Bernardino is also the site of a December 2015 mass shooting in which a couple killed 14 and wounded 21 others at a social services facility.

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Why married priests won’t really fix the shortage

April 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In 1970, there was one priest for every 800 Catholics in the United States.

Today, that number has more than doubled, with one priest for every 1,800 Catholics.

Globally, the situation is worse. The number of Catholics per priest increased from 1,895 in 1980 to 3,126 in 2012, according to a report from CARA at Georgetown University. The Catholic Church in many parts of the world is experiencing what is being called a “priest shortage” or a “priest crisis.”

Last month, Pope Francis answered a question about the priest shortage in a March 8 interview published in the German weekly Die Zeit. The part that made headlines, of course, was that about married priests.

“Pope Francis open to allowing married priests in Catholic Church” read a USA Today headline. “Pope signals he’s open to married Catholic men becoming priests” said CNN.

But things are not as they might seem. Read a little deeper, and Pope Francis did not say that Fr. John Smith at the parish down the street can now ditch celibacy and go looking for a wife.

What the Holy Father did say is that he is open to exploring the possibility of proven men (‘viri probati,’ in Latin) who are married being ordained to the priesthood. Currently, such men, who are typically over the age of 35, are eligible for ordination to the permanent diaconate, but not the priesthood.

However, marriage was not the first solution to the priest shortage Pope Francis proposed. In fact, it was the last.

Initially, he didn’t even mention marriage.

Pressed specifically about the married priesthood, the Pope said: “optional celibacy is discussed, above all where priests are needed. But optional celibacy is not the solution.”

While Pope Francis perhaps signals an iota more of openness to the possibility of married priests in particular situations, his hesitance to open wide the doors to a widespread married priesthood is in line with his recent predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the longstanding tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

So why is the Church in the West, even when facing a significant priest shortage, so reticent to get rid of a tradition of celibacy, if it is potentially keeping away additional candidates to the priesthood?

Why is celibacy the norm in the Western Church?

Fr. Gary Selin is a Roman Catholic priest and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. His work Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations was published last year by CUA press.

While the debate about celibacy is often reduced to pragmatics – the difficulty of paying married priests more, the question of their full availability – this ignores the rich theological foundations of the celibate tradition, Fr. Selin told CNA.

One of the main reasons for this 2,000 year tradition is Christological, because it is based on the first celibate priest – Jesus.

“Jesus Christ himself never married, and there’s something about imitating the life our Lord in full that is very attractive,” Fr. Selin said.

“Interestingly, Jesus is never mentioned as a reason for celibacy. The next time you read about celibacy, try to see if they mention our Lord; oftentimes he is left out of the picture.”

Christ’s life of celibacy, while compatible with his mission of evangelization, would not have been compatible with marriage, because “he left his home and family in Nazareth in order to live as an itinerant preacher, consciously renouncing a permanent dwelling: ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,’” Fr. Selin said, refering Matthew 8:20.

Several times throughout the New Testament, Christ praises the celibate state. In Matthew 19:11-12, he answers a question from his disciples about marriage, saying that those who are able by grace to renounce marriage and sexual relations for the kingdom of heaven ought to do so.

“Of the three manners in which one is incapable of sexual activity, the third alone is voluntary: ‘eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs [emphasis added].’ These people do so ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,’ that is, for the kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming and initiating,” Fr. Selin explained.

Nevertheless, it took a while for the “culture of celibacy” to catch on in the early Church, Fr. Selin said.

Christ came to earth amid a Jewish people and culture who were instructed since their first parents of Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, 9:7) and were promised that their descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). Being unmarried or barren was to be avoided for both practical and religious reasons, and was seen as a curse, or at least a lack of favor from God.

The apostles, too, were Jewish men who would have been a part of this culture. It is known that among them, at least St. Peter had been married at some time, because Scripture mentions his mother-in-law (Mt. 8:14-15).

St. John the Evangelist is thought by the Church fathers to be one of the only of the 12 apostles who was celibate, which is why Christ had a particular love for him, Fr. Selin said. Some of the other apostles likely were married, in keeping with Jewish customs, but it is thought that they practiced perpetual continence (chosen abstinence from sexual relations) once they became apostles for the rest of their lives. St. Paul the Apostle extols the celibate state, which he also kept, in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.

Because marriage was such an integral part of Jewish culture, even for the apostles, early Church clergy were often, but not always, married. However, evidence suggests that these priests were asked to practice perfect continence once they had been ordained. Priests whose wives became pregnant after ordination could even be punished by suspension, Fr. Selin explained.

Early on in the Church, bishops were selected from the celibate priests, a tradition that stood before the mandatory celibate priesthood. Even today, Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, most of which allow for married priests, select their bishops from among celibate priests.

As the “culture of celibacy” became more established, it increasingly became the norm in the Church, until married men who applied for ordinations had to appeal to the Pope for special permission.

In the 11th century, St. Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and asked his bishops to enforce it. Celibacy has been the norm ever since in the Latin Rite, with special exceptions made for some Anglican and other Protestant pastors who convert to Catholicism.

A sign of the kingdom

Another reason the celibate priesthood is valued in the Church is because it bears witness to something greater than this world, Fr. Selin explained.

Benedict XVI once told priests that celibacy agitates the world so much because it is a sign of the kingdom to come.

“It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God does not enter, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows exactly that God is considered and experienced as reality. With the eschatological dimension of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the reality of our time. And should this disappear?” Benedict XVI said in 2010.

Christ himself said that no one would be married or given in marriage in heaven, and therefore celibacy is a sign of the beatific vision (cf. Mt 22:30-32).  

“Married life will pass away when we behold God face to face and all of us become part of the bridal Church,” Fr. Selin said. “The celibate is more of a direct symbol of that.”

Another value of celibacy is that it allows priests a greater intimacy with Christ in more fully imitating him, Fr. Selin noted.

“The priest is ordained to be Jesus for others, so he’s able to dedicate his whole body and soul first of all to God himself, and from that unity with Jesus he is able to serve the church,” he said.

“We can’t get that backwards,” he emphasized. Often, celibacy is presented for practical reasons of money and time, which aren’t sufficient reasons to maintain the tradition.

“That’s not sufficient and that doesn’t fill the heart of a celibate, because he first wants intimacy with God. Celibacy first is a great, profound intimacy with Christ.”

A married priest’s perspective: Don’t change celibate priesthood

Father Douglas Grandon is one of those rare exceptions – a married Roman Catholic priest.

He was a married Episcopalian priest when he and his family decided to enter the Catholic Church 14 years ago, and received permission from Benedict XVI to become a Catholic priest.

Even though Fr. Grandon recognizes the priest shortage, he said opening the doors to the married priesthood would not solve the root issue of that shortage.

“In my opinion, the key to solving the priest shortage is more commitment to what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism,” Fr. Grandon told CNA.

“Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, vocations come from a very strong commitment to the basic commands of Jesus to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Wherever there’s this strong evangelical commitment, wherever priests are committed to deepening people’s faith and making them serious disciples, you have vocations. That is really the key.”

He also said that while he’s “ever so grateful” that St. John Paul II allowed for exceptions to the celibate priesthood in 1980 – allowing Protestant pastor converts like himself to become priests – he also sees the value of the celibate priesthood and does not advocate getting rid of it.

“…we really do believe the celibate vocation is a wonderful thing to be treasured, and we don’t want anything to undermine that special place of celibate priesthood,” he said.

“Jesus was celibate, Paul was celibate, some of the 12 were celibate, so that’s a special gift that God has given to the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Joshua J. Whitfield is another married priest, who resides in Dallas and is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He recently wrote about his experience as a married priest, but also said that he would not want the Church to change its celibacy norm.

“What we need is another Pentecost. That’s how the first ‘shortage’ was handled. The Twelve waited for the Holy Spirit, and he delivered,” Fr. Whitfield told CNA in e-mail comments.

“Seeing this crisis spiritually is what is practical. And it’s the only way we’re going to properly solve it…. I’m simply not convinced that the economics of (married priesthood) would result in either the growth of clergy or the Church.”

A glance at what the priest shortage looks like in the United States

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest diocese in the United States, clocking in at a Catholic population of 4,029,336, according to the P.J. Kenedy and Sons Official Catholic Directory.

With 1,051 diocesan and religious priests combined, the archdiocese has one priest for every 3,833 Catholics – more than double the national rate.

Despite the large Catholic population, which presents both “a great blessing and a great challenge”, Fr. Samuel Ward, the archdiocese’s associate sirector of vocations, told CNA he doesn’t hope for or anticipate any major changes to the practice of priestly celibacy.

“I believe in the great value of the celibate Roman Catholic priesthood,” he said.

He also sees great reason for hope. Recent upticks in the number of seminarians and young men considering the priesthood seems to be building positive momentum for vocations in future generations.

The trend is a national one as well – CARA reports that about 100 more men were ordained to the priesthood in 2016 than in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a difference of only 4.

In the Archdiocese of New York, the second largest diocese in the United States, there is a Catholic population of 2,642,740 and 1,198 diocesan and religious priests, meaning there is one priest for every 2,205 Catholics.

“I think we’re probably like most every other diocese in the country, in that over the past 40-50 years, the number of ordinations have not in any way kept pace with the number of priests who are retiring or dying,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.

It’s part of the reason why they recently underwent an extensive reorganization process, which included the closing and re-consolidation of numerous parishes, many of which had found themselves without a pastor in recent years.

“Rather than wait for it to hit crisis mode we wanted to be prudent and plan for what the future would look like here in the Archdiocese of New York,” Zwilling said.

Monsignor Peter Finn has been a priest in New York for 52 years, and as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary for six years in the early 2000s, he has had several years’ experience forming priests. While he admits there is a shortage, he’s not convinced that doing away with celibacy would solve anything.

“After 52 years of priesthood I’m not really sure it would make any big difference,” he told CNA.

That’s because the crisis is not unique to the vocation of the priesthood, he said. The broader issue is a lack of commitment – not just to the priesthood, but to marriage and other vocations of consecrated life.

Fr. Selin echoed those sentiments.

“It goes deeper, it goes to a deep crisis of faith, a rampant materialism, and also at times a difficulty with making choices,” he said.

So if marriage won’t solve the problem, what will?

Schools, seminaries, and a culture of vocations

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, on the other hand, has not experienced such a drastic shortage. When compared with other larger dioceses in the country (those with 300,000 or more Catholics), the St. Louis Archdiocese has the most priests per capita: only 959 Catholics per priests, in 2014.

John Schwob, director of pastoral planning for the archdiocese, said this could be attributed to a number of things – large and active Catholic schools, a local diocesan seminary, and archbishops who have made vocations a pastoral priority.

“…going back to the beginning of our diocese in 1826, the early bishops made repeated trips to Europe to bring back religious and secular priests and religious men and women who built up strong Catholic parishes and schools,” he told CNA. “That has created momentum that has continued for nearly 200 years.”

These three things also ring true for the Diocese of Lincoln, which has a smaller population and a high priest-to-Catholic ratio: one priest for every 577 Catholics, which is less than one third of the national ratio.

As in St. Louis, Lincoln’s vocations director Fr. Robert Matya credits many of the diocese’s vocations to Catholic schools with priests and religious sisters.

“The vast majority of our vocations come from the kids in our Catholic school system,” Fr. Matya said.

“The unique thing about Lincoln is that the religion classes in all of our Catholic high schools are taught by priests or sisters, and that is not usually the case … the students just have greater exposure to priests and sisters than a kid who goes to high school somewhere else who doesn’t have a priest teach them or doesn’t have that interaction with a priest or a religious sister.”

The diocese also has two orders of women religious – the Holy Spirit Adoration sisters (or the Pink Sisters) and discalced, cloistered Carmelites – who pray particularly for priests and vocations.

Msgr. Timothy Thorburn, vicar general of the Lincoln diocese, said that when the Carmelite sisters moved to the diocese in the late ’90s, two local seminaries sprang up “almost overnight” – a diocesan minor seminary and a seminary for the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.

“Wherever priests are being formed the devil is going to be at work, and cloistered religious are what we would consider the marines in the fight with the powers of darkness, they’re the ones on the frontlines,” Msgr. Thorburn told CNA.

“So right in the midst of the establishment of these two seminaries, the Carmelite sisters… asked if they could look at building a monastery in our diocese.”

A commitment to authentic and orthodox Catholic teaching is also important for vocations, Msgr. Thorburn noted.

“I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, and many in the Church thought if we just became more hip, young people would be attracted to the priesthood and religious life … and the opposite occurred. Young people were repelled by that,” he said.

“They wanted to make a commitment, they wanted authentic Catholic teaching, the authentic Catholic faith, they didn’t want some half-baked, watered down version of the faith; that wasn’t attractive to them at all. And I’d say the same is true now. The priesthood will not become more attractive if somehow the Church says married men can be ordained.”

Pope Francis’ solutions: Prayer, fostering vocations, and the birth rate

Pope Francis, too, does not believe that the married priesthood is the solution to the priest shortage. Before he even mentioned the married priesthood to Die Zeit, the Pope talked about prayer.

“The first [response] – because I speak as a believer – the Lord told us to pray. Prayer, prayer is missing,” he told the paper.

Rose Sullivan, director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, and the mother of a seminarian who is about to be ordained, agrees with the Pope.

“We would not refer to it as a ‘priest shortage’ or a ‘vocation crisis.’ We would refer to it as a prayer crisis. God has not stopped calling people to their vocation, we’ve stopped listening; the noise of culture has gotten in the way,” she said.

“Scripture says: ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’ So the question would be, are we listening? And I would say we could do a much better job at listening.”

Another solution proposed by Pope Francis: increasing the birth rate, which has plummeted in many parts of the Church, particularly in the west.

In some European countries, once the most Catholic region of the world, the birth rate has dipped so low that governments are coming up with unique ways to incentivize child-bearing.

“If there are no young men there can be no priests,” the Pope said.

The vocations of marriage and priesthood are therefore inter-related, said Fr. Ward.

“They compliment each other, and are dependent upon one another. If we don’t have families, we don’t have anything to do as priests, and families need priests for preaching and the sacraments.”

The third solution proposed by Pope Francis was working with young people and talking to them directly about vocations.

Many priests are able to trace their vocation back to a personal invitation, often made by one priest, as well as the witness of good and holy priests that were a significant part of their lives.

“A former vocation director took an informal poll, and he asked men, ‘What really got you thinking about the priesthood?’ And almost all of them said ‘because my pastor approached me’,” Fr. Selin related.

“It was the same thing with me. When a priest lives his priesthood with great joy and fidelity, he’s the most effective promoter of vocations, because a young man can see himself in him.”

Msgr. Thorburn added: “There is no shortage of vocations.”

“God is calling a sufficient number of men in the Western Church, who by our tradition he gives the gift of celibacy with the vocation. We just have to make a place for those seeds to fall on fertile ground.” 

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