Dear Bishop: If You Really Want More Vocations…

April 2001By Doug Tattershall

Doug Tattershall is the Media Relations Coordinator for the Lexington Public Library in Lexington, Kentucky.

It’s really not hard to figure out what does and doesn’t bring in vocations. The pattern is clear. Consider poor Archbishop Rembert Weakland. Seven years ago the Milwaukee archbishop insisted that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis — the Pope’s last word on women’s ordination — is not the last word on women’s ordination. Since then the archbishop has closed or merged some 30 parishes, and in 1999 had only 24 seminarians in spite of an all-out recruitment campaign begun in 1997. He has taken to warning his liberal priests that change will likely come to the archdiocese after he retires. Milwaukee-area Catholics can only hope so — the archbishop ordained only one priest in 1999. (All the figures for seminarians and ordinations in this article are from the Official Catholic Directory 2000, which reflect totals through 1999. The 2001 edition of that Directory has not yet been published; it will be available at the end of May.)

Meanwhile, Archbishop Charles Chaput took on the Catholic Theological Society of America, publicly criticizing it for not acknowledging Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as the last word on women’s ordination. Since then, the Denver archbishop established St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, which had an enrollment of 63 seminarians in 1999. This in spite of a Catholic population roughly half that of the Milwaukee archdiocese.

Poor Cardinal Roger Mahony. In 1997 the Los Angeles archbishop attempted to energize his people with “Gather Faithfully Together,” a radical re-thinking of the liturgy in which “the core of ministry is the assembly.” Like the Archdiocese of Denver, Los Angeles had 63 seminarians in 1999. Unlike Denver, the L.A. archdiocese had more than 11 times as many Catholics — more than four million souls from which to recruit religious vocations; more than four million souls in need of new priests. Mahony ordained only three priests in 1999.

Meanwhile, Bishop Paul Loverde has continued the late Bishop John Keating’s policy of allowing only boys to serve as acolytes, symbolically emphasizing the importance of the all-male priesthood. The Arlington bishop has also continued his predecessor’s vocational success, with seven priests ordained and 32 seminarians in 1999 in a diocese whose Catholic population is, like Denver, more than 11 times smaller than that of L.A.

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