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New York Times series: foreign priests in US parishes (updated)

December 29, 2008

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The New York Times has published a three-part series about foreign priests serving in US parishes. Laurie Goodstein traveled to western Kentucky to report on the experience of foreign priests in the Diocese of Owensboro.

Ms. Goodstein’s excellent reporting in the first two articles calls for further analysis. It is widely known that there is a priestly vocations crisis in many areas of the United States, but it is less widely known that the Church worldwide is in the midst of a priestly vocations boom. Between 1978 and 2005, the number of seminarians worldwide grew from 63,882 to 114,439-- a remarkable increase of 79.1%. (During the same time period, the number of Catholics worldwide grew 47.4%, while world population increased 48.8%.) Why then, is the Church in the United States not taking part in the worldwide vocation increase? And why, on the other hand, are some American dioceses taking part in the priestly vocations boom?

The first two New York Times articles do not offer us these statistics or attempt to answer these questions, though the first article quotes Father Dennis Holly, a Glenmary Home Missioner currently serving in the Diocese of Nashville: “Until we face the issue of mandatory celibacy and the ordination of women, we can’t deal with the lack of response to the invitation to priesthood.” This tired old saw, oft repeated for decades, fails to address the questions above. In nations where vocations are booming-- with the rare exceptions of those where Eastern Catholic Churches predominate-- the Church adheres to the same discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, so highly praised by the Second Vatican Council. All nations where vocations are booming adhere to the same doctrine that women cannot receive priestly ordination.

For the final article, Ms. Goodstein traveled to Kerala, India, to report on a vocation-rich diocese that exports priests to the United States. In this article, she discusses some of the factors that contribute to India's success in attracting vocations (it has more seminarians than any other nation in the world): "Some of the forces contributing to a lack of priests in Europe and the United States have begun to take shape here. Parents are having fewer children, with even observant Catholics freely admitting they use birth control. The Indian economy, which has boomed for years, offers more career options. Many priests once came from large agricultural families. But now land is scarce, the soil tapped out. Families are moving to cities, far from the tight-knit parishes that for generations kept Indian Catholics connected to their faith. And educated young Catholics are increasingly attracted to fields like engineering and technology."

 


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