The Decline in Vocations: Celibacy Isn’t the Issue

In a recent interview, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, said that celibacy is not the cause of the lack of priestly vocations.

The Cardinal cites some statistics to support his assertion:

  • More than 40% of marriages fail, while only 2% of priests fail in celibacy.  The crisis in the sacrament of marriage as one and indissoluble is obviously greater magnitude than is the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood.
  • The decline in the number of births in recent decades inevitably has led to fewer young men and, thus, of priestly vocations.
  • Protestant denominations which do not require their clergy to be celibate are in a state of deep crisis regarding vocations to the ministry.

In Cardinal Piacenza’s estimation, the issue from which these problems stem is much larger in scope:

[The issue is] the contemporary inability to make definitive choices, in the dramatic reduction of human freedom that has become so fragile as not to pursue the good, not even when it is recognized and intuited as a possibility for one’s own existence.

Discourse concerning mandatory celibacy, the Cardinal believes, must not begin with the assumption that freedom is the absence of ties and permanent commitments.  Instead, this discourse must begin with the assumption that freedom consists in the definitive gift of self to the other and to God.  Every human being, in freedom, must understand and welcome one’s vocation and must work every day more and more to become what God created that person to be.

Celibacy is not the issue causing the downturn in the number of vocations to the priesthood and the proposed “solution”—rescinding mandatory celibacy—will not remediate that issue.  For Cardinal Piacenza, secularization is the issue.  Confronting the roots of secularization (e.g., a misunderstanding of freedom as well as the consequent loss of the sense of the sacred, of faith, and its practice) is what will remediate that issue.

To read Cardinal Piacenza’s interview, click on the following link.

8 Responses to The Decline in Vocations: Celibacy Isn’t the Issue

  • RR says:

    Celibacy isn’t the “cause” of the lack of priestly vocations just like lack of US intervention didn’t cause the Rwandan genocide. But lifting the requirement would undoubtedly increase vocations.

    There’s a selection bias in the first stat. Only those who are firmly committed to keeping their vows even consider becoming priests. People marry on a whim in Vegas. The crisis in marriage is real and so is the crisis in the lack of priestly vocations (and religious for that matter). The 2% failure rate doesn’t count the 50% non-participation rate (made that number up but you get the point).

    The decline in the birth rate should also lead to similar declines in all occupations but few have seen such a dramatic decline. It’s worse than the decline of the auto-workers.

    Some Protestant denominations are seeing a decline but that’s due in large part to canibalization. Evangelical denominations are seeing a boom. And even still, it’s not as dramatic a decline as in the Catholic Church.

  • Don the Kiwi says:

    In a society that focusses so much on the “self” – Self development, self fulfilment, self promotion – there is little left for focus on the “other” – those whom we love and are supposed to sacrifice ourselves for.
    The sense of self-sacrifice within our western society is very much subordinated to the self-satisfaction; we have become very much a narcissistic society. Within the vocation of marriage, the offering by both parties to each-other in self giving, one to the other spouse, is the same type of self-sacrifice that aspirants to the priesthood and consecrated life have for themselves in service to God, The priesthood is not a career path for self-fulfilment – it is a calling of service to Christ in ministering to His Church.

    The other problem in the shortage of vocations is not celibacy, but a lack of faith amongst the Faithful of today. Further, how often do you hear a mother or a father encouraging their son to consider a priestly vocation; or a daughter to the religious lfe?

  • RL says:

    Only those who are firmly committed to keeping their vows even consider becoming priests. People marry on a whim in Vegas. The crisis in marriage is real and so is the crisis in the lack of priestly vocations (and religious for that matter).

    I think what you’re saying here, RR, though perhaps not intended is that the celibacy requirement is a n effective qualifier for those who are committed – otherwise the failure rate of priestly commitments will likely mirror that of marriage commitments.

    Don the Kiwi notes a lack of faith and a lack of encouragement and to that I agree. However, I would pinpoint the reasons behind those to a general secularization of the Church over the generation. In regions (even in specific dioceses) where the Church draws sharper distinction from the secular world you have a lively faith and greater vocations. The celibacy requirement in the Roman Rite transcends all regions, yet some countries (or dioceses) have full seminaries and others are empty.

  • RR says:

    RL, relaxing the celibacy requirement or any onerous requirement will result in the admission of less dedicated priests. But the success rate would also be pushed up by the fact that having sex would no longer be considered a failure. So there’s no way of knowing which rate failure rates would move.

    The Church doesn’t vary enough from region to region to adequately account for the variability in seminary enrollment. The difference is primarily cultural. It’s no coincidence that seminaries are packed in developing former third-world colonies and empty in developed Western cultures.

  • RL says:

    It’s not a matter of whether having sex is a failure or not, RR. People have sex in marriages, yet based on stats it doesn’t seem that necessarily makes for lasting commitments, else we wouldn’t be discussing this point.

    Yes, culture is a large factor, and I took that into account when I was writing. Still, the Church in say Nigeria is far removed from US secular culture. Within the US we have dioceses that thrive and others that whither. We have some that were essentially dead and are now doing well. There seems to be a correlation between how those dioceses have been administered as far as their Catholic identity, commitment to traditional Catholic teachings and devotions, and what not vs. secular world. It stands to reason when you think about it. If there is nothing apparently sacred or “special” about the Church, why should anyone feel the desire to commit themselves?

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