Monday, October 17, 2005

Has the Clergy Sexual Scandal in the US Caused a Huge Drop or "Crisis" in Vocations?

On the ludicrous anti-Catholic discussion board, "Catholic Reformation," one of the outstanding luminaries there, who goes by the nickname "Tan2Day," posted a typically nasty, slanderous, intellectually vacant post entitled: Gross Stupidity ~ Or A Clever Wolf Lying? Choose... Here it is, in its entirety:

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In his latest "Word from Rome" column, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter asks an obvious question, and gets an astonishing answer from Bishop William Skylstad, the president of the US bishops' conference:

Question: " Has the sexual abuse crisis in the United States taken a toll on vocations to the priesthood? "

Skylstad Answer: "My impression is that it hasn't. Times of challenge do not necessarily produce a negative atmosphere in terms of people's response to the gospel and to the church. I think people tend to look at the church and what it can become."

Talk about one of either two things...

#1 - The Presiding President of the USCCB is utterly CLUELESS and should be removed for gross stupidity.

#2 - The Presiding President of the USCCB is capable of looking your right in the eyes, and ON THE RECORD utter a smooth flat out lie, knowing that you know he is lying, but because of his ego and self importance he KNOWS that no one will call him on his lie.

So, which is it?

Lu 6:39

And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
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Assuming "Tan" understands the meaning of English words and how English grammar works (given the uniformly low quality of this board, such an assumption is by no means a given), then this is an accusation towards a prominent bishop of either "gross stupidity" or wicked lying, like a "clever wolf [in sheep's clothing?]" with regard to the number of vocations. There is a bit of ambiguity here, however, because one is not sure whether "Tan" has in mind vocations in the US only (i.e., the scandal's effect in the US in particular, zeroing in on vocations, which is what was the subject matter of the question), or vocations in in the entire world (i.e., in the Catholic Church as a whole).

Nor are we sure whether "Tan's" hidden premise is that the scandal is the main cause of a "crisis" or drop in vocations (whether here or everywhere). Tan appears to assume that it is utterly obvious that there is a huge drop in vocations, and that the scandal was the primary cause of this, and that for anyone to deny this (an "astonishing" thing) is to be guilty of clueless stupidity or nefarious lying.

In any event, the subject matter is vocations to the priesthood in particular. For those unfamiliar with the term vocation, it means (in a Catholic context) the number of new seminarians, who will be priests, and/or the number of new ordinations; "vocation" means calling or life's-work. My own vocation is as an apologist.

Subsequent comments share the same lack of clearness as to exactly what is being asserted or denied. For example, moderator "Sid2" writes:

When you can't accept the reality, deny, deny, deny

Tan:I believe that the RCC is sorta like an alcoholic:. . . if they don't admit that they have a problem, then they really don't. When all else fails, keep denying.

Okay. What "reality" are we denying, though? "midnightbirdgirl" (don't you love the nicknames on this board?) adds: "I think they are blantanly [sic] lying, because they are cornered."



Bishop William Skylstad: is he the one who is "grossly stupid" or a "liar" with regard to vocations to the priesthood, or is it rather, the bigoted ignoramuses of the anti-Catholic "Catholic Reformation" board who are more accurately characterized in such terms when they make such wild, unsubstantiated charges?

So there we have the charge. But there is a simple way to determine whether it is valid or not. We have statistics, after all, as to the numbers of vocations.

For example, Dean R. Hoge, a professor of sociology at Catholic University; one of the leading sociologists of religion, has an article online entitled "Facts and figures: The state of the priesthood." He notes the obvious fact that vocations have been decreasing in America for some time now, while they are increasing rapidly elsewhere:

Africa and Asia, on the other hand, have seen large increases in priests—55 percent and 60 percent, respectively—as well as in Church membership. In these regions the number of Catholics has grown 87 percent and 51 percent, respectively. Central America, the Caribbean, and South America haven't been far behind.

Put plainly, the wealthy Western nations are losing priests, while virtually all of the rest of the world is gaining them, though not always fast enough.

Now, does he think this is a result of the recent sexual scandal? No (in fact, he doesn't even mention that in the course of his rather lengthy article which appeared only this past summer):

The number of U.S. ordinations has ranged between 440 and 540 annually in recent
years, but with a long-term gradual decline. (emphasis added)
What are the actual figures he gives, in a convenient chart:

Actual increase or decrease of priests from 1985-2001 is 0% Unfortunately for our purposes,. the chart doesn't extend to the period after the scandal, yet we can see that trends of increasing or decreasing vocations are longstanding and differ widely according to region. The United States had a net loss in priests of 15% in this period. Obviously, that was taking place prior to the scandal and thus has different causes. But Europe and Australia also showed losses of 11% and 14%. By contrast, the numbers in South America and Central America increased by 22% and 41%, and we saw above the great gains in Africa and Asia.

Another source for suchg statistics is CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate - "Putting social science research at the service of the Church since 1964." This web page states:

CARA gets many inquiries from Church agencies and the media about the numbers of vocations, seminary enrollments, and priests and vowed religious. Below are
comparative statistics from 1965.

Here again we see a reduction of priests in the US, from 58,632 in 1965 to 42,528 in 1995, or a 28% drop. But is this due to the sexual scandal? Again, clearly not, since the figures for the drop in previous ten-year increments are just as great or greater than the recent drop in the last three-five years:

1975: 58,909
1985: 57,317
1995: 49,054
2000: 45,699
2005: 42,528

The reduction from 1985-1995 was 8,263, or 14%, whereas from 1995 to 2005 it was 6526 (13%). So, far from there being a "crisis" - even restructing the survey to the US alone - we see that the rate of decrease has not markedly changed at all, and has actually lessened. There is still a decrease, yes, but since it is longterm it can't possibly be blamed on the sexual scandal alone. There are many many reasons for it.

Furthermore, if we compare the decrease from 1995-2000 and 2000-2005, we find that it is the same: 7%. Obviously, then, if the scandal was causing some huge difference or "crisis" it isn't seen in these figures. Yet our anti-Catholic friend dogmatically states that Bishop William Skylstad is guilty of "gross stupidity" or of uttering a "smooth flat out lie" for making this point. That's fascinating, isn't it, since the actual hard data shows that he was exactly right.

Priestly ordinations per year show even less of any indication of a present crisis above and beyond the longterm losses of 40 years:

1985: 533
1995: 511 (4% loss over ten years)
2000: 442 (14% loss over five years)
2005: 454 (3% gain over five years)

This data is literally a counter-proof, since we see a net gain in the last five years, even though there was a net loss over the previous ten. Likewise, with the numbers of graduate-level seminarians:

1995: 3,172
2000: 3,474
2005: 3,308 (4% increase in ten years)

How can this be a vocations crisis, if we have 4% more seminarians this year than we had in 1995? Even if one figures for the past five years only, we see only a 5% decreas, hardly a "crisis" in any sense of that word. It is almost statistically insignificant.

If anything, the real crisis is in the ranks of women religious (where there has been no massive reporting of any sexual scandal):

1965: 179,954
1975: 135,225
1985: 115,386
1995: 90,809
2000: 79,814
2005: 68,634 (62% reduction in 40 years; 24% in the last ten)

Again, obviously, other factors are in play; notably a loss of faith among these women, as liberalism shot through their ranks, destroying morale and orthodox faith. Even here, the greater losses were from 1965-1975, when it was 25%, than in the last ten. By contrast, reduction in priests in 40 years was 28%, and 13% in the last ten, both much lower than losses of religious sisters. So why isn't "Tan2Day" writing papers about nuns, rather than priests? And that has very little to do with pedophilia, molestation, and so forth (though there are some sexual variables which come into play).

If we look at the whole world, no crisis at all is occurring in vocations, since the total has increased from 404,783 in 1975 to 405,450 in 2004. Graduate-level seminarians have increased by 66% from 1980-2000: from 33,731 to 55,968.

According to the appropriately-titled article, "Priest Vocation Crisis? Yea Right!," we even see marked increases in certain US dioceses:

. . . such as, in the dioceses of Arlington (VA), Denver (C0), Philadelphia (PA), Lincoln (NEB), and Peoria (ILL). Father James Gould, vocation direct for Arlington Va., said, “ that their problem is that they don't have enough beds for all the priests that they are ordaining.” (about 23 in the past 2 years) The diocese of Lincoln with a population of just 84,000 Catholics has 45 seminarians . . .

Why are some dioceses in the United States and many others around the world
experiencing a springtime in vocations? The answer is those dioceses which promote loyalty to the pope and the magisterial teaching of the Church are fulfilling the needs of young men seeking the priesthood. The candidates today see the errors of the 1960’s and 70’s and do not want to become politically correct priests which stand for nothing and fall for everything. Orthodox diocese have been mobilizing priests and lay people to call young men to the religious life despite the opposition of those who rail against a male, celibate priesthood. So while dioceses infected with heresy cry and make lame excuses because the young are not buying their agenda, orthodox bishops and vocation directors have been cooperating with the Holy Spirit and getting results!

If anyone, then, is guilty of "gross stupidity" or "smooth flat-out lie," it is "Tan2Day," the misinformed author of the article here critiqued. To use his words, "which is it?" Perhaps the next time he will check the facts, as I did, before he launches into his abysmally ignorant anti-Catholic jeremiads.

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