Monday, December 1, 2008

'Figures don't back vocations increase claims' - Irish Catholic

An article by the managing editor of the current edition (November 27th, 2008) of the Irish Catholic paper takes issue with the national director of vocations, Fr Paddy Rushe. Fr Paddy has been in the news this past week or so suggesting that it is a myth that there is lack of people signing up to enter seminary in Ireland. The text of what Fr Rushe says can be found elsewhere on this blog.

While the managing editor of the Irish Catholic makes some relevant points regarding potential flaws in Fr Paddy's arguments (eg, the potential drop-out rates of semianrians, the plausibility that those joining seminary might have postponed thinking of joining postponed their decisions until the 'storm of controversy' passed), it is the negative tone that he (the managing editor) uses that is quite distasteful. The second half of the article is in italics below:

It also appears that from the Church's own research that the acceptance rate of applicants to the priesthood in recent years has increased. For instance, as of 2006, the acceptance rate of applicants to priesthood was 62%, compared to 50% in 2005 and only 42% accepted in 2004 (CRD report Vocations and Church Personnel 2005).

Perhaps the quality of prospective candidates is increasing, but perhaps the dioceses are getting more desperate? The Vatican only warned recently about keeping up strict screening procedures, and while I am not suggesting any deterioration in Irish screening, the figures just serve to show that any number of conclusions can be drawn. The vocations situation is, as one vocations promoter described it to me this week, 'pitiful'. We lost 160 priests last year to the 9 that were ordained.

Even if Fr Rushes's prediction does hold up and the number of ordained priests doubles, they will not be enough for the 26 dioceses and approximately 2,000 parishes to be served.

The figures below are taken from the Bishops CRD who say the figures are so variable that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. However, it does admit that for all other vocation categories (nuns, brothers and religious priests) a "steadying downward trend" is apparent.

Diocesan Vocations
Year:1996 ; Enetered: 52; Ordained: 46
Year:1997 ; Entered: 53; Ordained: 45
Year:1998 ; Entered: 45; Ordained: 27
Year:1999 ; Entered: 46; Ordained: 34
Year:2000 ; Entered: 29; Ordained: 24
Year:2001 ; Entered :32; Ordained: 29
Year:2002 ; Entered: 20; Ordained: 16
Year:2003 ; Entered: 19; Ordained: 19
Year:2004 ; Entered: 28; Ordained: 13
Year:2005 ; Entered: 27; Ordained: 11
Year:2006 ; Entered: 30; Ordained: 9
Year:2007 ; Entered: 31; Ordained: 9
Year:2008 ; Entered: 30; Ordained: 11

Do the figures back up Fr Rushe's thesis? No. Perhaps Fr Rushe's optimism is well placed on his day-to-day experience dealing with candidates and vocations directors, but it's just too early to say based on the numbers. Only when the classes of the last three years get to ordination will we know how good the retention rates are and if the years in between have seen the entrant numbers increase.

After all, the Dublin Report is due out in January '09 - there may be a breeze to our backs but there are a few headwinds to be dealt with first.

The article sets out to criticise the National Director of Vocations and makes suggests the dioceses are getting desperate. The article further suggests that the screening of candidates ccould be called in to question. Of course, the last paragraph of the article sounds the warning about the impending publication of another report of abuse by another Irish diocese and the implications that this could have for potential vocations.

Those involved in vocations promotion and ministry in this country are sorely tired of the ongoing negativity surrounding their work. Any possible good news story to emanate from anyone involved in vocations is a chance for journalists to turn it into a negative and suggest hypothetical allegations and arguments. That is quite distasteful and unhelpful.

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