Priest shortage creates problems

By Ashley Weyler
April 27, 2006

In May of 2005, a 20-year-old graduate of Strath Haven High School left St. Charles Seminary. Robert Bowie entered the seminary at 18 not knowing what he wanted to do. He left at 20 not knowing what he wanted to do. “I’ve convinced myself that I left because I wanted to see other things and not because I was unhappy,” he said.

“I miss it, though,” he said. “I miss serving as a seminarian at Mass. I miss going to prayer with my buddies after playing football. I miss playing “Mario Kart” in my room and not worrying about Latin tests or epistemology finals. I miss complaining about how asinine some of the rules were we had to follow. I miss talking with bishops and priests about how things have been.”

But at this time, he sad it just wasn’t for him. “I just needed a break. Maybe I’ll end up back there or some other seminary when I’m older. I like thinking about it though. Being a priest would be awesome. Just not when I want to see other stuff I haven’t seen yet.

As older priests retire or pass away, the shortage of Catholic priests is growing worse. Today, there are about 43,000 priests in the U.S., compared o 1965 when there were about 59,000. According to the book, “Full Pews, Empty Altars,” by Lawrence Young, if this trend of dwindling number continues, the church could lose another 16,000 priests by the year 2015.

Many factors go into these dropping numbers; family sizes are shrinking. The sexual revolution changed the views of sex and celibacy. In fact, 30,000 men have left the priesthood to marry in recent years. Rev. David E. Diamond, the academic dean of the St. Charles Seminary College Division, believes this issue is complex. “I think society as a whole devalues it,” he said. “Our culture is geared towards instant gratification. Commitment to the priesthood is just not popular.”

Diamond grew up in a Catholic family and neighborhood. Priests he knew were great men in his eyes. “You want to emulate your heroes,” he said. This is why he wanted to become a priest.

Bowie does not understand why more men are not signing up to be priests. He said, “Seminarians and priests know how to have a good time. Believe me, I was there.”

Some say the vow of celibacy should be dropped and priests allowed to marry. Diamond thinks that celibacy plays into decreasing numbers because our society doesn’t allow for celibacy. “The values in priesthood are timeless. I don’t see it changing,” he said.

Currently, the church allows widowed men and married former Episcopal priests to join the priesthood. But at a recent Vatican meeting, 256 bishops from 118 countries agreed the church should not take away priestly celibacy. They said, “It is a time-honored way of keeping a priest focused on dedicating his life to serving God.”

Bowie has not dated or had a girlfriend yet. He feels that the whole thing is too complicated. “Prayer a few times a day and saying Mass would be a whole lot more fulfilling than going to some boring job and coming home to loud, noisy, obnoxious children. Plus, seminarians don’t date, and girls love guys they can’t have. So guys should think about that when saying the priesthood isn’t for them,” he said jokingly.

The Vatican has acknowledged that the sex-abuse scandal, the uncovering of hundreds of priests who molested children and teenagers, damaged the church’s moral authority. According to The Week Magazine, church officials are now surveying all 229 U.S. seminaries to root out candidates with a strong homosexual orientation.

Diamond said that the seminarians were saddened by the scandal. “They are not going to let the bad priests represent them. They will not fall victim to that kind of behavior,” he said.

“When I told my friends I was thinking about being a priest, some made fun of me telling me not to touch little boys. Other friends of mine were attacked verbally and physically because of the actions others have made. It sucks. Ordained men of God messed up, and innocent people, both victims and good priests and seminarians, got hurt,” Bowie said. “I’m not trying to overlook the harm the victims and their families have been subjected to. I’m just trying to shed some light on the fact that my friends are being hurt as well.”

Bowie’s view on the scandal is that he is glad it was uncovered because now it can be stopped so that future generations won’t be hurt. He said, “I’m sorry to see priests I know get hurt from a mistake made one time 30 years ago, and I’m sorry to see my friends get attacked for something they didn’t do. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, aunts, grandparents, principals and anyone else could be a pedophile, but the Church got nailed worse than others because they are ordained men of God.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a plan to try and attract more young men to enter the priesthood. Rev. Christopher B. Rodgers, the director of the Office for Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood, said that the church is alive, according to a message from him on the Archdiocese website. He said, “We discover life’s purpose only in Christ, in hearing his call, in responding to it and in generously living our life for others. The call to be a priest is a unique call. It is a call to be Christ for the world today. To make Him present by proclaiming His word, celebrating His sacraments and living His life for others. I encourage all of you to put us to work for you. You are not alone in your discernment. As He did on the shores of Galilee, Jesus calls others to follow Him as His priests. His call continues today. Do not be afraid to answer.”

Since leaving the seminary, Bowie is currently working in San Antonio, Texas, on an AmeriCorps scholarship. He lives with two other men and each of them has different jobs and receives a stipend every two weeks for groceries and other necessities. He works in an after school program with kindergarten to fifth graders. He said, “I think I’d like to be a teacher, but in the meantime I’m debating whether or not to do another year of work there or go to DCCC, which is a community college.” He then joked, “I’m still considering the priesthood, but if any ladies would like me to think about the vocation of marriage, they can drop me an email.”

There is nothing Bowie would change about the priesthood. He said, “I was quite happy entering the seminary because of what the priesthood is now, marriage not included, and am happy to see no drastic changes. I think the priesthood is pretty awesome.”

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Ashley Weyler

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