Michael S. Rose, an American writer, is editor of the 'St Catherine Review' and author of 'The Renovation Manipulation', a study of questionable alterations made to Catholic churches since Vatican II. He is currently writing a book on discrimination against orthodox vocations in some US seminaries. The following are extracts from his recent article on seminaries in 'Catholic World Report,' which highlight the contrasting seminary numbers for orthodox and liberal US dioceses. His comments apply equally to the Australian seminary situation.
Those US dioceses which have consistently promoted orthodoxy both in their parishes and in their seminaries have been affected little, if at all, by any "vocations crisis" or shortage of priests. Nor are the bishops of such dioceses issuing pastoral letters introducing parish "clusters" or giving instructions on how to celebrate the liturgy in the absence of a priest.
Dioceses such as Wichita, Lincoln, Arlington, Fargo and Peoria have consistently been ordaining as many or more men each year than liberal dioceses five to ten times their size.
In the Rockford, Illinois, diocese, Bishop Thomas Doran ordained eight priests last year, the highest number of ordinations there in 41 years. In Virginia, the Diocese of Arlington ordained 55 men to the priesthood in the years 1991-98. And the Diocese of Peoria, with a Catholic population of just 232,000, ordained 72 priests in the years 1991-98, an average of nine each year.
In comparison, nearby Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a Catholic population three times that of Peoria, ordained just two priests in 1998, while Detroit, with a Catholic population of 1.5 million (almost seven times that of Peoria) ordained an average of eight men each year from 1991-98.
Archbishop Curtiss' Omaha archdiocese, considered one of the most conservative in the Midwest, ordained an average of seven men in the years from 1991-98 for a population of just 215,000 Catholics. Compare that to the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin (with a slightly larger Catholic population), which ordained a total of four men during the entire period of 1991-98.
Other dioceses, such as Denver and Atlanta, have turned their vocation programs around by actively supporting orthodox vocations and promoting fidelity to Church teaching, while emphasising the traditional role of the priest as defined by the Church. Atlanta now has 61 seminarians, up from just nine in 1985. Denver boasted 68 seminarians in 1999, up from 26 in 1991.
The Archdiocese of Denver has taken a unique approach to the issue of reforming its seminary. Several years ago then-Archbishop Francis Stafford bought St Thomas Seminary after the Vincentian institution closed due to a dwindling student body. The problems, moral and pedagogical, were well known and documented.
Last year Archbishop Charles Chaput re-opened the Denver seminary under a new name and with a new faculty.
St John Vianney Theological Seminary is decidedly rooted in the theology of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. Its faculty and students are overtly and joyfully supportive of the Catholic priesthood. Its mission is clearly to form holy and healthy priests for the "new evangelisation." Rather than reading texts penned by dissidents who rose to notoriety in the 1960s, the Vianney curriculum emphasises the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas.
In August 1998, Saint Gregory the Great College Seminary opened in the Diocese of Lincoln, making it the first free-standing diocesan seminary to be opened in the United States for many decades.
This year the 60-student seminary of the US branch of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter moved to the Diocese of Lincoln, which has always been considered one of the most conservative spots in the country. (In 1998, Lincoln boasted an amazing 44 seminarians for a diocese of just 85,000; the comparably sized Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, claimed only seven seminarians that year.)
His analysis may sound simplistic, but Archbishop Curtiss has outlined the solution to the problems that have beset our Catholic seminaries and vocations offices for the past four decades. He first recognises that "orthodoxy breeds vocations." Then he candidly suggests that it is time to pay close attention to the dioceses which have been unaffected by the priest shortage or vocations crisis. If we are unwilling to recognise the reasons for their success, he says, "then we allow ourselves to become supporters of a self-fulfilling prophecy about the shortage of vocations."
The archbishop identifies the successful dioceses and religious orders as those that promote orthodoxy and loyalty to the Church, are unambiguous about the ordained priesthood as the Church defines that ministry, have bishops who are willing and able to confront dissent, and are willing to call forth candidates who share their loyalty to the Pope.
"When this formula, based on total fidelity to Church teaching, is followed in dioceses and religious communities," he writes, "then vocations will increase."
Bishops would do well to take the advice of Archbishop Curtiss and look at successful dioceses and seminary programs to see what they are doing. They would do well to look to the dioceses which are not presently experiencing either a vocations crisis or a priest shortage. Reform of the nation's seminaries and vocations offices is a key. If that reform is not undertaken, the self-imposed priest shortage will occupy Catholic resources which would be better spent on evangelisation, spiritual formation, and performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Subscriptions to 'Catholic World Report' can be arranged through Ignatius Press, Brisbane, (07) 3376 0105.