New Priests in the USA: Older and More Conservative

While much of the world’s  attention is focused on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University  has just released a report about the U.S. Catholic ordination class of 2010.

The vast majority (92 percent) of men being ordained to the priesthood this year report some kind of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary. Most of them in education. Three in five (60 percent) of these new priests completed a college degree before pursuing the priesthood, and one in five (20 percent) has done advanced graduate study.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the ordination class of 2010 was born outside the United States, the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines, Poland and Vietnam. Between 20 and 30 percent of ordinands to the diocesan priesthood for each of the last 10 years were born outside the United States.

Two thirds report regularly praying the rosary (67 percent) and participating in Eucharistic Adoration (65 percent) before entering seminary.

The average age of ordinands for the Class of 2010 is 37. More than half (56 percent) are between the ages of 25 and 34. This is approximately the same as it was in 2009 and consistent with the average age of ordination classes for the last five years. Eleven are being ordained to the priesthood at age 65 or older.

This analysis is part of The Class of 2010: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, an annual national survey of men being ordained priests, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center. The entire report can be found at, as well as on the new which is set to launch on April 25, Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The survey was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“One important trend evident in this study is the importance of lifelong formation and engagement in the Catholic faith,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. He noted that, along with their education and work experience, half to three-quarters of the Class of 2010 report they served as an altar server, lector, Eucharistic minister or other parish ministry.

“Most ordinands have been Catholic since birth,” said Cardinal O’Malley, “Four in five report that both their parents are Catholic. Almost eight in 10 were encouraged to consider the priesthood by a priest. This speaks to the essential role the whole Church has to play in fostering vocations.”

Papal Apology and Resignation

“The Holy See’s obtuse response, combining self-denial with self-pity — it’s all the fault of a gossip-mongering media apparently — has shredded the last vestiges of Vatican credibility,” writes Andrew Bacevich in yesterday’s Boston Globe.  And today’s New York Times has published excerpts from a 1985 letter signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger showing he resisted “for the good of the universal church” pleas  to oust a pedophile priest in Oakland, California. 

World-wide attention is now focused on center stage at the Vatican. The Pope really has to act and act quickly. And I have an action-oriented  suggestion…..

For Pentecost 2010 — At high noon on Sunday May 23rd Pope Benedict XVI should appear at his balcony and issue the following proclamation:

Dear Brothers and Sisters around the world,

Today, Pentecost 2010, I stand before you not to bestow the traditional blessing “urbi et orbi” but to confess my own personal failures and sinfulness. I failed as Archbishop of Munich. I failed as Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And I have failed as Pope Benedict XVI, Peter’s Successor. Through my fault. Through my fault. Through my most grievous fault,  the sins of sexual abuse by members of the clergy went on far too long, hidden in secrecy and unpunished. I put face-saving self-concern and institutional safety ahead of living the Gospel and showing loving concern for the safety of children and young people. A terrible sin and a terrible failure as a leader in the Church of Christ. May the Lord have pity on my poor soul.

Therefore today, Pentecost 2010, I offer no “urbi et orbi” blessing but  my most profound apology for my failures and sinfulness; and at the conclusion of this address will offer at the same time my resignation as Peter’s Successor.

Furthermore, at a special Pentecost Penitential liturgy to be held today at 6:00 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica I ask  Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals and Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura to kneel with me before the high altar and offer their own resignations effective immediately.

Today, Pentecost 2010, I humbly ask the Holy Spirit to revivify and renew the Church. I ask Catholics and Christians around world to join together in prayer and discussion to chart a new course for the Church of Rome. And for the coming month I ask the heads of all episcopal conferences around the world to send to the Vatican representatives from their conferences – one lay and one ordained – who will comprise an international Roman Catholic leadership team to administer the Church and plan a thorough-going reorganization.

I now resign my office as Pope. For the next thirty days I will retreat to a Franciscan monastery, as a simple priest,  for a time of prayer, penance and interior conversion. May the Holy Spirit be with  us all in  the coming days!

Catholic Health Alert

A few days ago I attended liturgy at a college chapel I had not been to in a couple years. I say “attended” because from the moment I walked into the recently “renovated” space I realized I was an observer more than a participant. The altar which used to be at the center of the community is now back against the front wall. The old “sanctuary” – now elevated above the rest of the chapel – has been restored as a place reserved for the ordained. It is strictly off limits for lower-class lay people.

I will not spend much time on the “art” in the refurbished chapel… Suffice it to say that it looks like the conservative chaplain and his student helpers bought-out a couple flea markets specializing in 1950s plaster renditions of  Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The liturgical language and the language of the young homilist bothered me more than the sappy-sweet statuary. Totally gone today, in contrast to a long tradition in the place,  is any form of inclusive language. Everything was “he… him… his.” Those gathered that day for a special liturgy were about one third women. Yet the young fellow who addressed us began his reflections with “Dear Brothers!” Downhill from there…

Healthy and unhealthy religion… My examination of conscience for people at all levels in the church.

Does a particular form of religious thought and practice:

  1. Build bridges or set up barriers between people? Does it create qualitative classes of people?
  2. Strengthen or weaken a basic sense of trust and relatedness to people and to the universe?
  3. Stimulate or hamper personal responsibility?
  4. Is its primary concern for surface behavior or for the underlying health of the personality?
  5. Increase or lessen the enjoyment of life? Does it encourage a person to appreciate or depreciate the feeling dimension of life?
  6. Handle sexual feelings in constructive or abusive or repressive ways?
  7. Encourage the acceptance or the denial of reality?
  8. Does it foster magical or mature religious beliefs?
  9. Does it encourage intellectual honesty with respect to doubts?
  10. Does it oversimplify the human situation or face its tangled complexity?
  11. Emphasize love (and growth) or fear?

When Religion Goes Sour

The tsunami of clerical sexual abuse, now flooding the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, highlights the irony of religion. While religion can bring insight, care and redemption, it can also debase, abuse and reinforce, as well, the sinister aspirations of the human spirit. All in God’s name.

It is not surprising that unhealthy religion goes hand in hand with religious fundamentalism which is becoming the hallmark of the current papacy.

Fundamentalism is fundamentally flawed because it takes one element of the truth and proclaims it as the WHOLE TRUTH. Religious fundamentalists place such a high priority on doctrinal conformity and obedience to doctrinaire spokespersons that they sacrifice the very values which are basic to the great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and caring. In their overwhelming seriousness about religion, fundamentalists do not hesitate to intervene in political and social process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the values and behaviors the fundamentalist worldview requires.

Writing in the Boston Globe on this Monday after Easter 2010, James Carroll, argues that we need to rescue Catholicism from a fundamentalist Vatican.

“The whole Catholic Church seems to be in crisis,” he writes “but what is really at stake here is the collapse not of Catholicism, but of Catholic fundamentalism.”

Carroll continues:

Fundamentalism is the raising of religious barricades against tides of change. Protestant fundamentalists use the Bible (quoting verses of scripture) as both sword and shield. Catholic fundamentalists use the papacy that way (quoting encyclicals). Today’s Vatican presides as center of a command society with global reach, attempting to exert absolute control over all aspects of Catholic life, from the major (doctrine) to the minor (altar boys). Despite the impression that even many Catholics have, such papal dominance is a modern phenomenon. The Vatican was not always a corporate headquarters, with the world’s bishops as menial regional office managers, priests as messengers, the laity as mere customers…

Surprisingly, no one saw this distortion more clearly than a pope — John XXIII, who called, yes, a council to correct it. His Vatican II (1962-65) aimed to restore the “collegiality’’ of bishops (the pope only as “first among equals’’); to reinvigorate local expressions of belief (hence worship in the vernacular); and to retrieve the “priesthood of all believers’’ as a check on clericalism. Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger.

Across three decades, Ratzinger was key to the appointment of bishops whose overriding commitment was the protection of pope-centered clerical authority. Terrified of acting on their own, they had one eye eternally on Rome. “Scandal’’ was their nightmare. Between an abused child and a predator priest, their choice was always simple: protecting the power structure meant protecting the priest. That structure is the problem, which means the pope’s resignation is not the issue.

An example of what must happen now came from the American nuns who recently defied the Rome-obsessed bishops to support President Obama’s health reform bill. The nuns acted as if the reforms of Vatican II are real. Now priests and lay people must do the same, rescuing the Catholic Church from its fundamentalists, including the present pope.