Catholicism is Alive and Well

In spite of priest scandals, internal dissent and widespread mockery in secular societies throughout the globe, traditional Catholicism is becoming increasingly more popular.

In an article entitled “Traditional Catholicism is Winning” which was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kings College professor Anne Hendershott and the international director of operations of World Youth Alliance, Christopher White, see positive new trends blooming in the Church.

Most notably, calls for women’s ordination and a relaxation of celibacy rules for priests are being met not by acquiescence to these “modernizations,” but by an increase in the number of priestly ordinations.

“According to the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics, there were 5,000 more Catholic priests worldwide in 2009 than there were in 1999,” the authors note. “This is welcome news for a growing Catholic population that has suffered through a real shortage of priests.”

Even though the situation is still tenuous in the United States, a new seminary had to be built near Charlotte, N.C. and the Archdiocese of Washington DC has had to expand its current facilities to accommodate a surge in priestly vocations. When Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley took over the flock in Boston in 2003, he was met with calls to shut down the seminary due to a lack of vocations. There are now 70 men studying to be priests in Boston with some candidates having to be turned away due to lack of space.

In spite of the fact that the priest-to-parishioner ratio in the U.S. is still dire, with only one priest per 2,000 people compared to one priest for every 900 Catholics in 1985, ordinations have been on the rise. New priestly ordinations in the U.S. rose from 442 to 467 in the past decade.

So how do we explain the trend?

Nearly 20 years ago, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, then the leader of the Diocese of Omaha, said that when dioceses are unambiguous and allow a minimum of dissent about the male, celibate priesthood, vocations rise. The same holds true for today.

“Our preliminary research on the correlates of priestly ordinations reveals that the diocese with the largest numbers of new priests are led by courageous bishops with faithful and inspirational vocation offices,” the authors write. 

Bishops such as the Most Rev. Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who declared members of certain dissident groups to be excommunicated from the Church, and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago who called liberal Catholicism “an exhausted project” are leading their flocks into a new springtime of faith.

“This aging generation of progressives continues to lobby Church leaders to change Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women’s ordination. But it is being replaced by younger men and women who are attracted to the Church because of the very timelessness of its teachings,” says Hendershott and White.

This younger generation of Catholics are attracted to everything that makes Catholicism counter-cultural, such as the beauty of the liturgy and the Church’s commitment to the dignity of the person.

“They want to be contributors to that commitment – alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices,” the authors write.

“It is time for Catholics to celebrate their arrival.”

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