In his Holy Thursday homily at St. Peter’s Basilica on April 5, Pope Benedict XVI denounced calls from some Catholics for optional celibacy among priests and for women’s ordination. The pope said that “true renewal” comes only through the “joy of faith” and “radicalism of obedience.”
And renewal is coming. After the 2002 scandal about sexual abuse by clergy, progressive Catholics were predicting the end of the celibate male priesthood in books like “Full Pews and Empty Altars” and “The Death of Priesthood.” Yet today the number of priestly ordinations is steadily increasing.
A new seminary is to be built near Charlotte, N.C., and the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has expanded its facilities to accommodate the surge in priestly candidates. Boston’s Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley recently told the National Catholic Register that when he arrived in 2003 to lead that archdiocese he was advised to close the seminary. Now there are 70 men in Boston studying to be priests, and the seminary has had to turn away candidates for lack of space.
According to the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics, there were more than 5,000 more Catholic priests world-wide in 2009 than there were in 1999. This is welcome news for a growing Catholic population that has suffered through a real shortage of priests.
The situation in the U.S. is still tenuous. The number of American Catholics has grown to 77.7 million, up from 50 million in 1980. But the priest-to-parishioner ratio has changed for the worse. In 1965, there was one priest for every 780 American parishioners. By 1985, there was one priest for every 900 Catholics, and by 2011 there was one for every 2,000. In dioceses where there are few ordinations, such as New York’s Rochester and Albany, people know this shortage well. [More]