Just 12 seminarians enter Maynooth
Pope Benedict XVI once pointed out to the American bishops that vocations are an index of the health of a local church. If so, the numbers entering Maynooth this year are a damning indictment of the Irish Church and its leadership.
A mere 12 seminarians are entering St. Patrick’s this year, compared with 22 in 2011, 16 in 2010 and 36 in 2009. A generous estimate would include about half of them continuing their studies to ordination in 2019. A mere six priests for all of Ireland in 2019! Such numbers are spectacularly inadequate to sustain Ireland’s ecclesiastical infrastructure.
The Irish bishops’ much-celebrated Year for Vocations in 2008-2009 was a failure. Numbers entering Maynooth increased by only 20% in 2009 from the previous year, a relatively insignificant jump when you consider both the low base from which it proceeded and the vast resources that were poured into the campaign. This could be partly attributed to the fallout from the Ryan Report released that year; likewise, the even lower numbers for this year and 2011 might have been affected by the impact of the Cloyne Report and the Cardinal Brady scandal. But the collapse of vocations continues an ongoing trend from long before the sex scandals emerged in the 1990s. By the late 1980s vocations had collapsed to such an extent that Cardinal O’Fiaich provoked surprise when he predicted that Ireland would soon have to import priests from Africa. Even a writer as hostile to the Church as Malachi O’Doherty observes in Empty Pulpits that the dearth of vocations can’t be attributed wholesale to the sex scandals: “Even before that shock hit, there were few left in their right minds who would want to take holy orders.”
One reason for the failure of the Year of Vocations lay in the insipid marketing mentality which has come to dominate the Irish episcopal conference and its attendant bureaucracy. In common with the consumerist mentality of western society, the Irish bishops thought you could solve a problem just by throwing money at it and hiring some advertising consultants. Another reason lay in the campaign’s secular and naturalist presentation of the priesthood. The priest’s role of ‘service’ and ‘listening’ was heavily emphasized, but in such a way that priesthood was portrayed as just another career, entirely devoid of a supernatural character.
I would suggest that the crisis in vocations has much deeper roots. Perusing historic ordination statistics for Maynooth, one is immediately impressed with the fact that the crisis in vocations goes back all the way to the 1960s. Ordinations at Maynooth peaked in 1963 when 558 new priests were ordained. The trajectory after that is unrelentingly downward. This is particularly dramatic in the case of Dublin. In 1962 (the same year the Second Vatican Council began its deliberations) 21 new priests from Maynooth (Note: Dublin also had its own seminary at Clonliffe until 2001) were ordained for the diocese of Dublin. By 1970, a mere eight years later, only 2 new priests from Maynooth were ordained for that highly populated diocese. The following year seen the ordination of just 1 priest, while no Dublin priests were ordained in 1972, a trend that continued until 1982 (when one Dublin priest was ordained).
It seems somewhat curious that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin incessantly focuses on the defects (real or perceived) of the pre-conciliar Irish Church (which, for all its problems, certainly had no crisis in vocations) while largely ignoring the demise of his own archdiocese, which is (literally) dying off rapidly before our very eyes. Dublin contains over a million Catholics, yet Archbishop Diarmuid Martin can persuade only 4 Catholic men in his archdiocese to become a diocesan priest. Meanwhile a whole generation of clergy are passing with no-one to replace them.
A bishop who cannot ensure enough recruits to sustain his diocese has failed. Alas, the renewal of Irish Catholicism that the Pope calls for is being implemented by the same men who have led us into this mess.
The crisis of vocations is a crisis of priesthood, a crisis of faith, a crisis of catechesis, and a crisis of bishops – all at the same time. Most Irish Catholics, perhaps most Irish priests, no longer even know what a priest is. As such it can’t be reasonably expected that they’d consider it a path worth pursuing.
The prospect currently haunting Irish Catholicism is not decline, but extinction.