JuiET us pass on to the second stage: the stage which could he described by the single word "interest". Interest in what? we may ask. The answer to the question would depend on the age range of the young people under consideration,
On the whole this second stage can begin quite early— even before the secondary school. We are naturally helped in our work by the innate and quite avid curiosity of the child to learn about the world whose horizons are ever widening as he grows up.
Interest in the Church : her mission and her work. Interest in her problems and her needs. Interest in mankind and the duties we have towards other men and their needs.
Speaking of parents' duties the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity is clear. "In the family. parents have the task of training their children from childhood to recognise God's love for all men. Especially by example they should teach them little by little to show concern for the material and spiritual needs of their neighbour." The whole of family life, then. would become a sort of apprenticeship for the "a postolate".
And gradually. with a little conviction and effort, the "vocation promoter"—be he
SINCE World War H the climate of thinking about the priest-power of
the Church has passed through several phases in most parts of the world: from concern, through anxiety and alarm, to crisis.
Sonic of the recent literature on the subject even suggests near panic.
One of those who have given most thought to the priestpower problem on the world scale is Fr. James Forrestall, a priest of Salford Diocese, founder and for many years director of the Vocations Exhibitions.
Fr. Forrestall's point of departure* is the statistical data published in the Annuario Pontificia relating to numbers of priests in the Catholic population "are not complete and in some cases not wholly reliable.
"This is due to the fact that returns are not available from some dioceses and in others are incomplete."
Although Fr. Forrestal! describes his figures as relating to the years 1960 to 1965 they were in fact taken from the Annuario for these years, and therefore relate to the preceding 30 June, 1959 to 1964, or to earlier dates in the case of the many dioceses whose returns do not reach Rome in time.
Obviously wrong figures he has replaced by estimates. He gives, country by country, separate figures for secular clergy and regular priests. 'These he adds together to calculate the ratio of people to priests.
He points out that not all secular priests are engaged on pastoral work and that some religious priests are engaged in apostolic work. Accordingly, he takes as a "norm" not the ratio of 1.200 people per priest suggested by Pope Pius XII in Fidei nonum but a ratio of 800.
He rightly points out that this is a very crude measure: it takes no account of geographical factors, nor of the apostolic needs of non-Catholics in areas where Catholics are in a minority.
One might add that it also takes no account of differences in the "job specification" of the priest—the things he is expected to do—and of the pastoral and apostolic functions
exercised by nuns, brothers. and laity, not forgetting teachers. nurses, social workers and so on.
But crude as the measure is. and bad as the figures are, this ratio is one of the very few we can apply throughout most of the world.
WHAT DO WE FIND? From the 1960 Annuario Fr. Forrestal! calculated that there were in the world as a whole 276,172 diocesan and 132,393 religious priests, making a total of 408,565. Catholic population was 512 million (other sources put it higher), giving a ratio of 1,254 Catholics per priest.
From the 1965 Annuario he calculates that the number of diocesan priests had risen 2.7 per cent over five years to 283,538, religious priests 7.5 per cent to 142,277, and therefore total priests 4.2 per cent to 425,815.
During the corresponding five years estimated Catholic population rose by 12.8 per cent. Fr. Forrestall's first major point is that the shortage of priests partly reflects the "population explosion".
It will take 25 years for today's babies to reach the priesthood. in 1991. By that time there are likely to be about 1.000 million Catholics in the world.
Fr. Forrestall has a lot to say about the situation in each continent, and indeed he reviews the position in most individual countries. He shows that in terms of his norm of 800, North America and Europe and Oceania are well supplied, and Asia and Africa badly supplied. while the situation in Latin America is nothing less than desperate, with an average of 4,928 Catholics (mid-1964) to a priest.
What are the author's conclusions? First he points to the need for better distribution of clergy. (In Belgium, for instance, 1 know that many priests work all their lives as teachers in Catholic schools, and T know also of a school not far from London, not a seminary, with 16 priests on its staff.)
Fr. Forrestall's second conclusion is that "widespread and serious efforts should be made to increase the numbers of candidates. particularly for the diocesan priesthood." (There is no doubt that "widespread and
serious efforts" have been made for some years now. Gone are the days when one English Bishop turned away all candidates on the grounds that his Catholic population was going to decline.)
ONE CAN HOWEVER question some of Fr. Forrestall's other suggestions. He points to the very low perseverance rates of junior seminarians (as many as 90 per cent failing to persevere to ordination) and he stresses the increase in "late" or mature vocations. But at the same time he recommends the establishment of regional or interdiocesan seminaries, In the years ahead some form of higher education is going to become the norm for most young men in advanced industrial countries, just as secondary education has been (in England) since World War II, and primary education for almost a century.
At a time when we should be streamlining the major seminary course to meet the real needs of the post-graduate student. it seems odd to go back to cradle-snatching at 11 plus.
It also seems odd that Fr. Forrestal! recommends shorter emergency training courses in the major seminary, but specifically rejects "such a system as a permanent thing in the training of seminarians."
The future of the priesthood lies with men in their twenties and thirties curiously called "late vocations". At present many of them have the full six-year course at major seminary. after one or two years at a college for late vocations.
If we closed some of the minor seminaries, shortened the course in the major semi• naries. and replaced with properly trained lay teachers many of the priests now on the staffs of seminaries of all kinds, we might make a signal contribution to the solution of the problem.
1 must confess to disappointment at Fr. Forrestall's analysis of the sociological reasons for the shortage. He says that it is obvious that "one of the strongest reasons for lack of candidates for the priesthood is the devaluation of the dignity and importance of the priestly state, which has accompanied a decline in religious practice.
Young men may have been attracted to the priestly office by its "dignity and importance" in the past, but one wonders whether many are today. I should have thought that the priestly vocation reflects a profound sense of commitment to Christ and a desire to serve Christ through spiritual service to mankind.
The young man today can find in the lay apostolate (which is not the same thing as "Catholic organisations") opportunities for pastoral service and apostolic witness to his fellow men such as he can no longer see in the priesthood.
What does he see of the opportunities for service in the priesthood? In answer to that question may I quote from a letter I received from a priest 18 months ago?
"The position of the secular priest was never more difficult than today. He has become in recent years more and more involved in football pools, bingo, lotteries, etc.— all to keep pace with the endless building of larger and more costly schools . . in most cases it is work he was not trained for, and indeed does not agree with. . . .
"In many cases priests after years in a diocese still depend on their relatives to make ends meet, and that. Sir, is the reason many priests do not wish accounts to be published. It is degrading for a man in middle life to admit he cannot support himself. . . .
"It is just not enough any more to say a priest is `a man of God' and use that as an excuse to degrade him. A vocation does not pay for cassocks or holidays or cars...."
In a sense Fr. Forrestall does turn to this point when he speaks of the changes necessary in the form and structure of the priest's pastoral work. For the sociologist these arc the two crucial questions.
How should the priestly role be redefined in the light of Vatican iI, and to deal with the problems Vatican II left unanswered? And how should pastoral structures be reformed to meet the changing situation?
*James Forrestal, WHCRF Aar rtiE PRIESTS? (Tipografie, Poliglotta Vatican, Rome 1966, tis_) AND so we pass on to the third stage, the phase af
"decision". Perhaps we have not paid sufficient attention in the past to this stage as a separate stage.
We have assumed too easily that "interest" would automa
matically merge into ''deci
sion" and when this does not happen we have tended to shrug our shoulders and say "He has lost his vocation" or "He has changed his mind".
But the fact is that there never was a "mind" to change: for interest is not the same as decision. And even when the boy or girl has made some kind of a decision. it may have been a very youthful one and it surely needs positive reassessment and confirmation when he or she is older.
For this reason we should give the more "interested" (though not necessarily cont.
nutted) young person a few days of complete withdrawal and quiet prayer during which he can, without too much distraction, carefully. freely and "gracefully" assess the significance of the "upward summons" of God in Christ in his own regard.
Not a "vocation conference": this would be too
"loaded": but a dedication. an auto-dedication. Priesthood. brotherhood. sisterhood, mar. tied life, celibate lay life: these possibilities should be weighed up "through, with and in Christ".
It may be that there is a good case for dropping the word "vocation" and substi• tuting the word "dedication" and speaking of "priestly dedi cation", "religious dedication" and "lay dedication". These titles emphasise, perhaps, the dignity of our grace-assisted free will and introduce the hack-ground of "gift-love" For dedication presumes love "For the greatest of these is love.”