Page 4, 25th June 1965

25th June 1965
Page 4

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Locations: Liverpool, Cardiff


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A. E. C. W. SPENCER (above). writer of this article, founded and was former director of the Newman Demographic Survey. He is now senior research lecturer in sociology at the University of London's Institute of Education, Cavendish Square College. He is also president of the International Conference on Religious Sociology and a member of the World Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

THE FIRST stage in prob lern-solving is becoming aware that there is a problem. Over the last few years, the decision-makers of the Church in England and Wales have become increasingly aware of a "vocations problem". This awareness has of late reached such a level of acuteness that we can begin to speak of a vocations "crisis".

The second stage in problemsolving is to define the problem. The usual definition of the vocations problem is that there is a "shortage" of vocations, either an actual shortage oe an expected shortage.

Is there really a "shortage of priestly vocations"? The only "official" rule of thumb we have here is the observation of Pope Pius XII that one priest should be able to care for a thousand people. Obviously, it is more complicated than that.

Many other factors—geographical, the settlement pattern. presence of non-Catholics, pastoral methods, availability of buildings and equipment, effectiveness and definition of lay roles—affect this optimum. But if we take it as a starting point how do we stand in England and Wales?

The Newman Detnographic Survey's "Report to the Clergy on the Parish Register Returns for 1960" shows that if We use the parish clergy's own estimates of Catholic population no diocese had in 1960 an average of more than 800 Catholics per priest at work (i.e. excluding those absent, sick or retired). The national average was 537.

If we take instead the Survey's own (much higher) estimates of Catholic population we find only one diocese, Liverpool, with an average of over 1,000 Catholics per priest at work. The national average was only 774. These figures understate the ratio a little because not all priests, especially Regulars, are engaged in pastoral care.

Among the secular clergy in England and Wales, 72 per cent in 1961 were wholly engaged in parish work, and another 11.8 per cent in sonic combination of parish and other work. In one large diocese, however, the respective figures were only 63.7 per cent and 8.5 per cent. There .is still scope for "economies" by transferring priests from nonpriestly roles, like history master and school bursar, to work which is essentially priestly in character. There also seems plenty of scope for more inter-diocesan Therefore comparing our situation with Pope Pius XII's rule of thumb, we should not, I submit, speak of a shortage of priests. When we compare our people-priest ratio with that of Latin America or of many African, Asian and Continental European countries, where ratios of 10,000, 20,000 and even 30,000 people per priest are to he found, it is ridiculous to say that we suffer from a shortage of priests.

And in the context of Christian social justice it should also give us cause to reflect on the long-standing tradition of recruiting priests from Ireland when we are relatively so much better off than our fellow-Catholics elsewhere.

In my view the problem is not one of "shortage" of vocations, priestly or otherwise. Even if we could forget Pope Pius XII's rule of thumb, and the rest of the world, we could only talk of a shortage in relation to the roles priests and religious at present perform: given these roles we need more actors to fill them than we have available.

There is a shortage only if we take it for granted that all the things priests and religious do must of their nature he done by

them and not by lahy.

If the "problem" is not just a "shortage" of priests and religious, what is it? I suggest that it is a complex problem with several elements:

sees the priest become less and less of an alter Christi's, and more and more of a businessman and real estate developer.

The worsening of the public image of the priest is probably most acute among the brighter school leaversprecisely the group from whom senior seminarians are drawn. No longer attracted by their image of the priestly role, increasingly aware of the reality of the vocation to the lay apostolate, the potential candidate holds back.

The greater willingness of curates and seminarians to talk frankly to laymen these last few years has led to their being much of the War, and rose again to 19.3 per cent (seculars) over the decade 1951-1961. The numbers of regulars during the first 30 years of the century reflected the immigration and subsequent repatriation of French refugee priests.

Ordinations of secular and regular priests have risen from 115 p.a. in 1900-4 to a peak of 240 in 1956, since when there has been some decline. Deaths of priests were 53 p.a. in 1900-4 and rose to 112 p.a. in 1950-4. Summarised Newman Demographic Survey statistics of ordinations and deaths from 1900 are as follows: THE IMPORTANT ARTICLE alongside presents sortie of the basic facts and statistics underlying the present vocations shortage. It also puts forward some ideas about its causes.

On the following pages, other contributors give their views on this and other aspects of vocations. ARCHBISHOP MURPHY of Cardiff throws out a challenge to parents to be generous in guiding their children towards the religious life.

JOHN HORDER sets out to see what makes a dynamic parish priest "tick". ALBERT NA!SMITH interviews interviews a student on his ordination eve on what he thinks are the challenges he will face.

To complete the picture. WHITEFRMRS interviews the man who has organised this year's Vocations Exhibition at Earls Court and gives a preview of the programme.

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