> Status Ecclesiae Aug.-Sept. 2005: "How Bishops Discourage
Vocations (and the Key to Attracting Them)"
“How Bishops Discourage Vocations (and the Key to
-by John Mallon, Contributing Editor, Inside the Vatican
In the mid 1990s, I attended a clergy meeting
in the diocese where I was employed as the newspaper editor.
The meeting was to discuss ideas to increase vocations to
the priesthood, because the diocese was facing a crisis. Predictably,
the discussion was going nowhere until the retired archbishop
raised his hand, stood up and said, “Why don’t
we study those dioceses which are attracting vocations, like
Lincoln, Nebraska, and Arlington, Virginia, and see what they
are doing and what we can learn from that.” I smiled
to myself, eager to see the response to his suggestion, because
I knew that the reason those dioceses were attracting so many
vocations would be utterly unacceptable to this group of priests.
Predictably, the priests just looked at each other and said
nothing. No one responded to the archbishop’s suggestion.
The answer was obvious. I may have even taken the retired
archbishop aside and told him, but I suspect he already knew.
The plain simple answer was that the bishops of those dioceses,
Bishops Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln and the late John Keating
of Arlington, were both explicitly, vocally and publicly committed
to orthodoxy in Catholic teaching and practice. Meanwhile,
the dominant priests of this diocese were known for being
firmly committed to dissent.
Leaving aside the question of whether the Lord is going to
bless dissent with abundant vocations is the other more practical
question of what young man, firmly committed to and in love
with the Lord and His Church, is going to seek ordination
in a diocese where the clergy has a reputation for chewing
up orthodox people, both clerical and lay, and spitting them
out? Martyrdom is sometimes inevitable, but what sane person
There is no reason a young man wanting to serve the Lord
should be expected to put up with the nonsense of running
the gauntlet of dissent and homosexuality in the seminary
only then to face constant vexation and opposition from his
fellow clergy once ordained.
The young man attracted to priesthood today is not the “young
Turk” of the 1960s who enshrines rebellion and views
the Church as part of the “establishment.”
No, today’s youthful instinct to be countercultural
takes the form of orthodoxy, and sees the mission of the Church
as an uphill battle in a hostile world. Youth is attracted
to challenge and orthodox Catholicism offers it. It was their
siblings who were murdered in the womb by the Culture of Death.
They are the survivors and motivated to oppose what once threatened
their lives in the name of “liberation.”
Their youthful rebellion is engaged in the battle against
the world, the flesh, and the devil. They never knew a time
when abortion was not legal and they never knew another Pope
besides John Paul II. The mainstream media was baffled to
see the seminarians from the North American College in Rome
cheering wildly at the election of Benedict XVI, who is just
as much their hero and champion as John Paul II.
And this does not only apply to men. In the 1980s, I knew
a young woman at Boston College who expressed an interest
in the convent to one of the feminist nun chaplains, who chimed,
“Oh, I know a great place! You don’t have to wear
a habit or anything—but ... oh,” she caught herself,
“maybe you want to wear a habit...” “Yes,
Sister, I do,” the young woman replied.
Twenty years later, perhaps it is beginning to dawn on some
mid-level Church authorities that dissenters are not producing
any progeny or followers — spiritual children. I call
this ecclesiastical contraception. How can you inspire lifelong
commitment and sacrifice in others to a Church you are constantly
at war with?
Still, dissenters disparage the younger generation as “too
conservative.” What these young people seek to conserve
is human life, sanity and Western Civilization, all of which
are under attack from modern liberalism.
Jesus Christ is still producing followers who deserve to
take their place in the Church and not be treated as crackpots
There is a solidarity among the orthodox youth, which John
Paul II wisely and shrewdly nurtured as the future of the
Church in his World Youth Days and his plain, simple love
for them, which was direct and unmediated.
I have glimpsed this phenomenon first hand.
When I worked and studied theology at Boston College in the
1980s, there was a widely celebrated theology department,
boastful of its dissent. The professors counted their undergraduate
theology majors in the single digits. When I sought my master’s
degree in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville,
a university explicit in its orthodoxy, and ridiculed for
it by larger schools, it had a smaller theology faculty but
the largest number of undergraduates in the country, at the
time, as I recall, 140.
At the Jesuit-run Boston College, I do not recall many students
pursuing a religious vocation. I recall two who did who received
hostility from the Jesuits — for their orthodoxy. At
Steubenville, there were so many vocations they started a
pre-theologate program, and a group for young women considering
This worldwide community of youth nurtured by John Paul II
is acutely well aware of what is going on in the Church and
in dioceses around the world. When a bishop makes a strong
statement in defense of orthodoxy, those young people inclined
to religious vocations talk among themselves as to whether
his diocese might be a good one in which to seek ordination.
If that same bishop does something perceived as compromising
the faith, their interest is withdrawn. A bishop who tolerates
dissent is not even considered. A bishop willing to excommunicate
pro-abortion Catholic politicians is likely to receive much
interest from these young people. A bishop who waffles will
not. A diocese which punishes good, orthodox priests or lay
professionals while coddling or protecting dissenters will
not. A diocese which punishes whistle-blowers while protecting
abusers and active homosexuals in the clergy will not. A diocese
where the bishop is ostensibly orthodox in his words but where
the chancery, departments and clergy are dominated or ruled
by dissenters will not.
The extent of this orthodox youth underground is truly worldwide.
I have encountered it in all my travels throughout North America
and Europe. I have bumped into students I knew in Steubenville
in St. Peter’s Square and in St. Stephen’s Cathedral
in Vienna. A constant topic of discussion among those considering
ordination or religious life is which dioceses and bishops
are “good” (i.e. orthodox). It is also important
that the seminary a bishop uses is committed to solid Catholic
formation and free of harassment, either sexual or religious,
and that the bishop monitor it closely.
There is no secret to attracting vocations. There are plenty
of them out there. A bishop who tolerates dissent and ignores
abuses will not attract them. A bishop who boldly stands up
for Christ and His Church, and Church teachings, despite all
costs and opposition, will attract them.
These young people are the future of the Church. Whether
or not they are welcomed into their rightful place to which
the Lord is calling them lies in the hands of each individual
John Mallon is a Contributing Editor to Inside the Vatican
magazine. He also has regular columns on the website Catholic.Org.
An archive of Mr. Mallon's work also appears here: http://www.petersvoice.com/mallon/index.html.
You can reach Mr. Mallon at
Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.