When I was a young Catholic girl, I attended church with my parents every Sunday and heard prayers asking for more people to be called to the priesthood. They said half the priests would retire in the next 10 years and there weren’t enough incoming priest to replace them. That was more than 10 years ago, and I’m under the impression the Catholic church has yet to see the increase they were hoping for, at least in my area. I wonder if anyone thought to ask why. Why is the Millennial generation producing so few priests?
This was the question that passed through my mind when I last visited my family in Iowa. We were there to help celebrate my uncle’s move to his final parish before retirement. He and one other priest are working for the parish. I couldn’t help but notice how young the other priest looked and again wondered what sort of Millennial in 2014 would choose such a position.
I’m not trying to bash Catholicism or any other religion, but Catholicism is unique among most Christian religions in that priests can only be men and they can’t ever marry. That’s not very appealing to even the most religious people I know. Back in the small town I grew up in, people are closer to organized religion and are also very intent on marriage. All but a few of my friends from Iowa are married and/or have children. Anyone who sees marriage in their future won’t give priesthood under the Catholic church a second glance.
Whenever I think about people choosing the priesthood, I’m reminded of one particular homily I heard in my middle school years. The priest first asked the men over the age of forty if they had ever considered the priesthood. Then, he asked women in the same age group if they ever considered becoming a nun. A great deal of people raised their hands. They followed by asking the same of those under the age of 40. When the question about being a priest came up, I nearly raised my hand. I had often thought about how much I’d enjoy the priesthood. At the time, I liked my religion and I didn’t imagine marriage ever being in my future. I didn’t though, and kept it down during the question about becoming a nun, something I knew I didn’t want.
I didn’t know it then, but my exit of Catholicism was already building. As I’ve said before, I my ideas about life, right and wrong have never really changed. Instead, I came to realize that Catholicism was not the welcoming, understanding religion I thought it was. One of these ideas is the equality between men and women. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want, but for me and any religion I might join, I need a place where men and women have the same opportunity for the same positions in the religion. Even back then, this was something I desired. I simply had no knowledge of other religions and no concept that they were that different from mine.
Becoming more culturally Catholic than practicing Catholic through my college years, I eventually stumbled upon a story on female Catholic priests. I don’t remember her name anymore, but there was a woman acting as a priest for a ‘Catholic’ church near my college town. When interviewing her for a story, she told me about the origins, how a male Bishop, feeling women were being called, ordained seven women. Eventually one of those women went through the proper traditions to become a Bishop and these women have now spread, ordaining more women as priests.
They have, of course, been excommunicated. I’m not sure what the rules are for that, though. If a priest has gone through the sacraments to become a priest, baptizes someone and is then excommunicated, is that baptism still valid. I have to think the answer is yes.
I mention these Catholic womenpriests because clearly people ARE being called to the priesthood. People are fighting, going so far as to risk excommunication, to become priests. They just happen to have vaginas. Maybe the decade of prayers by Catholics are being answered with these women. They say God works in mysterious ways after all. For the time being, it doesn’t help with the priest shortage since they are not accepted by the Pope. It’s ironic in a way, that congregations pray every Sunday for more to be called to the priesthood while people struggle and fight to become that very thing.
The Catholic priesthood is a strict thing. There’s a lack of choice, not only in rules about how a priest can live his life, but where. My uncle moves when and where he is told. There only real consistency I’ve seen is that he stays within the diocese he’s under. While I can see these things as turning people away, it’s not really that bad.
My curiosity about what motivates a Millennial to seek the priesthood probably has a lot to do with the fact I have never met one person, no matter how devoted to Catholicism, consider being a priest or a nun. Why? Is there something different about the world today? Maybe children learn more about the world than they used to, motivating them to seek different dreams.
I don’t have the answer, but I’m just so curious.
What do you think goes through the mind of a Millennial considering the priesthood? Do you imagine their reasoning is any different than the reasons people before them chose to become priests? Have you ever considered being a priest? What about a nun? How did you reach your decision on whether or not that was the right path for you?