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Trends in Male Religious Life

In December, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) published a report: “Population Trends among Religious Institutes of Men.” For those of us in religious life, there were no large surprises, but the trends are significant for the American Church at large.

Broadly: “The total membership among religious institutes of men has decreased dramatically across the last 45 years, from almost 42,000 in 1970 to fewer than 18,000 in 2015.” In fact, the number of male religious has declined faster than diocesan clergy declined. Diocesan clergy decreased by 30 percent while male religious went down 58 percent. This happened as the number of Catholics in the United States increased from 48 million to 68 million in the same years.”

Among the ten largest institutions, the Jesuits decreased by 70 percent, Benedictines by 47 percent, Maryknoll by 68 percent, Oblates of Mary Immaculate (my order) by 74 percent. In contrast: “About 10 percent of the religious institutes of men listed in The Official Catholic Directory show a net increase in numbers from 1970 to 2015. With one or two exceptions, much of this increase in membership is from international religious institutes of men sending missionaries to the United States, which has bolstered U.S. religious life in a small but notable way.” So there was also a shift away from U.S. vocations. (Obviously there is much more information worth digging into in the whole report.)

The key conclusion is that the decline is “a significant factor that affects U.S. Catholics’ exposure to, and experience with, men religious in their vast array of ministries in the Church.” This is significant because it touches on the very meaning of the Church community, what we are absorbing, often unconsciously, as we participate in community life.

The Church community is a wonderful intercommunion of laity, clergy, and religious. Diminish one and it throws off the interactions among all three states of life in the Church. One great writer on the nature of the Church, Hans Urs von Balthasar said: “As the lay person must not only allow the priestly ministries. . .to become fruitful in him (her), but must also translate them into the truth of his own state, if they are to achieve their purpose in him (her), so he (she) must translate the example and ways of the state of the counsels into his (her) life.” This applies to both male and female religious. (Anecdotal evidence suggests that women religious are in the same boat as male religious, in terms of statistics, and CARA has assembled some data here.)

roman_collar

Vatican II spoke of “all those called by God to the practice of the evangelical counsels and who, faithfully responding to the call, undertake to observe the same, bind themselves to the Lord in a special way, following Christ, who chaste and poor (cf. Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) redeemed and sanctified men through obedience even to the death.” As exposure to people living the evangelical counsels decreases, either through meeting fewer religious or through meeting fewer orthodox religious, people see the lived life of the counsels less. They “see” the living Jesus less! The community inside the Church and outside the Church loses as a consequence.

This monumental decline has occurred over a span of forty years. It has moved peoples’ experience of Church more towards those of churches who do not have religious. In the process, the Church moves away from its full presence in the world. Bishops and religious superiors have responsibilities in this regard because religious life “undeniably belongs to [the Church’s] life and holiness.” (Vatican II)

The modern history of religious communities is replete with reasons for the decline, but often the written histories don’t cover all the communities or get to grips with the real issues. The Re-formed Jesuits: A History of Changes in Jesuit Formation during the Decade 1965-1975 by Joseph M. Becker, is an example of a good history, which is why it probably ruffled so many feathers. But I have not come across many like it.

Such histories also urgently need to address the trends in theological thinking in the various communities, which have led to decline, rather than the simply descriptive “person X did Y.” Some items that need deeper study:

1. When did thinking develop that separated the mission of the Holy Spirit from the mission of the Son. Internal “inspiration” then ignores obedience to the magisterium and tradition as if they are not relevant. This involves losing the whole meaning of the Incarnation, of the Christ who is being modelled.

2. The complete dropping of the Tradition of the Church or picking a single period of the Tradition and making it absolute. How many religious are only connected to the present? Losing tradition shrinks what it means to be human, and so it isn’t even Christian.

3.Following the secular culture as if it is superior to the Gospel. This involves things like using pagan forms of prayer, separating subjects like “social justice” from its Christian roots, and making passing secular social currents into “urgent” religious agendas. All three ways of thinking let go of the centrality of God’s revelation in Christ in his Church.

Fewer religious, therefore, means less of a chance that: “All the members [of the Church] ought to be molded in the likeness of Him, until Christ be formed in them.”

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; and, most recently, Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini.

  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks Father. Good analysis. My guess this decline has a lot to do with all the (mostly negative) changes that have occurred in the Church since Vatican II. Primary among them is effectively placing Man above God. This emphasis tells young people that the Church is all about social justice which can accomplished in a multitude of ways. The Church must get back to it’s basic business of preparing folks for eternal life and propose that the rigorous and heroic pursuit of holiness in the religious life is the way to accomplish this. To start with, much more emphasis should be placed on the lives of the saints and on Mary and her rosary.

  • Chris in Maryland

    A superb essay. The 3 points at end are spot on.

  • R Catholic

    Why are the Legionaries of Christ such a blaring exception to this dismal decrease in American vocations? And this despite the massive crisis and reform process they just went through…any comments on their situation, Fr. Bramwell?

    • Deacon Toby

      ‘Hold fast to Tradition’ I think this is a no brainer…just as the country is experiencing a political upheaval so goes those communities who welcome back, and find solace in the ‘Latin Mass.’ Also those priest who have done their homework and pray the Novus Ordo Missae the way it was meant to be said, account for this popularity. That popularity you refer to should fill that void of hope, and energize you to continue to keep the faith!

  • ForChristAlone

    When you speak about “men religious” you are referring to men religious in the clerical state. There are men religious (brothers) who are vowed religious but not clerics.

  • givelifeachance2

    Few parents want to see their sons tossed among the gay priests that remain. Annul these oxymoronic homosexual priesthoods and you will see the decline hit bottom and start increasing.

    • Bobo Fett

      This is absolutely true. The current church embraces sin. my genealogy has been deeply Catholic for centuries. We have numerous aunts and uncles who lived lives as priests, brothers and nuns. But that church is just buildings now. The V2 abandonment of what it means to be catholic began a whole new religion. I feel an obligation to raise my son as a nominal catholic but to let him have a healthy dose of other Christian faiths as well. I don’t want my son anywhere near the progressive agenda preening Jesuits that still haunt my town. I consider myself part of a pivot away from the various Catholicisms of our time. It is truly sad.

      • Deacon Toby

        If I may issue a little caution, give your son as strong a foundation in the catholic faith as you can. There must be a prayer group where you can find support. Once you start floating around its real easy for satan to want to re- anchor your ship…please stay focused on the Eucharist , and let God take care of the other stuff, that’s his job, along with taking of you. Focus on this year of mercy, take advantage of the Plenary Indulgence, and you’ll see a new light!

        • Bobo Fett

          That is really thoughtful of you to say that. There is youth group which is very good. And he is very active in that. Thank God for great lay people. Outstanding people.

    • PCB

      Perhaps this is an element, even a large one – however, I think smaller Catholic families in general, also impact encouraged vocations to religious life. Of course, this is directly attributable to the dramatic shift of the traditionally devout Catholic family into the currently more widely existing “culturally only” Catholic family (even those who attend Mass on a regular basis). Poorly formed parents nearly always raise similarly poorly formed children; in addition, this condition creates an impediment to recognizing emergent signs of a vocation, (and fostering it, nourishing it, reinforcing its development), in a young person, and of them recognizing it in themselves. I know parents, even rather devout ones, who are totally taken off guard when their son makes a decision to enter Seminary. And, sadly, in most instances, they are not entirely supportive or elated with this unexpected development, and even seek to undermine or discourage priestly vocations when they present. Who can say how many young men and woman are denying their call because lack of support and encouragement, whether perceived or actual? Sadly, too, Catholic parents of a small family seem to place greater priority in ensuring the perpetuation of their DNA, than the perpetuation of priestly orders – these likely are most in favor of a married priesthood. An heir and a spare doesn’t only apply to royalty.

      • Bobo Fett

        You are whistlin Dixie. That ship sailed decades ago.

        • PCB

          Reminds me of that old quip, “With my luck, when my ship comes in I’ll be at the airport”. But, on a more serious note, there is no disputing that the Catholic ship, that so-called, Barque of St. Peter, has managed to sail herself into some mighty stormy waters, and perhaps she is even on the verge of breaking up. In these current days, ironically, it almost seems as though the rock she is about to break-up on is the rock that is Peter – But as long as she remains at all sea-worthy, there is hope – our greatest being that of Christ’s own promise that His Church will prevail. To believe anything else is to call Our Lord a liar.

          • Bobo Fett

            I am not sure “the Catholic Church” and centuries of what we refer to as “popes” is what Christ had in mind when he said that. There are other interpretations of that without calling God a liar. But I see your point from a strictly Catholic POV.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Fr Bramwell you lay out the malaise and the three causes of disintegration of rel life well. As a layman interested in the religious life during and after Vat II I experienced the jettisoning by religious orders of much of what I aspired to. Disc Carm Friars abandoned austerity in diet and most important emphasis on quiet prayer. The call from Rome [Paul VI] was for rel orders to become more active. Taught in Malawi 74 at a seminary established and staffed by White Fathers [now Missionaries of Africa] who now only frequently wore the habit. When I returned to Africa 2004 the habit was gone as were vocations [except among Africans]. Externals remind us of our mission. Most significant was the drifting away from the spirit and rule of the founders of rel orders, societies. Although von Balthasar sounds fine that drift away I’m convinced is the major reason for the decline in numbers and in loss of mission. Vat II cannot be faulted. It was the erroneous interpretation of the Council’s documents. The entire Church was stumbling away until John Paul II made efforts to redirect. What else can inspire young men if not the reintroduction of exactly what Saints Dominic, Benedict, Francis, Clare, Teresa, originally gave to the world.

  • augury

    I’m curious, Father, what you feel the impact of homosexuality in the Priesthood has had on the trends you observe. How do you react to the widespread reporting that 50% or more of Priests are same sex attracted if not actively gay? Is the fall off in vocations the result of gay groming in the Seminaries as described in Goodbye, God Men? Or is it possible that homosexual men who might 40 years ago have seen religious life as a convenient hide-out no longer see a need to conceal their gay self-indentification behind Priestly garb? Troubling questions these. I have no idea if the statistics being touting on homosexual clerics from the New York Times to Michael Voris and everyhere in between are true or not. But how you can raise the issue without discussing such an obvious factor escapes me.

    • Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI

      Hi there,All good questions for which the research has largely not being done. Certainly every one of them is worth examining. However the research also has to be done in terms of how individual religious orders understand homosexuality in their own order.

      From a theological point of view, something like immaturity for example, something that is often evident in homosexuals, is also an impediment to fully grasping the theology of religious life. This we know something about. It has not been passed over to the same degree that the issue was homosexuality has been. This might be an in direct way of beginning to evaluate the impact of the presence of homosexuals in some kind of quantifiable way that is not fraught with all kinds of cultural pressure.

      • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

        The issue of so grave a moral disorder homosexuality even if practiced by consenting priests/adults that is destroying our credibility and a major harm to Church and the people of God cannot possibly be justifiably left to the discretion of religious orders or addressed as an immaturity issue. I’m sorry and even grieved to say Fr that your position is precisely why homosexual behavior among clergy was and will remain the bane of religious orders and continue to cause immeasurable harm.

  • Rick

    Commentors, Please stop! Homosexuals are not hiding behind every white collar.

    IMHO, there are three main reasons for the decline in vocations in general:
    1. We live in relatively great times. No major wars, plenty of food and material goods, etc.
    2. The pressure to be perfect is immense. Non-religious love to brand the religious as hypocrites
    3. Most people don’t see the Church as a powerful force for good in the world anymore

    • augury

      No, homosexuals aren’t hiding behind every white collar. The 50% number seems to be pretty common however, and even if was at the 25% bottom of the range, that’s horrific. To think you can discuss this issue w/o even mentioning homosexuality in the Priesthood is delusional.

      • Rick

        I’m more concerned about the predatory practice of these priests (whether homosexual or heterosexual). A priest is in a position of authority and control (like a teacher, CEO, psychiatrist, politician) and the abuse of that power is the real abomination… that and the Bishop’s failure to not see that and to cover it up.

        • augury

          Hypothetical: A piously- raised 14-year confesses homo-erotic fantasies and masturbation to a homosexual Priest who engages in homosexual acts only with extreme irregularity and only consensually. The Priest is aroused by the boy’s confession but capable of controlling his arousal and not taking advantage of the situation. In your opinion is that Priest capable of fulfilling his vocation? If the boy was your son would you be comfortable with that Priest having that powerful an influence over your child?

          • Brad Miner

            ” . . . a homosexual Priest who engages in homosexual acts only with extreme irregularity and only consensually.” Doesn’t that disqualify him from ministry?

          • Rick

            ?1. “engages in”????
            ?2. “powerful an influence” What powerful influence are you talking about? You forgive the transgressor, you tell him to say 10 Hail Mary’s and send him on his way.

            Do you confess you fantasies or thoughts? I don’t. I only confess my sinful actions. Dios Mio! If we are all condemned for our thoughts, it’s over.

            I don’t know what’s rattling around in my priest’s head. It doesn’t matter. When I’m in the confessional, he is dealing with my sins. When he goes to confession, he and his priest deal with his.

            If you are suggesting that all/most homosexuals are predatory and incapable of self-control, well, that is another matter that I am not qualified to give an opinion on.

            As I stated before, the real abomination is the abuse of power and the unwillingness of the bishops to deal with it.

          • augury

            The Catechism discourages masturbation (look it up), to the point that one might confess it without being excessively scrupulous. I think a homosexual Priest would react differently than a heterosexual Priest to the situation I hypothesized, and that his reaction might damage the boy’s soul.

          • Rick

            Did I say masturbation wasn’t a mortal sin? How does a priest know what someone is masturbating to? Your hypothetical situation could be about a heterosexual priest reacting to a girl’s masturbation confession. He could abuse his position and prey upon the girl as well.

      • Peter O’Reilly

        I have to agree with augury completely. I would add that the ordination of openly gay men as priests and the phenomenon of the Sexual Revolution have been devastating to the practice of the Catholic faith, in particularly over the past fifty years. As for the religious orders, I pray that men and women answer the call to the evangelical counsels, especially chastity. As a follow-up to the year of mercy, I pray we have a year of chastity according to one’s state in life. Now that would get the world’s attention. Come Holy Spirit.

    • givelifeachance2

      Yes, actually they are hiding behind every white collar. In the sense that good priests are failing to call out the pretenders amongst their ranks.

    • Bobo Fett

      The church is not supposed to be “a force for good”…the church I thought I belonged to is supposed to be far far far more than that. In some ways, what has been done to the church is causal of our entire rejection of high culture in society the last 50 years. The church used to be the pinnacle of high culture. A place of beauty, light, uplift… A vertical place where man reached for God. Not a horizontal place where man reached for man.

      God the Creator. We the creature. God the voice. We the echo. Jesus the image. We the mirror. Jesus the Savior. We the saved. Until the hirelings become shepherds, and we reinstill the high culture and reverence for the Sublime, we aren’t talking about the true Catholicism that lifted and carried civilization for 2,000 years. We are just members of a club that is possibly or possibly not, “a force for good.”

    • ForChristAlone

      The United Way is a powerful force for good in the world. The Catholic Church is supposed to be a force for conversion of hearts.

  • Alicia

    Priests are like airplanes. When one falls, it’s front page news around the world. Meanwhile, there are many thousands flying and doing a great job. But, unfortunately, they are not news. We never hear about them.
    I think the church needs to talk more about them, tell their stories, accomplishments, and do it at the schools, colleges, from the pulpit, and write about them in the weekly bulletins.
    They are out there. I saw it in Peru and Colombia.

  • winslow

    How can young people be attracted to religious vocations when we have a pope who is showing himself to be a Protestant and constantly attacking faithful priests and bishops? How can we maintain the dignity of the Catholic Church when that pope has declared he intends to celebrate, with Lutherans in Sweden, the revolt from the Church of the heretic Martin Luther? It isn’t possible.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Calm down, winslow. The word “celebrate” was injected by a neo-Know-Nothing editor. You have allowed the Establishment Media to mislead you.

      • winslow

        Does that mean the Pope is NOT going to Sweden when the Prots celebrate the 500th? Does it mean the Pope is NOT a Protestant who constantly berates faithful Catholics?

  • Dominic

    Sorry to pick at the seemingly trivial, but Bevil, is that von Balthasar quote really the way he wrote it? With all the “he (she)” inanity? If so, it is wholly unreadable pap. The writing may contain some interesting ideas, but they’re buried beneath hideously affected prose. I’ll stop there and turn to the inestimable Professor Peter Kreeft in Socratic Logic (page 36):

    “The use of the traditional inclusive generic pronoun ‘he’ is a decision of language, not of gender justice. There are only six alternatives. (1) We could use the grammatically misleading and numerically incorrect ‘they.’ But when we say ‘one baby was healthier than the others because they didn’t drink that milk,’ we do not know whether the antecedent of “they” is ‘one or ‘others,’ so we don’t know whether to give or take away the milk. Such language codes could be dangerous to baby’s health. (2) Another alternative is the politically inclusive ‘in-your-face’ generic ‘she,’ which I would probably use if I were an angry, politically intrusive, in-your-face woman, but I am not any of those things. (3) Changing “he” to “he or she” refutes itself in such comically clumsy and ugly revisions as the following: ‘What does it profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world but loses his or her own soul? Or what shall a man or woman give in exchange for his or her soul?’ The answer is: he or she will give up his or her linguistic sanity. (4) We could also be both intrusive and clumsy by saying ‘she or he.’ (5) or we could use the neuter ‘it,’ which is both dehumanizing and inaccurate. (6) Or we could combine all the linguistic garbage together and use ‘she or he or it,’ which, abbreviated would sound like ‘sh…it.’

    I believe in the equal intelligence and value of women, but not in the intelligence or value of ‘political correctness,’ linguistic ugliness, grammatical inaccuracy, conceptual confusion, or dehumanizing pronouns.”

    • Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI

      Always guard the pepper pot when someone is stealing the whole meal! Yes I put in the female pronouns as a reminder that what von Balthasar was saying applies to female religious as well.

      • Dominic

        Trustworthy in small things… I truly enjoy and, to the extent I’m qualified, agree with your essay. I believe, however, that the slow erosion of language from a means of communication to a means of asserting the self (idolatry) is a symptom of the overall problems we face.

        I am particularly distressed when, say, a US football commentator uses the plural “they” to refer in singular fashion to a player.

      • John II

        Actually, Father, I was distracted by the parenthetical insistence (muttering “Why is von Balthasar doing that here–it’s not like him!”), and now distracted again by your dismissal of the distraction that you imposed on the quote.

        You could have made your point in a prompt and brief follow-up to the quote, and without constantly interrupting the quote by fiddling with a political pepper pot.

  • olhg1

    IMO, as long as Jesus, God Almighty, is seen as a force, sequestered at the “right hand of the Father” and “will come again”-Who is in a galaxy far away- and not as a Personally Present (24/7) Friend-above-all-Friends, the decline in religious vocations will continue. Ask a postulant or seminarian why they’re doing what they’re doing. If the “Why” is not “Love for Jesus”, they are either too shy to express their love, or they’re in love with an ideology. Anything that diverts attention from Him, whether it’s study, the struggle of evangelization, staying “with-it” in the modern world, or whatever else keeps the heart and mind away from Him, is destructive of any person’s reality let alone someone who is “In Vows.” To immediately turn to Him, not only in our need, but in our joy and happiness should be the most natural thing in the world. Union with Him in His Sacrifice can be a once-a-week contact, and that is great, but “back to the real world” afterwards is awful. Take for instance this article, pretty deep stuff. However, nowhere in the article or in the credits, is Jesus’ Name mentioned. Our Best Friend’s Name, the Person for Whom we live, work, and die, is adverted to by some meaningless-for millions-synonyms from the past.

  • Dave

    A couple of stories to start: first, the famous quip about the aspirant to the Jesuits who was invited for what turned out to be a very sumptuous dinner and when he was asked what he thought, responded, “if this is poverty, bring on chastity!” Second, a person in my acquaintance shared with me the question of a lay religious brother who looking about the well-appointed, very comfortable convent where he lived wondered why anyone wouldn’t want to live like that.

    The Christian life is about sacrifice: the sacrifice of the Son for the redemption of the world; our sacrifice of our own will and body (Ro 12:1) to learn again what is truly important in this life as we prepare for our eternal destiny.

    Religious life, with the vowed evangelical counsels, is meant as an example of the heavenly joy that awaits the ones who persevere to the end, manifested in the great joy of the celibate who freely renounces all for the sake of the Kingdom. That is to say, the religious remind the laity, and even the secular clergy, that greater goods are attainable now, through voluntary attachment to both mortification and the life of prayer and apostolate, if only we will make the effort.

    I’m afraid every order or congregation that Father has cited in his article is known for its theological liberalism and its lassitude in the traditional practices of the Faith and of the religious life. Each of them offers a somewhat cushy life in return for an attenuated practice of the charism and devotions of its holy founder. That is to say, they are not portraying examples of the heavenly joy that awaits the faithful: they are portraying accommodation to the world, which says, no, you don’t have to do those traditionally Catholic things in order to be happy.

    Religious orders that fail to inspire their own members to live according to their charism cannot but fail to inspire the rest of the faithful. Religious orders that preach and teach an attenuated practice of the Faith can never inspire young men seeking heroic challenge and virtue, precisely because they are telling them not to rise to the challenge. They simply have run out of things to say, despite the heroic efforts of individual faithful members to practice fully what was handed on to them.

    There are orders of male religious that are chock-full and with waiting lists. Two that come immediately to mind are the Clear Creek Monastery of northeast Oklahoma, with its pre-Vatican II liturgy, and the Norbertines of Southern California, who are firmly committed to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice and the Divine Office according to the Novus Ordo. What they share in common is full and complete conformity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the charism, practices, and devotions of their holy founders as well as the teachings of their Orders, and full and complete celebration of the entire daily liturgy, with mental prayer, lectio divina and full and open devotion to Our Lady and the saints, as well. no watering down, no accommodating to the spirit of the age. They are very busy places, despite the peace, because the schedule is rigorous. They are tough; and, because they call forth the best, and more than a best, that a man at any age can offer, they are places that, more than making men happy, make them saints. Lest this appear as sexist, the same is true of the female orders: the attenuated ones languish, the orthodox, rigorous ones are flourishing with waiting lists, and with the capacity to tweezer-pick their postulants. Two that come to mind are the Nashville Dominican Sisters and the Benedictine Sisters in Michigan.

    About the homosexualization of the orders enough has been written here and elsewhere. It does bear mentioning that a love of luxury, comfort, and ease, and a spirit of accommodation to the world in order to maintain institutional stability and respectability, is corrupt in itself and sort of disgusting whether or not it leads to the greater problems about which others have already commented. Fr. Bramwell may be right that a more detailed quantitative analysis is called for; but there are enough indications as to what is not being done, and as to what happens when it is done, that further research into this or that manifestation of the underlying problem may be interesting but is probably not useful. First things first.

  • Rick

    I never said “only” and I certainly never said I was for openly homosexual priests. Did I miss something? The Church does not ordain openly homosexual men…right? Augury seems to think it is policy.

  • I recall reading a book by Donald Cozzens who was OMI like Fr. Bramwell and he had spent time as a seminary rector. I believe the book was written around 2000 and he estimated the number of homosexual priests to be as high as 40%. Were they answering the call to serve our Lord, or were the seminaries being run by homosexuals and thus they were looking for these men? And if you think about it what kind of shape would the N. American Catholic Church have been in without these men serving in our parishes and schools? Some of these men must have been faithful servants. I also read a book by a Presbyterian minister ‘Why Men Hate Going To Church.’ Many of the reasons he cited could easily apply to Catholic men. When you look at the attendance at Sunday masses and see that close to 70% are women it might give us a good reason for the shortage of men answering the call to be priests. Then there is the whole other issue of why women aren’t ordained in our Church.
    There is a battle going on for the hearts and minds of people in this world and we have our work cut out for us trying to attract young people to a life of sacrifice and holiness and giving. Yet we also know that many people do make tremendous sacrifices – athletes, people who start their own businesses, women who have babies, people who serve the poor of the world. So it is possible but they need to be able to hear the voice of our Lord among all of the other voices crying out to them and perhaps we and religious leaders need to help guide them in a more fruitful way.

  • Dhaniele

    I think that there are a couple of things that you could have mentioned but didn’t. Various authors have talked about how in the post-Vatican period there was a persecution and discrimination against students in the seminaries who were seen as “too traditional.” If you were diocesan, this persecution would be much less oppressive as just temporary than if you were going to live in a religious community for the rest of your life. After the Council, there were many priests (especially professors) who basically lost an integral Catholic faith. The sight of young happy candidates or priests living successfully the traditional faith was extremely upsetting to these theologically lost souls. They felt threatened and hated these happy young candidates and did what they could to get rid of them. Of course, these grumpy old men are becoming extinct, thank God. But they could make a hell for confreres who did not buckle under their harassment. I think that this is the reason why religious life fared so badly after the Council. Sadly, although one of the things the Council stressed was a return to the roots of a community — which were often founded by saints with beautiful writings to guide successive generations, these traditions too were dumped as “pre-Vatican II” by “more enlightened” modernists.

  • RK49

    The intangible cause of the decline of religious vocations is the gradual loss of belief in the afterlife – the loss of belief in eternity. Detachment from this world is attractive only if one lives for the world- to- come. The ‘passive’ virtues of contemplative prayer have vitality only if they are felt as an ascent to an invisible eternal world. Mysticism is also part of religious vocations, the inner sense of unification with the eternal God beyond this world which creates a radical detachment from all worldly things – the ‘dark night of the soul.’ How many hermits and monks and ascetics do we see in the modern world? They seem foolish even to Christians today because this world seems like the only one. If you want to revive religious vocations, rediscover Christian otherworldliness, mysticism, and detachment.

    • Rosemary58

      As long as even church-going Catholics continue to artificially contracept, we simply cannot move forward. This is basic biology, but there is a theology of biology that is smothered by our bishops who obstinately refuse to acknowledge this fact of nature. As long as they remain in this sin of obstinacy, the Church will diminish in the Americas.

      • SJ Man

        Very well put, Rosemary58. I couldn’t agree more.