The number of men and women entering the religious life in England and Wales has risen for the third year in a row, according to figures released by the National Office for Vocation, in a report published by the Catholic media organisation Catholic Voices.
Ordinations to the priesthood have also reached a 10-year high, according to the report, which admits that it does not include the number of ordinations to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to accommodate entire communities of Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while still retaining their distinct liturgical tradition.
In total, there were 21 ordinations to the ordinariate in 2012, more than half of the 31 diocesan ordinations from the same year. The figures for the ordination of priests also do not include the number of lay brothers ordained to the priesthood within their religious orders, of whom many serve as priests in Catholic parishes throughout England and Wales.
The number of ordinations has also risen year on year in England and Wales since 2008, and notwithstanding the possibility of natural disaster or mass apostasy in English and Welsh seminaries over the next eight months, in 2013 the predicted total number of ordinations is 41, the highest number since 2002, when 42 men were ordained to the priesthood.
In terms of priests joining a religious order, whether from the secular priesthood or from the ordination of former lay brothers, 2012 saw the highest number of new religious priests since 1996 – although there have been no new lay brothers in any religious order since 2008. As for vocations to female religious orders (non-cloistered), 2012 saw the highest number of new vocations since 1992. There have been no new figures released for vocations to the enclosed religious sisterhood since 2007.
In their report, Catholic Voices have noted that the total number of priestly ordinations, both diocesan and to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham exceed the annual average number of ordinations in England and Wales during the 1950s. The total number of ordinations for this year, however, is still less than two thirds that of the annual average for the 1980s and 1990s, when the visit of Blessed Pope John Paul II to Britain and the decision of the Church of England to ordain women as vicars is said to have contributed to an increase in the number of priestly ordinations both from cradle Catholics and from former Anglicans.
The number of men entering the seminary was down in 2012 to 37 from 49 in 2011, which saw the highest number of new seminarians since 1999, when 53 men in England and Wales entered the seminary.
At the time of writing neither the National Office for Vocation nor Catholic Voices have suggested why 2012 was such a good year for vocations both to the priesthood and to the religious life, although it is likely that in the case of priestly ordinations the high number in 2012 which corresponds to a relatively high number of new seminarians in 2005, 2006 and 2007 is due to the death of Blessed Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI causing a renewed interest in the Catholic faith among the laity which would have lead to many men discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
The fact that more men joined the seminary in 2011 than at any time since 1999 is likely to have been caused by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK in 2010 followed by the World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011, which due to geography and the cost of travel is likely to have been attended by more English and Welsh young men than any other World Youth Day since the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005.
UPDATE: Catholic Voices have since released a blog post stating that the figures from the National Office for Vocation on which their original blog post was based are inaccurate. Therefore so too unfortunately is part of my last blog post. While it is still true that 2012 was a “good year” (out of recent years) both for priestly ordinations and for men being admitted to the seminary, the National Office for Vocation’s statistics for ordinations before the 1980s have been proven unreliable. It cannot be claimed therefore that the number of ordinations in 2012 exceeds the average annual figure for the 1950s. At the time of writing, the National Office for Vocation is investigating the source of the error. According to Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society during the 1950s and 60s there were over 200 ordinations a year “almost every year for which there are figures”, and that while there were “blips” during the 1990s and in recent years, the overall trend for priestly vocations since the 1960s has been one of decline.