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Church in England and Wales is seeing a welcome rise in vocations

National Office for Vocation reports rise in numbers of people entering religious life

By on Friday, 19 April 2013

Ordinations to the priesthood have reportedly reached a ten-year high (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Ordinations to the priesthood have reportedly reached a ten-year high (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

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.

  • Cestius

    A very different picture here from the usual doom and gloom put out by the mainstream media, and it confirms my own observation that on the ground the Catholic church seems to be doing quite well, at least in the area where I live. Congregation numbers are holding up well and if anything slowly increasing. The worst of what the mainstream media has thrown at the church over the last decade or so has had almost no effect as far as I can see. Shortage of priests is still a problem and we could do with more, but this news is very heartening.

  • Et_Expecto

    Another reason for the increase in admissions to seminaries in recent years is a gradual change in the willingness of bishops and vocations directors to accept candidates with a more traditional approach to their faith.
    Ten years ago, young men who were known to be sympathetic to the older form of the Mass, or who were particularly pious, tended to be to have their applications rejected. Others dropped out of the seminary at an early stage due to pressures on them to conform to modern practices with which they were not comfortable.
    The election of Benedict XVI, the publication of Summorum Ponticicum and the appointment of one or two more open minded bishops did a lot to change matters. One can only speculate on how many more priests we would have in England and Wales now, if these changes had taken place thirty years ago.

  • Jonathan West

    Here are a couple of figures you might find useful for comparison.

    The Church of England ordained 504 new clergy in 2011 (the latest year for which I can find figures), and 464 candidates were accepted to train as future clergy in 2011.

  • Cestius

    But does the Church of England have the money to employ all those new clergy? Years ago when I was an Anglican, money was a limiting factor and I suspect it is even more so now given the continuing fall in congregations. Even in the Catholic church, money could become a limiting factor if we get many more vocations without a corresponding growth in congregations, but for the moment it isn’t so much of a problem..

  • paulpriest

    Parish mass attendance and lapsation figures are?
    Amount of priests serving two or more parishes is?
    Average priestly age and predicted ratio of priests for the next decade is?
    These figures are a raindrop in a sea of crisis..and we need to face up to the challenge: Not pretend that there are bright times just around the corner…
    Catholic Voices are attempting to pull a fast one – yet again!

  • Et_Expecto

    The Church of England is taking on an increasing number of “non stipendary ministers” – that is unpaid ministers. They tend to be part time, usually only giving the Sunday services. They also may have minimal qualifications, and have a separate paid job during the week.

  • Et_Expecto

    It is also the case that a proportion of these are likely to convert to catholicism some time in the future.

  • Thomas Messenger

    But consider the numbers, there are 5 million catholics in the uk, there are more that 25 million anglicans in the uk you have to see things in proportion even though our figures could be better

  • ZuZuLamarr

    One hopes and prays that Pope Francis will root out this gay mafia, once and for all, starting at the Curia. They have been responsible for the vocations crisis and, in doing so, have effectively robbed the Church of the authentic beauty of our faith.

  • James M

    In that case, Catholic vocations should be 1/5 of C of E ones. They are, apparently, far below than that. The patient might not be quiet so sick as it seems, but it is still very sick indeed.

    For a Church of 5,000,000 people, this:

    “In total, there were 21 ordinations to the ordinariate in 2012, more
    than half of the 31 diocesan ordinations from the same year. ”

    - is lamentable, and that is putting it nicely. Even when one includes Scotland, which you seem to have overlooked (Everyone does).

  • James M

    “Bright times are just around the co-or-ner” – sounds catchy; positively Cowardian. And well worthy of the ostriches currently in charge. The Church in the UK (& the West generally) is in rotten shape: which they will not have told the Pope. God forbid reality should break in.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    The statistics are even more interesting in the light of the fact that there is a greater number of practicing Catholics in England & Wales than practicing Anglicans.

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    This is great news.

    And thanks to Catholic Voices for a great report.

    I notices that CV have just launched in Australia, having also launched in, I believe, Mexico, Spain and a few other places. A fantastic organisation going from strength to strength.

  • http://www.catholicyouthwork.com Catholic Youth Work

    Yeah, but our Sunday service attendance is now higher and has been for over a decade, so what does that tell you?

  • http://twitter.com/JamesCallender3 James Callender

    “Catholic Voices are attempting to pull a fast one – yet again!”
    Why would they “want to pull a fast one?” How would it benefit them exactly?

    I don’t why the Catholic Herald contributors bother writing any articles on this website, because paulpriest will always be vehemently against almost everything they write. Never met so many people with attitude problems as on the comment section of this website..

  • James M

    The reason many people are gigantically miffed is that the bishops have had their fingers in their ears & their heads in the sand for almost 50 years. They refuse to face facts. This refusal makes improvement in the health of the Church impossible – a plaster here and there is no remedy for a deadly disease. It is difficult to be Catholic when the bishops do so much to pervert right doctrine & right practice. What is unforgivable is that this massive change has come about without any explanation – the bishops have high-handedly required more U-turns than David Cameron ever dreamed of. To call this confusing is too weak a word – it is exploitation of the piety Catholics instinctively feel towards their fathers in Christ. It is mind-rape, and worse. Which is why it has traumatised so many Catholics. It is as bad as the horrors of paedophilia – but even less noticed.

  • James M

    That doesn’t change much. though, important as it clearly is – it suggests the sickness of the CC in E & W is not quite as terrible as it might seem, but the CC in E & W is still very sick indeed.

  • sclerotic

    He’s not alone. Funny how seminary numbers increase in times of economic recession.

  • sclerotic

    I very much doubt there are 5m practising catholics in the UK but I don’t know. The problem is that for the best part of thirty years catholic statistics have been concealed. My best guess is that there are perhaps 1m catholics practising i.e. attending a church service at least once a month but how far this figure is inflated e.g. by parents with children at catholic schools who drop out once education years are passed is difficult to say. The laity component of the ordinariate is mostly 60 plus but the regular atttendance at many parish masses seems to be heading that way too.

    A rough and ready look at clerical statistics suggests a rapidly aging group with increasing workloads, not the most promising outlook for clerical longevity. So, yes, I’m afraid this does look like opus dei, sorry, catholic voices, spin.

  • Mark

    My parents were 60′s style liberal Catholics and as a child I was demoralized at every Novos Ordo I attended until I left home and left the church. I then witnessed the 1st TLM as an adult and felt a coming home that is gradually returning me to the faith. The guitar strumming hippie Charismatic Renew style of my parents was not just harmful for me as a child but also harmful for them (although they didn’t realize it) as they also eventually lapsed. For a reason I still don’t understand I felt this bad energy at NO Mass as a child.

  • http://twitter.com/JamesCallender3 James Callender

    You are talking about a very poor NO mass, I’ve never witnessed any mass with guitar strumming and nor would I want to.

  • Andrew Young

    I am sure that many of them, if not the majority, are non-stipendiary priests; coming to ministry in the Church late, as a retirement or second profession after a short period of training and education.

  • Andrew Young

    We could learn something from the Anglican Church ref the ordination of more mature men as non- stipendiary priests as a possible way forward to meet the inevitable tsunami of vacant parishes and fast depleting numbers of clergy.

  • MixedCatholic

    As someone who gave up discerning the priesthood because the majority of young men doing so in my diocese (though I’m told things might be different now) were obviously homosexual and were very flirtatious I can only prayer that the Bishops are doing more to encourage good orthodox men to answer the call and providing a proper environment for their discernment and study.

  • MixedCatholic

    As someone who gave up discerning the priesthood because the majority of young men doing so in my diocese (though I’m told things might be different now) were obviously homosexual and were very flirtatious I can only prayer that the Bishops are doing more to encourage good orthodox men to answer the call and providing a proper environment for their discernment and study.

  • Togold

    Well said, James, you never said a truer word. There are a lot of correspondents about with an attitude problem

  • Jo

    I reckon there are more priests because of the economic recession. Hey, people are poorer, unemployed and are bored of paying their own bills. I can understand that. That’s why Africa has more vocations – they are poor and have no other means to get anywhere in life. Joining the Church is like a free pass into the world.

  • Jo

    That is true. Census figures give 5 million Catholics, but surveys on Sunday Mass congregations put the figure anywhere from 800,000 to 1 million. There has been a small increase in congregation numbers because of Polish immigration.