Vatican blames lack of priests on secularism, abuse, parents

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The sexual abuse scandal has tarnished the image of the priest and contributed to a crisis of priestly vocations in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican said Monday (June 25), while also faulting a widespread “secularized mentality” and parents' ambition for their children, which leaves “little space to the possibility of a call to a special vocation.”

The “Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry” were prepared over the last seven years by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education.
The document says candidates to the priesthood shouldn't be accepted if they show “signs of being profoundly fragile personalities,” and says future priests should learn the “importance” of their future commitments, “in particular with regard to celibacy.”

The guidelines acknowledge that “in many places the choice of celibacy is questioned” and say that such “erroneous opinions within the church” are responsible for a “lack of appreciation” for those who make the choice to remain celibate.

In fact, Western culture, with its “indifference to the Christian faith,” is “unable to understand the value of vocations to a special consecration.”

Data presented by the congregation's undersecretary, the Rev. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, show that priestly vocations over the last 10 years fell sharply in Europe. They remained stable in North and South America and rose significantly in Asia and Africa, though still not enough to offset the rapid growth in Catholics' numbers worldwide.

About the author

Alessandro Speciale

Alessandro Speciale has been covering the Vatican since 2007 and wrote for Religion News Service from 2011-2013. Born in Rome, he studied literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and journalism at City University, London. He has appeared as an expert on Vatican affairs on CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera English.


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  • Just one question which the vatican never, as far as I know, investigated or published:: what is it that prompted otherwise well intentioned and good priests to seek sexual gratification sometime after they became priests? The question could also be stated: what conditions of priests training or parish life contributed to many seeking solace in sex?
    Was it living alone? Was it lack of personal relational support in the rectory? Was it lack of spiritual life? Was it seminary training that required students to meet objective standards but neglected the interior life and commitment? Was it in being a “good” seminarian by pleasing their superiors rather than giving their personal assent? Let us know what all studies show is a “training” that is adapted to the challenges that a vital priest will be facing. And how is the seminary preparation is better now than in the past? Perhaps the future priest should prepare by being a deacon without seminary training until he/she has done parish or missionary work for five or ten years. Those that survive that would make good priests, I’m sure.

    As I see it, the article on seminary training sounds like the old model with more focus on no homosexuals and make sure you always wear the collar. Old advice, same effect.

  • pat, check with a nearby diocese on how “spiritual direction” works for priests while serving in parishes. Is there a structured program? Ask specifically how priests are helped to avoid narcissism and pride. This used to happen long ago but has probably been thrown aside in favor of stressing absolute obedience to the Vatican and the church’s political agenda.

  • Something is soooo wrong with this statement. We, the mothers and our children have been abused. We have been blamed for the abuse. And now we are being accused of being the cause of it. Are these men REALLY wanting our time, talent and sons in this organization of a just and merciful God.

  • I would agree with the Holy Father’s conclusions. But let me add a couple more. Tuition costs and the years of study. The material concerns pastors are left with, and what I think has been the biggest hindrance is lack of passion about the faith in our leaders. When a priest gets a little to excited about his vocation the local bishop squashes him. The Catholic Church in the West has a talent for making the most interesting subject in the universe, dull.

  • Most join the priesthood with the holiest of intentions. The more a priest lives a life of holiness the more he gets attacked spiritually. If you don’t experience spiritual attacks, St John Vianny would warn that you be careful he doesn’t already have you. It is easy to critisize the system without having to walk in ones shoes. The world without priest is a world in a very sad and grave need; one without the eucharist and the sacraments. Our job is to pray daily for them. I think if we had done that more faithfully in the past the priesthood would never have suffered such shame and scandal. Prayers can overcome all set backs.

  • The celibacy of the priesthood along with the vow of poverty are necessary to keep men holy and strong enough to withstand the pull to conform to secular, state or cultural dictates. If Catholic priests were allowed to marry and have families they would certainly be influenced by their views and would have to be more deeply rooted in the demands and mindset of the relationships they are in. They would also have less time to cultivate the prayer life that is so necessary for a strong relationship with God. Both these factors would weaken their ability to be a strong counterforce to the way of the world. Had Catholic priests been allowed to marry the Catholic Church may still exist today in some form today but it would not have been strong enough to withstand the strong forces aligned against Christ and his Church. This is why the enemies of Christ want desperately for the church to allow a married priesthood.

  • Of course, any fool know that the real culprit of the lack of priestly vocations is Vatican II, which turned the priests into social workers, and eliminated them as the representatives of Christ on earth. Why would anyone with a vocation want to be a priest under the false doctrines of Vatican II. This plan, put into action by the reformers, is exactly how Satan works to destroy the salvation of souls, for those of you who still even believe in hell.

  • The Vatican just won’t stop trying to deflect blame to others for the sexual abuse of its clergy and the cover-up of those sins and crimes by its hierarchy who are equally criminal–including at least the current and past pope. But church history is loaded with such atrocities. Remember, it was Benedict, as Josef Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who convinced John Paul iI to transfer the consideration of the laicization of clergy to his office at the height of the sex scandal.

    To try to continue to blame other causes than the plain, ignored, forbidden sexuality of its own clergy, under canon law, under Vatican orders, is just one more attempt at the Vatican hiding from its own guilt. The Vatican continues to ignore science. In spite of John Paul II’s very belated apology for the church’s criminal treatment of Galileo for claiming the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way round, the Catholic Church continues to try to place blame for its own sins and crimes on many other causes while it also tries to take attention away from those sins and crimes with diversion after diversion.

    Those diversions include Benedict’s attack on U.S. nuns for not submitting to his demand that they return to a medieval mentality and ministry, for being their own persons, for choosing their own ways to practice the precepts of Jesus. When the royal hierarchy feels it is losing its grip on anyone else in the church, we see new-age attempts to imitate crude civil politics to reverse that loss.

    The other part of the church’s “War Against Women” is the contraception fight. That includes the abortion stand of those men who were forced to promise celibacy and its concomitant chastity in order to obtain ordination. The church is attempting to invade the religious liberty of its very members. Is it any wonder that such circumstances would attract sexually immature men to its clergy? So why blame the sex abuse scandal on others who do not ignore nature?

    An attempted distraction is that of U.S. bishops led by Timothy Dolan of New York and William Lori of Baltimore. They call it an invasion of their religious liberty, when it is they, in their efforts to make everyone else conform to their presumed sexual ethos, who are trying to curtail the religious and sexual liberties of everyone else. In so doing, they also violate our Constitution.

    Catholic hospitals that affiliated with non-Catholic institutions so that both could survive now try, after those affiliations, to force all the non-Catholic portions of the institutions and all patients of the hospital combinations to conform with Catholic doctrine and the Catholic morals that even Catholic clergy violate so flagrantly. What would the church have to say if the non-Catholic parts of those institutions insisted on the same rights for themselves.

    Since none of those institutions could exist without public funding, it is questionable that they should be called “Catholic,” much less attempt everyone in the relationship to follow their moral code–or lack thereof.

    Think about it. All of this involves sex! Why is a clerical caste system so abhorrent of sex? It is bound to attract immature, disturbed people to its clergy. Sex with kids and other minors is only one aspect of expression of such sexually disturbed people. Those clergy are held up to the vast, non-voting membership as models to which they should aspire. We laugh at their foibles. They hide their sins. We all do that. So many of them are criminals assaulting our young, damaging our young, hiding their crimes, and we continue to pay all the expenses of those crimes while some claim, as in the case of Philadelphia, “The financially-strapped archdiocese has spent close to $12 million on legal expenses in this case since 2011…” It wasn’t the “archdiocese” that paid out all those dollars, it was the lay people of that archdiocese who also pay all the salaries and living expenses of the celibate clergy.

  • Michele wrote, “This is why the enemies of Christ want desperately for the church to allow a married priesthood.”……………………………………………

    St. Paul, in his pastoral letters to Timothy and to Titus, wrote that ordained men in ministry are to be married and with children.

    Are you calling St. Paul an enemy of Christ? If so, is that why no Catholic parish I’ve ever been to preaches what St. Paul wrote?

    Paul wrote 13 New Testament letters, and Peter called what Paul wrote, “Scripture”.
    But, nary a word about poor Paul, enemy of Christ.

  • Pat: Don’t wait for the Vatican to publish anything that relates to any scandal. The very purpose of Vatican secrecy is to hide all scandal and pretend to be “Holy.”

    John McGrath: Why must a mature adult, after many years in seminary, be structured into any program for spiritual direction? Where’s Vatican II’s “Freedom of Conscience?”

    Marlene: You are one of the clear-seeing members. It is the church through its priests who sinfully and criminally abused the young, and the sinful, criminal bishops who conducted the cover-up, who have violated the lay people. Why would anyone want to join such a debauched group?

    Juan Oskar: You can find excellent, less costly education outside of Catholic institutions, and there is no inhibition against pursuing your own religious and church education. The resources are plentiful and free. Excitement is up to your approach, your management of your own pursuits.

    Victor John: The world is full of people who are not related to the Catholic Church and they are not sad. It is wrong, if not egotistical, to infer that happiness for others depends on your practices.

    Michele: Jesus wasn’t a priest, he was a rabbi. Jesus made no vow of poverty. Neither do secular, diocesan priests, and the life styles of the vast majority of religious priests, brothers, or sisters, can hardly be described as poverty. Prayer has many forms, and some of them involve much action. Equating require clerical celibacy with church strength either demeans the strength of other religions or displays ignorance about it. It also overlooks the wickedness of the Catholic Church at its strongest, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the sale of indulgences and fake relics, all those ugly things that led to the Reformation. There is nothing lack in strength among Reformation churches or “churches” of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or other varieties. I’m afraid that the Catholic sex scandal was able to happen and its cover-up continued with this kind of blindness toward that church’s evils.

    Real Culprit: You show that you do not know or understand the results of Vatican II. You also show that you miss a great deal of the Gospels in belittling the social inferences of Jesus’ precepts. It would be an extremely sad time when priests could not teach and also practice what they teach. “…the greatest of these is charity.”

  • There were more priests in the United States prior to Vatican II (58,000) than in 2000
    ( 45,000 ). It is estimated that by 2020 the number of priests will decline further to 31,000, most of home will be at age over 70. Please read Pat Buchannan’s “Index of Catholicism’s Decline”.
    Consider the fact that the Catholic population in the US has increased greatly since the closing of the Council, not on account of conversion to the Catholic Church because Vatican has abandoned conversion in favor of ecumenism, but by births and immigration. No wonder we now see parishes without priests, and closing or mrging with other parishes, churches sold.
    The Vatican progressivists would go at length to blame others for the decline in number of priests and seminarians, and still fail miserably to mention that all these are the bitter fruits of Vatican II. Indeed, ” none is so blind as those who do not want to see”.

  • The horribly rotten fruits of Vatican II…read Good-bye, Good Men and understand what has happened. By the way, vocations are UP in many of the traditional religious orders (Norbertines, Conventual Franciscans, Dominican Nuns) and in communities that celebrate the Latin Mass. Viva Cristo Rey! The Catholic Faith is strong when it remains Catholic.

  • If the home is not a domestic church then how can a young boy grow to know, love and serve the Lord? Our modern culture is a cesspool of hedonism. We are constantly bombarded by sexually suggestive images via TV, internet, billboards, magazines etc. Without a disiplined prayerful spiritual life plus having good confessors as accountability partners, no wonder so many fall in to the bondage of lust. Jesus sent out the dusciples in two’s. I beleive this was done so they could watch after each other because of the dnagers inherent in ministry. The devil’s most vicious asualts are towards those who are trying to rescue sinners from perdition. Make it a requirement that priest are pared with a partner, sort of like police departments do for cops who patrol high crime areas.

  • Johnny C is living in a “mystical” land of magic in his attempt to overlook the real sins and crimes of the church. The continuing cover-up is every bit as evil as was the pedophilia and other sexual assaults. The only thing worse is that the people in the pews continue to accept it all. Those abused minors belonged to the pew warmers, not to those garbed men at the altars and in the pulpits. It would be good if Johnny C would attempt specificity in showing how any of the declarations of Vatican II were not in complete accord with the precepts of Jesus. They were the real reformation of the church from its long and awful history since 325 when the Roman Emperor Constantine turned it into a royal farce at his Council of Nicaea. That good emperor was never even baptized until he was on his death bed twelve years later, and it is not known if that was his wish or just another royal ritual performed at the direction of his retinue to keep the young church under royal control that eventually moved over to its own royal hierarchy. Why else does Johnny C think that bishops wear miter crowns?

  • Commentors….pray for your gripes..wasnt the recent scripture about criticizing the splintor in your neighbors eye but you can’t see the beam in your own eye…you are not saying things in charity…yes there are problems..but we have the true faith..we win in the end..if you choose to be on the right side. What can you do in charity with humility to help? Think and pray about it.ask our lady to help you understand.

  • Azul Condor, the very great majority of the conversions to which you refer have been among people in South America and Africa. South America and Africa outstrip most of the rest of the world in illiteracy. Kind of harkens back to old Baltimore Catechism days when the nuns had us spending so much of our time jumping up and down from our parochial school seats blathering out memorized answers to the catechism’s question-answer format. That was brain-washing, not learning. It certainly was not intelligent or spiritual religion. Why do you think so many Catholics only went to church on Sundays, obeying the commandments the church presumed it had the right to make? There used to be six, now there are only five, and those are greatly unknown or ignored. Consider the situation of the sacraments. Very little “Extreme Unction,” immensely reduced hours for “Confession,” multiple marriages galore, and how good is God to cast away from him forever a person who had no opportunity for Baptism? The last means the Baptists were right, and that means Confirmation is redundant. Most “mass” attendance before Vatican II was just more of the same jumping up and down like the catechism classes in our wasted grade school years? How about an intelligent church with intelligent religion for intelligent people? The church needs to admit and doff its ancient ignorance.

  • Gilhow:

    On Marriage: Paul himself never married and in Corinthians 7 he says it is better not to be married.

    In Matthew 19 Jesus speaking about marriage said “…. some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

    A great article about this can be found at

    And on poverty: though a spoken announcement by Jesus renouncing poverty was not written down in the scriptures it is pretty clear that Jesus did in fact lead a life of poverty.

  • Michelle: Actually, Paul’s full comment was that it was better to marry than to “burn.” By “burn,” “uere” he meant to burn with disturbing, unresolved sexual passion.

    You need to do more to qualify as a scripture than to run through the book yanking here and there what seems to satisfy your argument.

    Consider the whole of Jesus. The problem is that so little was known of him, and that little came so much later by people who never even met him, that all your little quotations are quite meaningless as an effort to explain large issues. Too many Catholics have obviously inherited an unhealthy attitude toward sex and marriage. That seems to have resulted from having a celibate, supposedly chaste clergy.

  • To gilhow:

    You are just another nameless, faceless Protestant/ex-Catholic who blathers on and on about the same things. When in reality, as all good Catholics know, what you say does not matter. Your words are meaningless until God gives you legitimate authority, as he gave to Pilate who His Son obeyed even unto death. Until then you are nothing but a disobedient pretender, clamering about among men, trying to convince them that you are the Pope. You diminish the Pope to steal his authority in a vain attempt to elevate yourself.

  • The situation with Catholic marriage is correlative with that of the priesthood. You can’t have one without the other, and when one suffers, so does the other. Allowing priests to marry does not solve the problem. Look at the state of Catholic marriage.

    Some may speak of the abuse perpetrated by the priests on youths but what of the abuse heaped on children IN THEIR OWN HOMES? BY THEIR OWN PARENTS! Can we talk about that?

    What is happening in the priesthood is a reflection of what is going on in the home. It is really taking too much for granted that God should shower us with great priests when we don’t want to take any responsibility for what is going on in the domestic Church – our homes. If we clean that mess up, perhaps God will once again bless us with many priests.