PARIS (AFP) - 13/06/2007 09h16
Translation from French by Rebel Girl, with statistical updates from the CEF Web site.
The priesthood no longer tempts many people in France: only about a hundred young men a year choose "serving God and the Church" while at the same time about 500 priests leave their parishes due to old age or death.
Twelve new priests will be ordained at Notre Dame in Paris on June 23rd. Last year there were 8, and 94 in France as a whole. Since 1995, the number of ordinations has wavered between 142 (in 2000) and 90 (in 2004), and in 2006 there were none in 46 of the 99 French diocese.
If this phenomenon were transitory, we would speak of a "crisis in vocations" but we are more at the chronic illness stage. The situation can be exaplined by the physical difficulty of the role (a larger and larger mission territory and too many duties), fatigue and spiritual isolation, the priests themselves answered in a survey by the Association protection sociale et caisse des cultes (APSECC).
This survey suggested that priests should have vacations, live elsewhere than at their place of work, prepare for their retirement, work in teams, and be able to frankly discuss their emotional and sexual lives.
They did not go so far as to demand the right to marry -- priestly celibacy remaining an untouchable rule. In any case the current pope is not opening any doors to discussion -- on March 13th in his first apostolic exhortation he reaffirmed the mandatory nature of celibacy.
However the hypothetical notion of married priests no longer causes scandal in France where 81% of Catholics are either "very" or "somewhat" in favor of it. Last April, parishioners in Asson (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) staged a "Mass strike" in solidarity with their priest, who was dismissed for living with a woman. And Abbé Pierre, who confessed to some deviations from celibacy, wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to recommend opening the priesthood to "fervent and capable married men."
Therefore the twelve new priests will take the celibacy vow. They range from 28 to 39 years in age, says the Archdiocese. They come from very different families, have pursued studies, and some had even started professional careers before entering the seminary.
The CEF [French Bishops' Conference] made a detailed study of the first year seminary class in 2005. They were 28 years old on average, had been baptized before the age of two (90%), came from Catholic families (over 80%) and half of them had received the call to vocation at between 11 and 20 years of age. Their primary motivation is to "serve the Church, God and others" (21%), before "giving themselves over completely to God" (15%) and "evangelizing, making Christ known" (13%).
In 2005 (the latest statistics from the CEF), there were 15,957 diocesan priests (working in parishes), most of them over 60 years old, as opposed to 37,555 in 1970, thus a decrease of over 20,000 in 35 years. Consequently there are only 9,000 parishes for 36,000 communities and many missions have been forever entrusted to deacons who perform some religious functions such as baptism and preaching, whose numbers increased from 11 in 1970 to 1,958 in 2005.
As for the replacement of French priests by foreigners (Vietnamese, African, Polish) this has only been marginal, says CEF without giving exact numbers.