Bad priesthood vocations numbers? Not by accident. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

I posted this last year, to the day.

Any additional thoughts?

___ Originally Published on: May 3, 2016 ___

Ordination_First_Mass_cardAnd yet, do other parishes and dioceses and religious groups change what they are doing?

Not much.  It is if they really aren’t committed.

In life I have found that when I am going in the wrong direction, I have to, first, stop going in the wrong direction, turn around, go back, and then go in the right direction.

Right? Does that make sense?  Is that your experience too?  It’s not hard, right?

At California Catholic I read…

Why aren’t other dioceses looking to Lincoln?


According to the Official Catholic Directory and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Lincoln, NE is the only diocese in the United States to place in the Top 20 for the ratio of ordinands to population in every survey conducted from 1993-2012.
Despite having a Catholic population of only 97,000, the Lincoln diocese ordained 22 men from 2010-2012. Only seven dioceses in the entire country ordained more. One of those, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (with a Catholic population over 4.2 million) ordained 34 men during those same three years. In other words, L.A. only ordained four more men per year on average despite having a population 44X greater than Lincoln.

The Lincoln blueprint can be narrowed down to a few foundational elements:

Orthodox Bishops[Yep.  This is a big one.]

Against all odds and the prevailing winds of the post-conciliar Church, Lincoln has avoided the craziness and irreverence that has afflicted so many other dioceses. This has largely been achieved through the stability and orthodoxy provided over the last fifty years by three men: Bishop Glennon Flavin (1967-1992), Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz (1992-2012), and Bishop James Conley (2012-present). They succeeded despite the occasional scorn of their brother bishops, and by making the Church’s perennial priorities their own.
The National Catholic Reporter (known as the Fishwrap to Fr. Z readers) [And not only to Fr Z readers…. pretty much everyone now calls it that.] once bemoaned that it was as if the “reforms” so prevalent in the aftermath of Vatican II had missed Lincoln altogether. Exactly.

The Male Only Sanctuary

To a large extent, Lincoln has preserved a male only sanctuary. In this area the diocese has simply given more weight to tradition and common sense instead of “modern sensibilities” that are more secular minded.
The diocese remains the only one in the country to maintain an altar serving policy of boys only.
Lincoln also utilizes installed acolytes and lectors for the Holy Mass. Since it is an instituted ministry, the role of an acolyte is only open to men. Both of these instituted ministries commenced during Bishop Flavin’s time during the 1970’s.

Tradition Friendly

Those in Lincoln will speak of the lack of Catholic tribalism and the absence of the liturgical wars so prevalent in other dioceses. In large part this is due to the environment established by Lincoln’s bishops. Reverent Novus Ordo liturgies have served the faithful well, preventing the frustration that so many encounter in other dioceses.
[… good stuff… but I want to keep this short… Suffice to say that during my last visit to NYC, I had a church full of young people from a High School in Lincoln.  They were reverent, received Communion on the tongue, kneeling, without batting an eye… impressive…]

Liturgical Continuity

As stated previously, the Lincoln diocese has intentionally avoided the modern tendency to clericalize the laity by delegating liturgical roles to the faithful. Thanks to its use of acolytes and lectors, instead of the more common excessive use of readers and extraordinary ministers, the diocese has not blurred the lines between ministers and laity, or between sanctuary and nave. It’s obvious to see how this would reinforce the ministerial priesthood in Lincoln, as well as the continuity between both forms of the Roman Rite.
Proper liturgical orientation has been further reinforced through the manner in which many masses are offered in Lincoln: with the priest facing toward the liturgical east, or Ad Orientem.

A Catholic Education

While I have saved this for last, in many ways education is the primary ingredient to Lincoln’s recipe for success. Bishop Glennon Flavin’s vision for a diocese that allowed its children to go to Catholic school at an affordable cost and to be taught authentic Catholicism by religious sisters and priests is integral to the diocesan mission.  [One of the parent/chaperons of the aforementioned group from Lincoln told me that tuition was in the neighborhood of $1200 per year. ]

Read the whole thing there.  It’s pretty interesting.

Here is the bottom line.

The percentages of men to be ordained, and who are now active, against those who are retiring or dying are getting grim.  I was recently in a diocese in Louisiana where some half of the priests are set to retire in the next five years.  Disaster, right?

Well, friends….

That percentage didn’t just happen.

It was engineered.

And the numbers in Lincoln, and in certain parishes, dioceses and religious groups known for good numbers of vocations didn’t just happen either!

You have probably seen the polls I have had here.  I’ll post them again.  Anyone can vote, but only registered and approved users here can comment.

Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? (Revisited)

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

And… yes… there are only male and female on both my planet and on your planet.

And…no… I don’t want to just pray for all “Vocations”, lumping them together in one amorphous prayer salad.   Sure, pray that young people get married.  But pray explicitly for PRIESTS.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Hard-Identity Catholicism, POLLS, Priests and Priesthood, Seminarians and Seminaries, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Every vocation director in every diocese should have to spend significant time in Lincoln with their vocation director to get the gist of how it’s done.

  2. John Grammaticus says:

    Please pray for me as I discern my vocation and go for my first talk with a spiritual director next week. I believe that God is calling me to the altar, but please pray that I be humble enough to accept his will if he is not.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    The enlightened recognize the obvious answer is that Lincoln is an ignorant rural backwater stuck in the past. It’s remarkable to me how frequently I encounter “non-judgemental” people who can instantly diagnose willful ignorance based on the fact that it is associated with something they dislike, such as rural areas or religious traditions.

  4. aquinas138 says:

    Wow, $1200 a year?! That’s great! Where I am, it’s $800+/month for 1 child. There is a slight break for additional children, but putting my 4 kids through Catholic school would be over $3000/month. I simply cannot do that.

  5. YellowRoses says:

    Not sure if this is related, but in the Lincoln Diocese in Valparaiso there are some very trad discalced Carmelite nuns. I think that’d also contribute to the diocese’s good priest production.

  6. bellator says:

    The current state of affairs is why I keep waffling in my discernment. I truly feel called and everytime I feel I am close to making a final decision I read about some new reason to make me doubt.

    [You feel truly called… and yet you… what? Waffle? And your handle here is “Bellator”? Ironic. When you are sure God is calling, YOU GO. And you deal with it.]

  7. frjim4321 says:

    Quantity is, indeed, an important factor with regard to the population of presbyters; [priests!] however it is not the only one.

    With respect to quality, the ability of one to collaborate with pastoral ministers of all ages and sexes, whether religious or others, is necessary.

    The vast majority of “t”raditional priests that I observe don’t do very well getting along with and working alongside women in minstry; with the occasional exception of women religious of the antiquarian, subservient style. Gender-exclusive sanctuaries are simply another manifestation of that pathology. [“pathology”… That’s insulting and defamatory.]

    That being said I do know one (1) “t”raditional priest who works his rear end off; for instance confessions before every mass every day and running off to a distant prison once a month to visit a parishioner. He does not, however, engage in the unreformed pre-1960’s mass.

  8. laurel says:

    Excellent observations…….. on a related subject……
    Yes, pray explicitly for vocation to the priesthood
    However, most (not all) priestly vocations come from good families
    When will we hear a (1) sermon (‘scuse me – homily) or (2) intercession about Catholics marrying other Catholics who sincerely practice their Faith? How about encouraging parents to talk to their teens about the vital importance of marrying within the Faith??? [Which is a another subject.]

  9. Mike says:

    Gender theory and other cultural-Marxist pestilences at the heart of the political Church aren’t very well camouflaged these days. That’s good news for Catholics, as the truth stands out in vivid and stimulating contrast if we’ll exert the effort to proclaim and live it.

  10. G-Veg says:

    We are in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and my wife and I love our Archbishop. He is a great, tough-minded guy who speaks clearly. For some reason though, the Archdiocese, and many parishes, are pulling back from Catholic education. It isn’t just in financial contributions, it is in nor advocating for Catholic education. As the number of students falls, the amount it costs goes up, causing the number of students to fall, and so on.

    Fr. Guckin once said “sending your child to Catholic school, if the public school is awful, may just be smart. Sending your child to Catholic school, when you live in a good school district, is an act of faith.” I think that is right and the $20,000 we pay for our kids’ educations is worth it for the reinforcement of our values but the cost places a Catholic education out of reach for many of our friends.

    I have noticed that quite a few of the seminarians went through Catholic education till 12th grade. I have to think there is a relationship between Catholic schools and seminarians and your piece reinforces that belief.


    David Spaulding

  11. Thorfinn says:

    1. Are Catholic families Catholic? or secularists with an extra activity on most Sundays?
    2. Are Catholic priests Catholic? or do they neglect their prayer life & deny the Real Presence?
    3. Are Catholic parishes Catholic? or faded copies of 1970s mainline churches on the verge of extinction?
    4. Are Catholic schools Catholic? or warmed-over prep schools?
    5. Are Catholic bishops Catholic? or….not?

    Answer yes to all the above and you’ll have many men saying yes to the call to the priesthood, and it becomes a matter of engaging, encouraging, and supporting them. (I believe there is another piece about the effect of embracing the Usus Antiquior but you can argue all day about what portion of that is correlation vs. causation.)

  12. mburn16 says:

    I hesitate to say it was “engineered” (at least any more than one “engineers” a heap of rubble that he intended to be an office building, but which collapsed). My own observations at my (fairly liberal) parish make me witness to a great deal of blindness and hand-wringing, but little malice. People, people otherwise happy with an “inclusive”/”welcoming”/”non-judgmental” church do, honestly, sit and fret about the decline of the faith, and cannot for the life of them, come to understand its causes.

    [The chief engineers were higher up, although they had lots of local help.]

  13. hwriggles4 says:

    Holy Thursday I drove 55 miles to attend Mass at the Anglican Ordinariate parish in Arlington. One reason I wanted to attend was Bishop Lopes was the priest for this Mass (he was visiting). After Mass, I asked him about Altar boys, and like the FSSP and the Diocese of Lincoln, the Ordinariate mandates Altar boys.

    This Mass had eight Altar boys, and the remaining four were men, including the priest. Bishop Lopes washed the feet of twelve men that night too, and much of the time Mass was celebrated with the good Bishop facing the tabernacle.

    Also, I couldn’t help noticing during Mass how many young people (men and women between 4 and 21) were present at Mass, and paid attention. Mass was nearly two hours, and I didn’t hear anything “when is this over?” mumbles from my friends children. Most of the congregation was dressed what I would call “business casual”, and it’s great to be at Mass with a congregation that wants to be there.

    When the bar is set high…Men will rise.

  14. robtbrown says:

    Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Every vocation director in every diocese should have to spend significant time in Lincoln with their vocation director to get the gist of how it’s done.

    I know from my Roman years that the diocese of Lincoln is well known in Europe and S America

    It goes back several years to 1967 when Bp Flavin was named to take the place of Bp Casey, who took his pastoral magic to Denver, leaving a diocese in ruins. Flavin did two things very well: He didn’t put up with nonsense-its purveyors were asked to leave the diocese. And he emphasized the Newman Center at NU-L, not with a Father Relevance but with a very solid priest . . . who recruited.

    Flavin also had two priests studying in Rome every year. I knew many, and they were all good guys.

    Flavin left a very solid diocese to Fabian Bruskewitz, who had studied in Rome, worked there 11 years, then returned to his home diocese of Milwaukee, where he feuded with Abp Weakland (who no doubt had the ability to collaborate with pastoral ministers of all ages and sexes, whether religious or others ). Bruskewitz started a minor seminary, welcomed the FSSP studium to the diocese, and a house of Carmelite Nuns, with Latin liturgy and many vocations–I heard they’ve already made a foundation.

    Bp Conley is continuing the work begun by Flavin and continued by Bruskewitz. Conley is a pastoral legend. What can you say about a bishop who rode his motorcycle all over the Western US before he entered seminary?

  15. iamlucky13 says:

    Fr. Jim, when you suggest that quality is a problem, is it your opinion that the decline in vocations is due to a lack of those capable of carrying out the duties of priesthood, rather than a lack of discernment of that vocation among those who are capable?

    Surely that can not be the case, as it suggests the Holy Spirit ceased providing for the sacramental needs of the Church in the late 20th century (or else we were wrong about the importance of access to the sacraments before that time).

    For what it’s worth, most of the priests I know from all over traditional/progressive continuum do collaborate well with all of their parishioners, as evidenced by the statements of numerous woman I know who are anything but subservient. Of two instances I can think of offhand where I’m aware of conflicts, one priest is very traditional, and the other is very much not.

    Which makes sense just from a practical perspective. Most priests I know are so busy they’re grateful for any and all help they receive. Still, when it comes time to prioritize, the liturgy and the sacraments are their primary responsibility.

  16. lmgilbert says:

    robtbrown, I am very happy to correct you when you write,
    “and a house of Carmelite Nuns, with Latin liturgy and many vocations–I heard they’ve already made a foundation.”

    The Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valpraiso, NE has made the following foundations since 2007:
    1. Elysburg, a JMJ Carmel started with something like 10 nuns in 2009. As of Feb this year they had grown to 28, but a Carmelite convent is not supposed to have more than 21 nuns unless they are planning to make a foundation. Elysburg JMJ Carmel is therefore planning to make a new foundation.
    2. Kensington, started in 2012 with ten nuns, now seven. They have had a rough time for a number of reasons.
    3. Post Falls, Idaho, started February this year.

    Now, the Valparaiso JMJ Carmel is once again in position to make another foundation, that is, if they have enough black veils- meaning solemnly professed. I believe the numbers are somewhere in the low 30’s.

    So, they have made three foundations and another is in the oven. My daughter tells me there has been nothing like it in the history of the order.

  17. lmgilbert says:

    Fr Z, you write:
    “While I have saved this for last, in many ways education is the primary ingredient to Lincoln’s recipe for success. Bishop Glennon Flavin’s vision for a diocese that allowed its children to go to Catholic school at an affordable cost and to be taught authentic Catholicism by religious sisters and priests is integral to the diocesan mission.”

    Bishop Bruskewitz insisted that each of his priests get a teaching certificate and I believe that policy has been continued by Bishop Conley.

  18. charbster says:

    Please pray for me as I will talk with my diocese’s vocations director this summer about discerning the priesthood. Having sat through my share of bad NO masses, I can understand why irreverent masses don’t lead to vocations.

  19. G-Veg says:

    I think that is exactly right, with regads to the feel good church that does not challenge. Our Catholic experience mirrors that of our Protestant brethren: “we made everything ready for you but you won’t attend our party. That makes us sad and confuses us.”

  20. JonPatrick says:

    So apparently the Church was wrong in having this “gender exclusive pathology” in the Sanctuary for the last 1900 years or so and only now have we found out that the Church did not have the fullness of the truth passed on down from Jesus and the Church Fathers but needed this correction from the secular Enlightenment to have the fullness of Truth. This correction, that women are not fulfilled in doing the things that women are best at but must instead become copies of men and do the things men are best at in order to become totally fulfilled.

  21. Tom A. says:

    A priests job isnt to get along with anyone. Its to offer valid sacraments so souls can work out their salvation with fear and trembling. You are a mediator of the people to God. You offer the Sacrifice to Almighty God for your sins and ours. If your a pleasant and nice guy after that even better. But work on job one please.

  22. Lepidus says:

    The other thing that I noticed is that in the non-Lincoln-type dioceses, is that they really aren’t forming priests. They are forming social workers who can do the sacraments in their spare time.

  23. Vy says:

    One thing I was amazed at while talking to a friend (who is discerning the religious life) from the Lincoln diocese is that she didn’t know that religious sisters who didn’t wear full habits were a thing!

  24. robtbrown says:


    Good news about the NE Carmelites. I think St Teresa wanted small communities, c. 25. A foundation is mandated before the community has 30 nuns.

  25. comedyeye says:

    It seems odd that one can make a pronouncement about what fosters vocations to the priesthood when you have a sampling group of one (Lincoln).
    What about the incredible decrease in the size of Catholic families? Or any other factors that have weakened the faith?

  26. Mamma B says:

    But Father! But Father! Your poll questions are set up in such a way as to exclude and marginalize those who don’t identify with the traditional gender binary! Meanie!

  27. Mark_W says:

    Many times when I hear about the vocations crisis, I get the impression that the person is referring to a lack of young men deciding to become priests. But a vocation is where the Lord calls a person into lifelong service. Now we know that the majority of Catholics dissent from Church teaching with regards to abortion, homosexual marriage and the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. If they are called to believe in these basic things, but decline, who can blame the Lord for not calling them into his priesthood?

  28. Absit invidia says:

    It all comes down to the orthodox bishop. Period.

    Priests will be obedient to not just the letter of their chancery office (obeying reassignments, directives, etc.), but moreover, will be obedient to the spirit of their chancery. In other words, we humans have a good sense of what motivates and compels our leaders actions – from the president to the bishop. We can understand “where he’s coming from” when he makes policy. This could be taken further by priests to take INDEPENDENT action to implement parochial policy to the beat of the bishops drum where the priest feels compelled to follow the mind of his bishop. A priest can be compelled for various reasons: to stay in good standing with him and/or to demonstrate the priests fidelity to his bishop and priestly vocation; to garner trust from his parish by demonstrating that he is in lockstep with the bishop; to simply observe the hierarchal order of the church and faithfully follow, etc.

    Whatever the reason, wherever the bishop goes (good or bad) the rest will follow.

  29. caaronbrown says:

    For those who hate or reject the traditional priesthood, the lack of vocations is a feature, not a bug. It’s a means to an end: the NewChurch.

  30. Holy Mackerel says:

    The post left out the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration – or “the Pink Sisters” – who have lived cloistered in the Bishop’s former residence on Cotner Boulevard since 1973. They are the anti-aircraft guns that keep the German planes out of the sky while the Higgins Boats land on Omaha Beach:

Comments are closed.