2002-11-03 Recently the feasts of the Franciscans, Saint John of Capistrano

November 3, 2002

Recently the feasts of the Franciscans, Saint John of Capistrano who fought to save Belgrade from an attack by the Ottoman Turks in 1451, and Saint Peter of Alcantara who was a great friend of Saint Teresa of Avila, called to mind a cause both of them held dear: the reform of the lives of priests and religious. Before the Council of Trent there were no seminaries, as we know them. These saints worked hard to improve the quality of priestly formation as it then existed. The Church is doing the same now.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll of 1,854 younger priests in 80 U.S. dioceses reflects a widespread trend toward more fervent orthodoxy. Clerics under age 41 indicated more loyalty to the Church on dogmatic and moral issues than their elders. By their own description, three-fourths said they were more religiously orthodox than their older counterparts. Nearly 80% of them rank His Holiness John Paul II as “outstanding” among the popes, compared with 60% of Vatican II generation priests and 64% of pre-Vatican II priests over the age of 60.

The renewal of solid belief and practice after a generation of pick-and-choose “cafeteria Catholicism” goes along with a more optimistic attitude about the future of Catholic life (69% see the life of the Church in general as “excellent” or “good” in contrast to 56% of the Vatican II generation which pollsters define as those 42 to 59 years old).

Only 48% of younger priests think Roman Catholics can disagree in good faith with some Church teaching, while 72% of the older priests thought so. All groups polled ranked moral scandals as the number one problem facing the Church today. Older priests thought that reforms should include radical changes in the priesthood. The vast majority of younger priests stressed that moral decay is rooted in a neglect of traditional priestly standards and contempt for orthodox belief. Dioceses that most clearly follow orthodox patterns have the most priest vocations. One example is the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, with a Catholic population of only 90,000. It has two rapidly growing new seminaries and three new orders of nuns, including a new Carmelite monastery of cloistered women established last September. The Vicar General of Lincoln calls the national priest shortage “a short-term problem” that will be solved in a few decades by the return to orthodoxy. Monsignor Thorburn says, “Young people with ideals are not looking for the easy path. A ‘Catholic lite’ is not attractive to them.” Saint John of Capistrano and St. Peter of Alcantara would understand.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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