Friday, July 27, 2012


This morning I offered Mass in the little oratory of a small community of elderly nuns. Like many congregations they have few vocations especially in the West. It was for me another reminder of the dire vocations situation in Ireland. In my own community, while I am under fifty, the rest of my brethren are well older than me. The Guardian is over 65. These are good, holy men, prayerful, faithful and now approaching the end of long years of service to the Church and the Order. There are very few of us at my age.

Recently the Archbishop of Dublin urged people to support and encourage their clergy who have been through some very tough times. I echo that call and I acknowledge that in the last twenty years there have been some very dark days indeed when it seemed that the Church would never hear the end of its litany of shame. The Archbishop seems to believe that the Church has turned the corner and beginning a new era. I hope so. Part of that new era will involve helping the victims of abuse (not just clerical abuse), their families and those others who have been hurt and broken back to some sort of wholeness and peace. Another part of that era must be a wholehearted presentation and defence of Catholic teaching and discipline in its totality. That will not be so easy. There are those who will oppose this.

One major problem on the vocations front is that the Irish birthrate is now below replacement level at 2 births per woman of childbearing age when it should be at 2.1. That 2.1 is what is necessary to sustain a society providing there are no major demands for sacrifice e.g. no clerical vocations.

Over at Indexmundi you can find this:

which shows how the birthrate has dropped since the high of the sixties. Many families were big but there were many men and women choosing the religious life etc. Now the birth rate has fallen where is the surplus population to support that choice? When the birth rate (Total Fertility Rate) falls below 2.1 a society has about forty-eight years to correct that course before it goes under. Japan is now going under. Its economy is in decline and at some point in the relatively near future (within fifty years) the country will collapse. They are not alone. Of 222 countries and dependancies listed at indexmundi 104 of them are below replacement rates and most of these are the wealthy, industrialised nations.

This is not some new problem. In 1978 Fianna Fáil legalised the sale of contraceptives in Ireland. I remember back in the mid-80s reading about this problem of falling birthrates across Europe and the world. At that time Ireland and Poland were the only nations in Europe with a birth rate above replacement rate. In the late 80s we slipped below it. Since the most of the young men we seek to recruit to the priesthood and the religious life were born after this time there is an automatic clash between the interests of Irish society and the Church. Both need to preserve themselves but the source is dwindling.

The Church has only herself to blame. The clergy did not oppose contraception with all the vigour that was due. Dissident theologians and theologies were not dealt with but were allowed to prosper and propagate themselves. Now it is our even more difficult task, not as Canute to turn back the tide but as Caesar turning his routing troops to defeat the Gauls, to bring the faithful back to true faithfulness. This does of course require a profound conversion of heart and a steely determination on the part of the bishops to stand by the whole teaching of the Church. It will not be easy. On the other hand unless we act our nation and our society will fall and the Church with it. The path to a renewal in vocations lies only through active fidelity to her teaching on contraception and the sacredness of family life.


A Secular Franciscan said...

The dropping birthrate due to contraception has also been linked to the worsening economic conditions. More children would lead to a healthier economy!

Paddy said...

I think you are right Brother about contraception being the key ... the trouble is it took us 50 years or so to get to this point & we don't have 50 years to get back to where we were. In fact, I'd say that it's likely the birthrate is going to keep dropping on the basis of the current trend ... which means that we could hit the 'collapse point' a lot sooner than folk realise ...


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