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The Church is celebrating an end to the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life as new figures reveal a modest rise in the number entering seminaries and religious houses.
Statistics released to coincide with Vocations Sunday yesterday showed that nearly 100 men and women entered convents, seminaries and religious houses across England and Wales in 2013. Some 44 men entered seminaries and 22 men and 30 women entered religious life.
This is the first time that the number of entrants to priestly formation has increased since 2010, but is significantly lower than in the 1980s, when the number of men entering diocesan seminaries stood at around 160.
Asked by The Tablet if this long-term decline indicated the need for a conversation about mandatory celibacy, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said: “From my point of view celibacy is a great gift in the life of the Latin Church and will remain an important quality.”
He said that the mandatory celibacy requirement was not putting people off becoming priests.
“Clearly there are exceptions and exceptions are made and I imagine those will continue, but I am quite sure that the star that shines in the life of the celibate priest is very important,” he added.
Fr Christopher Jamison OSB, Director of the National Office for Vocation, echoed the cardinal’s comments that celibacy was a gift, and said the 2013 figures represented a significant upturn compared to a decade ago.
“We have stopped the sense that the number of entries go down, down, down,” he said. “We’ve stopped the number declining inevitably and we’ve turned that round. That’s really encouraging.”
Speaking at a press conference in London on Friday Fr Christopher praised the work of diocesan and Religious vocations directors, as well as vocation groups, in fostering a “culture of vocation”, and said that an interest in discerning a vocation had increased among young Catholics.
“The issue of celibacy is obviously important to consider but the signs are that it is not the universal solution to the problem of ministry as some speak as if it were going to be,” he added.
Above: Cardinal Nichols with Fr Christopher. Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales)