Contraception and the Vocations Crisis


A few weeks ago, a young man I’ll call David
dropped in to see me. David has been working with me discerning a vocation to the priesthood, so it was with some interest that I heard him announce that he had acquired a girlfriend. We discussed the possibilities and prospects for the future, and I came to realize that his expectation of marriage and family life was very different from my own. As a fairly new convert, and one who has had little experience of large Catholic families, David had a totally different expectation of what family life would be like.
It has often been observed that Catholics who have used artificial contraception have helped cause the vocations crisis, because there are simply not enough Catholic boys and girls being born to provide the next generation of priests, brothers, nuns, and sisters, but my conversation with David made me realize that the contraceptive culture has affected the vocations question in more subtle and powerful ways. 

The first of these is in the Catholic boy’s or girl’s experience of marriage and family life. Before the sexual revolution, a young man or woman from a Catholic family was likely to have grown up in a large, local extended family. He or she would have been part of a network of brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who all lived within visiting distance. Within that context of a large family, the Catholic boy or girl would have seen first hand the joys and sorrows of family life.
If he felt called to the priesthood or religious life, a boy would most likely have entered the local diocesan seminary or entered a religious order with houses in his diocese. A girl would most likely have entered a religious house in her locality. They would have lived the celibate life, therefore, within the larger context of that supportive extended family and Catholic culture. In other words, they would be living within community, not just in their religious order or diocesan presbyterate, but within their own natural extended family.
Artificial contraception changed all that. “Reproductive freedom” allowed women to enter the workplace. Families enjoyed a double income. Increasing affluence and fewer children meant the smaller families were more manageable and less dependent on the extended family. As a result, the nature of the American family changed.
 The large extended family, with all its joys and opportunities, was replaced with the American “nuclear family,” in which one man and one woman exist in isolation in a home in the suburbs with 2.5 children, a dog, a cat, and a double income. Increased mobility meant that this nuclear family could exist in the same sort of anonymous suburb anywhere in America. 
Suddenly, being a priest, brother, nun, or sister meant you were not only isolated, but isolated without the consolation of spouse and small family. Furthermore, the celibate would naturally be cut off from all the cozy support systems that proliferate in American suburbia. The old, localized extended family always had room for the spinster aunt, the cousin who was a religious sister, or the uncle who was a priest. But who wants a single person at a dinner party, the PTA, or the country club — especially a single religious person? 
The second shift due to contraception is buried more deeply within the observable societal changes. We have experienced a radical change in the deeper understanding and expectations of marriage. Before the sexual revolution, a young Catholic boy or girl experienced a family context in which being a husband or wife, father or mother, would have demanded a natural kind of self sacrifice. 
In most families, the man would have worked hard to support a wife and many children, and the woman would have given her life in bringing up a large family. Both the man and woman were expected to lay down their lives in a vocation of self-sacrifice, and the Catholic young man or woman would have accepted this vocation within marriage as the norm.
It was within this context of self-sacrificial family life that a young man or woman’s vocation to the priesthood or religious life would have been formed. The young person therefore did not question the demand for a life of self-sacrifice; it was assumed that this was the foundation of a good life. The question, then, was which manner of sacrifice is best for the individual: Dying to self through marriage and family, or dying to self through a religious vocation?
Now, because of artificial contraception, the whole underlying assumptions and expectations about marriage have shifted. Marriage is no longer a way to give all, but a way to have it all. Therefore, when a young person today considers a religious vocation, they are not choosing between different paths of self-sacrifice; they are choosing between a life that seems to have it all and a life that seems to have nothing. They must choose between a home in the suburbs, 2.5 nice children, and a double income or total self denial. The choice is between a familiar form of hedonism or an inexplicable form of heroism. 
Finally, a contraceptive culture is inherently sterile. When the marriage act is open to life and is creative, it shows that self-giving is the way of life and fruitfulness. This re-echoes in the search for religious vocation for a young person. If they have seen within marriage that self-giving obedience to the Church and personal sacrifice bring forth abundant fruit and new life, then they will understand implicitly that the religious vocation — with its own set of sacrifices — is also, implicitly, a life of fruitfulness and joy.
Could it be, therefore, that one of the solutions to the vocations crisis is better marriage preparation? At every opportunity — in marriage preparation, RCIA, and all forms of catechesis — the true understanding of the sacrament of marriage must be explained, expounded, and extolled. In the face of a culture that overwhelmingly assumes that marriage is an opportunity for self-fulfillment, we must remember that to be a Christian means we must take up our cross and follow Christ. At every opportunity, we must be reminded that the way to the abundant life is through service to others, and we must therefore never forget that marriage is for giving, not for getting. We must rediscover the deep wisdom of Humane Vitae, for at the heart of a self-sacrificial marriage must be the mutual self-giving and creativity of the marriage act.
Once young people who are searching for their vocation come to realize that they must decide to either die to self through marriage or die to self through a religious vocation, they will not only become far more realistic about marriage, but they will also view the religious life in a more attractive light. 

Rev. Dwight Longenecker


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is The Romance of Religion published by Thomas Nelson. Check out his website and blog at

  • JC

    Fantastic analysis, Fr. Longenecker!

    The middle point is a problem for Catholic families as much as religious these days.

    Certainly, our culture of self-gratification is a major reason why people decline to even consider the priesthood or religious life, but then again there’s the view that it’s rather cushy, as well. Priests get a guaranteed job, normally a really nice housse, housekeeper and/or cook, vacations, etc.

    There is a fourth way contraception has effected vocations, and it’s what Cardinal Stafford wrote about in 2008 in his reflection on the 40th anniversary of _Humanae Vitae_: the culture of persecution that began in 1968 against the few priests who dared to speak out in favor the Church’s moral teachings.

    This coincided with the rise in influence of the homosexual subculture as outlined most classically in _Goodbye Good Men_ and admitted in the personal testimony of so many ex-seminarians.

    I’ve lost count of how many priests I’ve known or heard about who’ve been “disappeared”, sent off to mental hospitals, etc., for preaching against contraception or IVF or greed or liturgical abuse.

  • BHG

    Or a bishop, and if you were really special, a cardinal. I still get props from my mother-in-law because the highest rank any member of her family or in-laws was bishop. James Cardinal Gibbons is a cousin of my father’s mother.
    When I was growing up in the Midwest, my father’s family had come from Chicago. Tons of Catholics – every family had at least one nun, as well. You could spend your whole life and not even know a Protestant.
    We used to play “Mass” – with my brother entering into his owns as he was the priest and altar boy. My mother made us priest and nun costumes for Halloween. A convert from Methodism she was a little worried about what the priests and nuns wopuld say but they thought it was a hoot.
    My parents, parents of 6, never really thought of it as self-sacrifice. Neither did my father’s parents, and he was the eldest of 12. Faith was the center of our lives and with all those aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings life was good.

  • georgie-ann

    “Faith was the center of our lives and with all those aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings life was good.” -BHG

    you said it!!,…so true,…

  • Rachel

    Really good thoughts here. The contraceptive culture is hostile to all vocations. As a mom expecting my fourth, I have experienced persecution – no, that’s true strong a word, but certainly negativity from all sides, including from my own family. I have never thought about how the priestly vocation would be affected. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I will be lifting the priesthood up in prayer today.

  • Long Short Fund

    I have read repeatedly on Catholic blogs that NFP observant people actually have more sex quantitatively than contracepting people so I don’t see how the contracepting household has become more hedonistic than others. With high stress jobs which are also a reality, most post 30ish couples
    are too stressed for sex at a close rythym as to days whatever method they are following. After 40, you are probably talking about twice or thrice a month again if the jobs are high stress. But celibates would know best.
    Rather I suspect that there are fewer priests because in the Church discussions since Vatican II, it is not that easy for anyone to get into hell including Judas. Karl Rahner, Von Balthasar, John Paul II and Benedict all allowed for the possibility that Judas might have been saved at the last second apparently; but Augustine and Chrysostom thought and said the direct opposite and it seems that Christ’s words about Judas are more in keeping with the two Fathers.

    But if it is hard to get into hell now, why would anyone become either a missionary or a priest if literally everyone you see including Pablo Escobar being killed in a shootout with police….may have been saved at the last second.

    And that is actually true. Maybe Pablo was saved at the last second but I’d venture to say that he had an incredibly hard Purgatory ahead of him and the Church itself does not talk anymore about how hard that can be; so young men are left with the impression that if you leave everyone alone, God will save them all in the last second whether you become a priest or you do not.

    In short, rebalance how we talk of eschatology and young men will stop presuming that everyone is safe from damnation.
    But as long as all are safe, why face beheading in a muslim land over the gospel if all those muslims are safe from damnation due to last second salvation after they have beheaded you.

    And lastly many young males suspect that there is an appreciable number of gays in the clergy and they do not want to live in rectories for the rest of their lives fearing being looked at in the wrong manner.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    I hate to bring people down to earth, but the

  • Avignon Days

    Arturo….thank you.

  • Tito Edwards

    …the only way some men and women could get an education and leave the life of eight kids and a blue collar job was to join the clergy or female religious…

    This is a fallacy beyond belief.

    There may have been a couple of exceptions, but here in America, the path to a religious vocation was not one of trying to move “ahead”.

    You’ve been reading too much liberal history for your own good.

  • Melissa

    The most important thing to remember is that artificial contraception didn’t create ANYTHING. It’s a morally neutral THING. People’s weakness and desire led to the creation of artificial contraception. Contraception has been around for centuries, and yet it’s only been in the last 40 years that marriage and family has changed so radically. So to say artificial contraception is responsible for the evils of the world is a broken premise.
    Aside from this, you could make the claim that the innovations of the automobile encouraged mobility and led to the destruction of the “family community”. After WWII, the US became a global power, which ended our isolationism. The opening of the global community also encouraged mobility, expansion, and changing values when it came to family and marriage.
    Let’s look at those factors first.
    And to blame the lack of vocations on breeding less destroys the point of the Sacrament. Holy Orders is a calling by Christ, not by people. Understanding and teaching properly the importance of the Eucharist, and it’s saving grace, can increase vocations.

  • Michael

    It may be that people see married life as superior to religious vocations because that path seems a route to having it all. I feel that I have to offer an alternative hypothesis though. It may be that with the diminishment of the size and capacities of modern families that where once people were immersed in environments which provided love, acceptance, and support now encountering those things is an extraordinary event for most. Finding a girlfriend or a boyfriend that promises a lifetime of love and acceptance seems like more than many people can realistically hope for these days so when it does happen it is often treated as a pearl of great price. So, ironically it is not necessarily selfishness that is causing a continuing vocations crisis but the rarity of love in this modern, sterile world.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    You mean, I just read history. People forget just how bigoted people used to be (and some would argue, still are) towards Catholics in the American cultural context. Do you think Catholics have historically gone to Harvard? Even the Catholic hierarchy wouldn

  • Devin Rose

    Great article, Father.

    I would like to offer a nuance for consideration however: in my experience most young men considering a call to the priesthood believe in all the Church’s teachings, so they understand and accept the teaching against contraception.

    So the young man who came to you would be a small minority of young Catholic men seriously considering the priesthood. Do you think that is true, or do you think that the majority of young men are like him?

  • Phil

    “Suddenly, being a priest, brother, nun, or sister meant you were not only isolated, but isolated without the consolation of spouse and small family. Furthermore, the celibate would naturally be cut off from all the cozy support systems that proliferate in American suburbia. The old, localized extended family always had room for the spinster aunt, the cousin who was a religious sister, or the uncle who was a priest. But who wants a single person at a dinner party, the PTA, or the country club — especially a single religious person? ”

    I think there is more than contraception going on here. The mobility of society means that you grow up in one town, go to college somewhere else, possibly do grad school in a third place (or more) and then find a job somewhere else after that. Families don’t live all in the same neighborhood anymore. Hours of work, for educated professional people, have actually gotten longer. Commuting time has become horrendous for those who commute. The one exception to this rule, remarkably, is that blue collar or hourly workers actually do have more time for leisure, but with that comes any number or economic problems relative to the more affluent.

    However, it must be said the living the single life as a practicing Catholic means you have absolutely no opportunity to meet other single Catholics in normal society. The best you can hope for are young adult meetings, but these seem to be only for 22 year olds straight out of school.

    The whole choice of being Catholic involves giving up the opportunity to have a spouse and a family and a normal connected life with any kind of community, particularly if members of your natural family life far away.

    It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

  • Dwight Longenecker

    The young man in question was a convert and so his understanding of family life was formed more by the surrounding culture than his new found Catholic faith

  • JC

    Arturo, may I ask how the “American dream” of “upward mobility” is compatible with the Beatitudes?


    I think that’s part of Father’s point: whatever their personal acceptance of Church teachings young men who are converts, and even those who have been raised by secularized Catholic families, often do not have an idea of what it is like to live by the Church’s teachings.

    If Peter X is raised in a second or third generation of birth-control using Catholics, he probably doesn’t have much interaction with “big families.” He may be aware of some “big family” Catholics from his parish, but he’s also used to everyone disparaging them as freaks or as judgemental hypocrites.

    The reverse just proves father’s point: most of our vocations are coming from very orthodox, homeschooling NFP families.

  • sibyl

    Though I have never disagreed with the Church regarding contraception it has only been lately that I have seen with increasing force how evil it really is. What Fr. Longenecker is talking about really is true: even in Catholic circles you begin to feel that having “another?!?” baby, especially if you are not financially well off, is actually irresponsible. I mean, why be a glutton for punishment? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard “Wow, six kids. I could NEVER do that.” People think that there has to be some extraordinary reason that you are having “so many” kids. It changes our outlook: instead of Christian resignation to God’s will, we see willful self-crippling.

    Our whole mindset now is to try to have the good parts of life without any of the hard parts normally associated with them. The problem is that you can’t do it. You end up with something hollow and not fully real. And it must, necessarily, change your interior expectations somewhat, so that you begin to feel that you are owed only the good, the easy, the tidy. And when you see people whose lives aren’t easy or tidy you begin to believe it must be because they made the wrong choices. What seems to be a corrective ends up turning your heart farther from reliance on God’s protection and providence.

    We are a profoundly torn culture, and so while I agree that better marriage formation would yield more vocations to the religious life, I think each of us has to keep on choosing the radical path, that which passes by the shiny, safe, but ultimately hollow substitutes for reality. And for the record, I think that every single truly committed celibate has loads and loads to teach those of us who live married sexuality. Who better to help us remember how fruitful sexual continence can be?

  • P

    Another consideration is that children have a duty to the care of their parents. When you have the standard 2 kids, one of them taking a vow of poverty (or the practical near-poverty of secular priesthood) means that the entire burden of the parents’ care falls upon themselves and the 1 remaining child. If that burden would be too great, the 4th commandment takes priority.

  • Chris

    The author writes, “Artificial contraception changed all that. “Reproductive freedom” allowed women to enter the workplace.”

    You could just as easily say the same thing about NFP. After all, isn’t it supposed to be just as effective as artificial contraception? Or maybe moreso?

    So I’ve heard, anyway.

  • Ann

    With all due respect, there is a huge elephant in this room…..

  • sibyl

    I don’t get that comment about NFP being the same. Obviously, people throughout history have practiced sexual continence when it was necessary. For example, my husband has been out of work for 10 months and we are on public assistance right now. We are practicing continence in order to minimize the likelihood of conceiving, since we have determined that this is a grave matter.
    Where obedient Catholics determined the same, they abstained or tried to time things according to God’s will.

    It wasn’t NFP that made tiny two-income families the norm. It was dissociating sexual activity from babies. Contraception enabled women to order their lives in a way they never had before. It enabled men to justify their temptations toward unlimited sexual activity by saying that it didn’t hurt anybody. It turned marital fruitfulness into a man-made and man-ordered action, almost a hobby, to be engaged in only when and in such manner as the people felt “good” about it. Instead of the sense of holy mystery and awe in the face of the sexual union, contraception substituted an emphasis on sensation and “satisfaction.” Contraception is like all the other Trojan horses of hell; the short term solution that creates far more serious problems down the line.

  • sibyl

    Sorry! The Trojan horse was not a solution, short-term or otherwise. What I meant was, the thing that is initially pleasing that ends up releasing a whole lot of trouble later on.[smiley=tongue]

  • Left Coast Conservative

    My experience is that most of my contracepting friends have children that contracept and violate the 6th commandment with no regard to the consequences. These “children” are in college and are actively embracing hedonism – after having received a minimum of 9 years of parochial education.
    Their parents do not understand why and many actually encourage their daughters to contracept and fornicate. Very sad.
    My experience has also been that our family has been on the edge of the normative Catholic experience – not in full communion with the current standards and practices. But, in communion with Rome.
    We are strangers and sojurners on our way home.

  • V for victory

    You do not mention any specific thing concerning contraception and this lad that you were mentoring. I was expecting something specific, all the way to the end of the article.

    Instead, you recited generic criticism of contraception, a practice I also consider pernicious, and you mark the decrease in avg. family size.

    Not convincing.

    I grew up at the edge of a big Italian neighborhood in NJ, and all my classmates had cousins out the wazoo. My family had 6 of us kids, and we “adopted” lots friends into the family. The family size argument you make is interesting but does not hit the mark.

    Another thing you implied was that the yesteryear vocations were more legit, set on an attitude of self-sacrifice that young men today cannot muster up. Where I lived out West, our diocese was run by a mafia of priests who hailed from two mining cities where many immigrants went in the 1800s to work — many Catholics. One of those mafia was my pastor. I went to him for confession, but I knew he was not kosher. One Sunday at Mass he even admitted that his vocation was a selection from a checklist: work in the mines or become a priest. He actually said that.

    Another acquaintance of mine, about my age, went into the seminary of the super serious St. Peter Fraternity over in Scranton PA. Why did he go into the seminary? Another binary solution set: he went to seminary because he had not gotten married by age 30. That is a vocation? To the FSSP?

    Keep working on it, Rev. Longenecker. Maybe there is a connection between Margaret Sanger’s contraceptive America and the vocations crisis. My opinion is that it traces back to the bishops.

  • JC



    See Canon 277.

  • Chris

    With all due respect, there is a huge elephant in this room…..

    Sorry, Ann … I think I’m really obtuse tonight (either that, or I have impaired elephant vision!). Could you explain for me? [smiley=happy] I actually have a few theories about what the elephant could be but I’m not sure I’m right on any of them.


  • JC

    Fr. Longenecker is married. However, presuming the most strict interpretation of Canon 277, that should mean that Fr. Longenecker is more qualified than anyone to discuss chastity and continence.

  • FL

    Sorry! The Trojan horse was not a solution, short-term or otherwise. What I meant was, the thing that is initially pleasing that ends up releasing a whole lot of trouble later on.[smiley=tongue]

    No worries, Sibyl. I know what you meant.

    On a separate note, I was just enjoying the introduction of the world “Trojan” into a discussion about contraception.

  • Maureen

    Re: Vocations as moving up in the world

    A family who invested a lot of money and effort to get a boy educated, would then spend more money and effort to get him educated at the seminary. (It usually wasn’t free back in the day, and you usually had to go all the way to Maryland or Canada to get educated.) Other than spiritually, this was money down a rathole. The boy would not usually be assigned anywhere near his family. He would live off a small stipend, and usually die before he was fifty from exhaustion and overwork, or from illnesses caught from visiting their sick flock. Even bishops and cardinals in the US died of exhaustion.

    Woohoo. Upward mobility for sure!

    The situation for nuns and sisters was similar, especially since most sisters had to pay a “dowry” in order to enter as a novice, because such dowries supported the whole house of sisters. They were even less likely to be able to provide any payback to their families, except spiritually; they didn’t own anything.

  • Ann

    No, my comment about about the elephant in the room doesn’t have to do with the celibacy requirement.

    I just meant that something else changed for a group of people over the years mentioned, that wasn’t mentioned in the article, and it seems quite obvious to me, but I guess it’s not so obvious really in the end.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    That may have been the American experience of the priesthood, but it wasn’t the universal one. Indeed, you have just described the life of the average lower class layman as well, except they would also have seen things like the infant deaths of many of their children and an even earlier death for themselves. Not a good choice according to our standards, but life was tough back then, and it was certainly still a “choice” if only for the very few.

  • tim mccarthy

    Wonderful article, Father. Not only has it ruined tradition with a small “t” it is aimed at tradition with a capital “t”. I’ve long thought that if we can ever abolish abortion it would take getting rid of contraception first. If abortion is the anti-sacrament of luciferian baptism then contraception is the anti-sacrament of luciferian communion .

  • Mrs. F

    I don’t think better marriage prep and formation would do much to stem the tide of the world against the sacramaents of Marriage and Holy Orders. What young people have seen in their own homes and parishes is much more powerful than what might be taught in a series of classes (or an engaged encounter weekend). It is the couples who are already married who need to teaching about self-sacrifice–and not just in relation to NFP. What they live and pass on to their children will bear fruit in both vocations and strong, committed marriages.

    NFP alone isn’t the only answer. Practiced with a contraceptive attitude, it is little (perhaps no) better than taking the pill or using a barrier method. People can leave the trappings of contraception, but the change of attitude takes prayer and the grace of a heart open to children and obediance to God’s will, as well as an incredible trust in God’s ability to provide if we would only have faith in him and ask for what we need. In some cases, I think there is fear of what God will ask and where He will lead. It is easy to put up a wall or draw a line and say “I won’t go there.” “I will have four kids, but more is too many.” or “I want to retire at 55, but if I have more, they won’t even be out of HS!”

    We need strong, orthodox teaching in all the seminaries worldwide, and the same, strong, orthodox teaching from the priests and bishops to the laypeople. We need laypeople who are willing to educate themselves and their children even outside the church building, and who will prayerfuly submit themselves in obedience to God.

  • Michael

    No, my comment about about the elephant in the room doesn’t have to do with the celibacy requirement. I just meant that something else changed for a group of people over the years mentioned, that wasn’t mentioned in the article, and it seems quite obvious to me, but I guess it’s not so obvious really in the end.

    It’s not that hard to figure out. There has been much discussion over the years about how heterosexual young men have been discouraged from their callings to the priesthood by the dominant culture in so many diocese and orders.

  • joe

    I had a few problems with this article. I expected you to rebut the claim that larger familes = more vocations. While I am not a priest or seminarian I can tell you I plan to be. I can also tell you I am a convert. As a convert I was hoping someone would comment on marriage as a sacrament which definitly influenced my conversion.

    I did find that Melissa’s post about the eucharist is 110% spot on. If anything is going to help foster true vocations it is that. As my case might also help point out and what I hear few people saying these days is the importance of a devotion to God through prayer. Pray for your priests.

    One last point, while I can speak of the supernatural grace of the calling of God, I find it to be much more important than the desire to reach out to my extended family in nearby monasteries. While that desire can soon follow, 2+2=4. Or to put it another way “The family that prays together, stays together.”

    Amen Mrs.F

  • Avignon Days

    Given that goal of having many children in each family (a gaol that three Fathers of the Church did not havesmilies/sad.gifSt. Jerome “Against Jovinianus”Bk.1 sections47-48/St. Augustine “The Good of Marriage” section 9& Chrysostom…they saw it as Jewish only)), nevertheless…given that goal that rather some modern Popes actually had… notice that there are groups that do it successfully all the time…the Jewish Hasidim and the Anabaptist Hutterites…about 9 children each on average. And what they have in common is that that live in enclaves…the Hutterites out in farm country and the Hasidim in cities. And they wear set clothing which further identifies them and binds them even while in the cities…to each other.
    Catholics have no such bonds or social cohesion. What is compulsory each week is Mass where many do not talk to each other but simply smile and handshake.
    I don’t agree that every family should have many children in a Church that has no safety net to save the suddenly indigent (the early apostolic Church did have that safety net for widows and children…I Tim5:16). In the USA, if you have 5 or 9 children and your husband dies suddenly, the USA through social security has a safety net and pays widows I believe $1250 per child per month til they are 21. In India, I sent money for a child of a widow who once her husband died suddenly from brain aneurism in India, she had no safety net like that and had to farm out all 4 children to Catholic orphanages and she then worked as a domestic maid to be near them and visit them.
    This discussion on the blogs is often about frankly relatively affluent people with many children but who can still afford internet access and cable tv and homes and cell phones in the US and Canada…. but in many countries where Catholics live, that is not the reality and to have many children with no social safety net from the government is to be in dire straits when disaster happens. The Chinese question is astounding in the inattention it gets in Catholic talk venues and talk from Rome….if they have a second child, it can be forceably aborted and they can be fined 3 times their annual income and another case of pregnancy after that can mean jail.

  • Avignon Days

    Social Security pays for each child til 19 years of age if attending high school full time….not 21.

  • JC


    Exactly. That’s essentially restating Father Longenecker’s point #1. Back in the days of the “Catholic Ghetto” that Arturo and others condemn, Catholics had support networks in their extended family and neighbors. I often point out that, in the days of the so-called Catholic ghetto, when Catholics were supposedly so marginalized, there were at least 3 explicitly Catholic prime-time TV series (Life is Worth Living, Catholic Family Hour and I forget the other one). The top celebrities included Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Loretta Young, Dean Martin, Danny Thomas, Jane Weyman TOP, and of course Fulton F. Sheen. Hollywood standards were set by the Catholic Legion of Decency (which eventually merged into the USCC).

    Ever watch the old Sam Waterston show _I’ll Fly Away_? “We’re not Catholic, but we eat fish every Friday.”

    We may have been marginalized in some ways, but we had more genuine respect back then, when we were respected the way that people respect Muslims and Mennonites and Hasidic Jews, than we are today. And many Catholics today look to the Mennonites and Hasidic Jews and say, “Why can’t we have a model of living like that?”

  • Austin

    I respect the Hasidim, but I would prefer to not wear the black hats, long black coats and long beards, especially in Summer. Perhaps we could have short sleeve polos shirts with a Catholic Logo? Of course, Notre Dame hats and T-shirts have been “Catholic garb” for a while.

  • Avignon Days

    JC….Dean Martin and Sinatra may have been the beginning of media bad Catholic example…the former in respect to drinking and both in regard to womanizing and multiple children yes but also adultery and multiple wives. Shades of Mel Gibson… who continues to be open to life but without as Aquinas would say…observing the due mean of virtue.

    ps on social security…apparently as the number of children increases even in the US, the orphan money from Social SEcurity reduces. This is from the SS webiste:

    ” However, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid each month to a family. The limit is normally referred to as the “family maximum.” This limit varies, but it is generally between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount. If the sum of the benefits payable to you and your children is greater than this limit, each of you will receive a benefit amount that is proportionately reduced.

  • JC


    Sorry. Meant to include that caveat.

    But even though these people weren’t often the best Catholics they could be, they were still pretty moralistic by Hollywood standards even in the 40s and 50s.

    Jane Wyman, TOP, fascinates me, as the only ex-wife of a US president, and having been married and divorcd 3 times, yet she died a Dominican.


    I don’t mean about the clothes. I mean the mutual support network. Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and even Evangelicals and Greek Orthodox to a lesser extent, all have internal networks for mutual support, community building, etc. Catholics do not, and even shun such activities.

    Did you know that, when it’s not being used for prayer, a Mosque is a community center? Jobless and Homeless Muslims spend their days at the Mosque, looking for work and getting the help they need.

  • HCSKnight


    Sadly, none of what you wrote is new or surprising. All as you probably now know are simply points which were put forth by Catholic’s during the time of Vatican II who tried to defend the Church from the errors formulated around the mis-interpretations of Vatican II.

    Still, that you are now seeing these things, even if they appear only “more subtle” to you, is a hopeful sign.


  • Paul Burnell

    A very acute and perceptive piece Fr Dwight, I had never thought of this angle. I will certainly send this link to many contacts.

  • Gerard

    No. of priestly vocations = no. of young Catholic men x strength of their faith x some constant

    Contraception has significantly reduced both variable factors. Of course, contraception is both a cause and an effect of the implosion of Catholic faith but it’s difficult to overestimate the damage it’s wrought.

  • Larry

    There is a lot in this post worth considering. But I think the problem of contraception flows from a common problem; the misinterpretation of Vatican II. Ignoring the doctrines of the faith and disrepsect for the Eucharist to the point that many lost the faith and made the priesthood irrelavent decimated the populations of seminaries and even retories. Psychologists convincing women they were wasting their lives praying emptied convents. The lack of support for Paul VI and Humane Vitae encouraged the use of contraception and gave rise to abortion.

    Notice that today Bishops like Charles Chaput of Denver, the bishop of Lincoln Nb., Card. George, and several others have increased the number of vocations significantly. The Truth proclaimed will draw boys and girls to be men and women of faith who will answer the call of God who if there is need will raise up stones to serve His Church.

  • Alicia

    There is much pertinent comment here. However, there are two points I’d like to make.

    1. We know we live in a more fragmented, congtracepted society. The thing is – what to do about it? The young people who have come from nuclear families need to hear more than just ‘the nuclear family is bad, society is bad’ They get the message somehow they are lacking. There needs to ba a more welcoming attitude to people from those families instead of total lamentation and implicit condemnation of their life experience.

    2. The attitude to single people ‘ spinster aunt’ is less than adequate here. Whether father recognises it or not , the word ‘spinster’ has negative connotations – perhaps it was just lack of awareness that led to its use – as if the ‘spinster’ did not ‘make it’ somehow and has to be ‘carried’ as a burden by the rest of society. [Why does ‘bachelor ‘ not sound so bad?]. The thing is I know many single people who for a multitude of reasons are single and loyal Catholics – not only because of illness, or because of children caring for parents till old age, or lack of opportunity to find a companion, or a sense of mission – and they lead full lives being friends and helpers to many people.
    Why can’t father find something good to say about them given the situation in our society? Being Catholic means always being united to the company of saints and all of creation. Not everyone is called to be a married person or a priest/nun.

    Actually there is a third point but it would take too long. There has been a loss of trust in leaders of religious orders. I know a fellow who tried to enter an order and was propositioned by a gay novice on the first night. He complained to the novice master – who it turned out was also gay. He left after 2 years . I know other such stories – and these people tell their friends and the result is a lack of trust, even with the most squeaky clean looking orders [e.g. Legionaries of Christ!! – a lot of Legionaries are going through hell now]. If a ‘good’ order can be pervaded by such evil, in that the leader Maciel was not dealt with sooner, then who can be trusted? So many people live a single life who might otherwise might have ended up in a religious order. I know there are good orders – but after initial spiritual and psychological scarring it is hard to trust again.

    There are many aspects to consider in what is going on in our society and it is not enough to condemn nuclear families, or single people for often one is implicitly condemning the individual human beings behind those labels. I know father probably did not mean it this way but it is important to be aware of the implicit messages in what one says.

  • Mrs. F

    I don’t think the opposite of a contraceptive attitude is “Have as many children as physically possible” or having more automatically makes someone a better Catholic. The phrase that comes up, both in marriage prep and NFP teaching is “Open to life”. I didn’t mean to imply that there were not times when people do have grave and sufficient reasons for not conceiving. In our early years of marriage, when my husband was in college full time and I was working every piece of OT I could so we could afford groceries (And we still needed occasional help from my family when emergencies came along), we were very careful not to conceive (I can attest, NFP is effective). When the situation improved, we were delighted to stop avoiding. Had I become pregnant when things were so tight, we would have found some way to make it work.

    We left the door open. Contraception slams that door shut; the contraceptive mentality is what justifies it to the person. In the USA, where so many people have so much extra, the mentality is insidious. Look through most magazines aimed at women and the view of the articles is about the mother getting her “me” time. The you-can-have-it-all attitude is very strong. I don’t get the strong negativity my mother did for staying home with my children, but now the message directed at mothers is to get back in the workplace as soon as the kids are in school. Once in school, children get to hear their parents say such loving things as “I can’t wait until summer break is over. I’m going nuts with all the kids around,” “I wish Christmas break was shorter, I can’t get anything done,” or my favorite, “I sure feel sorry for my kids’ teachers.” The number of children who feel unloved by their parents (and often by extension, unloved by God), is astounding and hearbreaking. It is another symptom of the mentality that puts something fleeting and material above the love for others.

    People don’t say, “I wanted a boat so we didn’t have anymore children,” but they talk about how expensive children are, how there is more to them than being a parent, how they don’t want to be a burden on society or the environment, or how the children they have are driving them nuts. It is saying “Have another child? Why?” instead of “Have another child? Why not?”

  • sibyl

    that the reason Fr. Longenecker is right about the relationship between strong families and lots of religious vocations is that contraception is a lie, and the contracepted family is therefore built by means of that lie. That’s not to say that grace cannot or does not work. It’s just to say that seeking to serve the Lord happens most readily when it is modeled properly.

    As to Avignon’s comments about the hardships of fertility in poor nations, they are poignant but not on point. No one doubts that those desperate situations would be materially improved by disabling fertility. But you can’t do wrong in order that good may come of it. Contraception would simply bring to those already terrible circumstances the addition of the further objectification of women and breakup of the family. Those poor women in China and Africa don’t need contraception, they need better government, clean water, and education. And faith, and our prayers and support.

  • kirsten

    First of all, i am a convert (two years this Easter)….. and a “preacher’s kid”. i knew a LOT of ministers, priests, religious of various types growing up….. so i had some background that is unusual when i came to RCIA.

    In RCIA at one point our priest said he felt the lack of vocations could be blamed to a great extent on smaller family size. when a family has only one son, they expect him to carry on the family… and are less supportive of his calling to the priesthood. In addition the fewer children there are the more likely it is that the same child who might feel called to the priesthood, also feels called to provide for his parents care!

    that true as far as i know. almost all the (celibate) priests i knew growing up came from families with at least 3, and usually many more , children. It was NOT such a block to ministry/priesthood for Anglicans and Episcopalians, who could still marry and have grandchildren to carry on the family name.

    however, i will say that the posters who assume that someone who may feel a calling to the priesthood is “well grounded in the faith” are optimists. In my experience there are so few young Catholics who are grounded in the faith that it would be the end of vocations to the priesthood if that were true.

    Catholic education and Catechism is, if not dead, then on life support.
    and it doesnt look healthy….

    Thank God i had pretty much educated myself about the faith before i ever got up the nerve to inquire about RCIA, because i can honestly state that the lessons were geared for children or young adults at best, and not very interested ones at that!

    When we have students of RCIA or preparation for confirmation, who can actually explain the Mysteries of the Rosary, and have a discussion of what each prayer means and says.. i wil look forward to a rich harvest in vocations.

  • Kathryn

    I like the article and the comments here. I definately think contraception has a lot to do with it. But there are other factors involved as well.

    I was just reading another article about two Pakistani Chistians who have been sentenced to 25 years in prison for allegedly touching the Quoran without washing their hands first. And of course what comes to mind is: Why don’t you just convert to Islam?

    I converted to the Catholic Church in 1996, learned about NFP, got married, and actually thought Catholics mostly used NFP and didn’t get divorced. Ha-ha! Wrongo. It didn’t take long, but I finally figured out very few Catholics were living what I thought they were living and of course, most were just like all the other non-Catholics around. And you know, as long as money was put in the collection plate every Sunday and we were all “ecumenical” and didn’t put anyone down, that was just fine with the Church leadership.

    I do not get the feeling the Church leadership (and in this I include the very top leaders of our Church–inc. the Pope) believe–really believe–that Church membership is necessary for salvation. At one point, I had wanted my (eldest) son to be a priest. But after all the problems with the religious orders, I don’t think so anymore, espcially since “Salvation is not just for Catholics.”

    And since Salvation is no longer just for Catholics, what motivation is there for joining the priesthood?

  • Alicia

    When priests and bishops tried to complain about the lack of obedience to Humanae Vitae, were they supported and listened to in Rome? Goerge Weigel describes an early scenario in ‘The Courage to be Catholic’ [pp68 ff]. When Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle disciplined 19 priests who were dissenting from HV, the dissenting priests took their case to Rome and in April 1971 the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy issued a document on ‘The Washington Case’ which recommended that Cardinal O’Boyle lift the sanctions against the priests. This ‘softly softly’ attitude must have sent alarm bells ringing for many loyal bishops and priests knew that sanctions against dissenters from HV would not get anywhere. A priest near where I live says that MOST of the priests he knew were dissenters but the bishops did NOTHING, because they either agreed with the dissenters or if they did not, they knew Rome would not support them. Why not face these facts too?

  • Avignon Days

    I like your posts and all the ones after you without needing to agree…and Alicia’s before and after you. I’ll give you though a surprising take on recent Catholic history.
    In 1954 there was the ex cathedra infallible encyclical on the Assumption and only 14 years later was Humanae Vitae in 1968 which closely followed the Birth Control Commission which a Pope willed into existence because he thought the pill might be different than older contraception and he wanted feedback from laity and clergy.
    The laity who wanted change most was the rythym observant Catholics (the Family Life Movement) who wrote in by the thousands and for whom rythym was not working relative to the limits of their family’s size and economy. That generation had experienced an ex cathedra encylical in 1954 that was beyond all doubt infallible and was touted justly as such and that was nice but not critical to one’s existence (we already knew that Elias and Enoch were also assumed though to a lower heaven from the NT…Hbr 11:5 “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death”).
    After the birth control commission at which a majority of both lay and clergy asked for change allowing the pill (the implantation problem was not yet known but discussed from two disputing sides later in the 1970’s in the Jesuit “Theological Studies” which hosted the conservative and liberal theologians both on the matter)….after that period, the wait began for all those people 9who had recently had a clearly infallible encyclical on the Assumption) for Pope Paul VI to write the awaited encyclical which many thought would also be ex cathedra or infallible. What was happening in the everyday world of Catholics at that time was that Time and Newsweek magazine were printing large articles on Catholic views on sex and amongst them were some pretty bizarre views of critical saints like Augustine and Jerome with quotes and that started Catholic lay thinking even more suspiciously as to why Rome and their Catholic school had not told them of these questionable quotations about sex. They were fuming as they waited for Paul VI. He finished and against their expectations, Humanae Vitae was introduced by Monseignor Lambrushini twice at the Vatican press conference as “non infallible”. Boom. The rest is history. The revolt was off the hook as the young people say. Later conservatives like Fr. Ermenegildo Lio would claim that Lambrushini had spoken on his own and that a sign was that weeks later, his comments were left out of Osservatore Romano which Lio took as though an instrument of dogma whereas recently, pro life groups have castigated it as not up to quality standards.
    Bottom line…Paul VI did not rebuke Lambrushini outside of the imaginations of some since he could easily and would have had to done so publically. So Lambrushini was correct.
    Other Theologians later simply addressed it differently i.e. that the issue was infallible in the ordinary magisterium making it universal ordinary magisterium (Germain Grisez and Fr. John Ford). But they were opposed by weightier theologians reputation wise who had been picked by Popes to write large and small sections of Vatican II (Karl Rahner and Bernard Haring). Haring objected inter alia because I Corinthians 7 concerned two entirely different kinds of people who get married which see (those who need sex very much….and a different group…those who do not) and Haring saw then rythym as contradicting Scripture’s exhortation to the more sexual group to not separate sexually lest the devil enter in.
    All catholic discourse talks of only one group but God’s word is a bit different: one group is I Cor.7:9 “but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire”…group two is more controlled about this area…verses 17-28 “Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.28 If you marry, however, you do not sin…”

    Two very different groups but not a word about it in all debates on this issue within Catholicism.

    That is some background. That generation had just had an ex cathedra encyclical for something non critical and then were told they had a non infallible encyclical for something crucial to them as they used rythym with little predictability.

    NFP is great for you Mrs. F but it is not great for everyone but it is brand new in its accuracy and nearly 1970 years of Catholics did not have it. John T. Noonan wrote “Contraception” (very expensive at Alibris and others but your pastor may have it) and is a history virutally century by century on this topic within Catholicism. And the natural methods were resisted as selfish and leading to abortion (local Council of Malines under Cardinal Roey) if they failed to have their intended effect. Arthur Vermeesch, the number one moral theologian at the turn of the century (1900) advised it as a lesser evil to onanists because that generation still bougth in to Augustine’s view that unless children are expilicitly willed, there is venial sin which would make the natural methods deliberate venial sin which leads dispositively to mortal sin according to Aquinas.
    The modern Popes had to have sure courage and confidence to allow for the natural methods against all these old line Augustine fans.

  • a consecrated virgin

    I thought this article was, over all, well-thought out and appropriately nuanced, but I don

  • JC

    My five year old’s CCD class did a “tour of the church” on Wednesday. The lady who led it was one of the sacristans. A deacon happened by, and joined in answering the kids’ questions.

    It was all very baseline stuff. I mean,it wasn’t just a matter of “explain it at their level”; it was really, *they didn’t know*. Like, there was a San Damiano Cross on the wall of the sacristy,and neither one of them could explain what it was. It was just, “There are all sorts of different kinds of crucifixes that show how different people picture Jesus.”

    There was a “resurrected Christ” processiono crucifix in the corner of the sacristy. She didn’t even call it by the right name. This parish already has a “resurrected Christ” banner behind the altar. One of the kids recognized that it was different from the processional crucifix used at Mass. The lady just said, “Well, different priests like it different ways.”

    That is what the average layperson, especially the average layperson over 50, thinks: “They just keep changing things these days.” The third edition of the Missal and the new translation are just “another change.” “We don’t know what the Pope wants anymore.”

    The average Catholic thinks “contraception is not a big deal,” not just because the culture says so but because that’s what they’ve been taught by their priests and catechists! I’ve had many people respond with surprise and say, “the Church still teaches that?”

    Sacristans and catechists are one thing. 20+ year ordained deacons are quite another!

  • Aubrey

    Fr. I think you’ve certainly caught many reader’s attention with your essay.

    I think you’re off the mark significantly. You need to fill out your social history of the US as it relates to the Catholic Church. Specifically

    1) Examine the rise of the great ethnic enclaves in the industrial cities of the northern states.

    2) Examine the rise of the state univesities after WWII, the GI Bill and the integration of Catholics into mainstream American culture.

    3) Examine the American church’s response to Vatican II.

    4) Examine the events that surrounded Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae. Read up on the cardinals and bishops response to the encyclical (pay specific attention to the American, Canadian and Philipino bishops statements). Then look at the statements of these same groups of bishops 40 years later. Specifically pay attention to the Canadian bishops.

    5) Look at the attendence of Teddy Kennedy’s funeral and what was read there and by whom and with what intent. Be aware that Teddy for the last 30 years was a staunch advocate of abortion on demand. As I’m sure you know the Church holds that abortion is intrinsically evil. How many bishops have you seen at the funeral of a politician who lead a life that was hardly moral and who was an active advocate of racism or genocide? None. Then why the exception for abortion and Teddy Kennedy? What don’t these bishops get about abortion?

    6) As you piece together the pieces also look up the number of enrolled seminarians in the US since 1960. There are some great stats at the following site

    I have limited space here. So let me suggest a few books that might be of interest/benefit for you and other readers of this blog.

    The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church

    The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal As Ethnic Cleansing While I don’t agree with some of the hypothesis of this work, the results for ethnic neighborhoods are hard to argue with.

    I think you’ll find some interesting information.

  • Edwin

    Aside from this, you could make the claim that the innovations of the automobile encouraged mobility and led to the destruction of the “family community”.

    Yes, I think that’s true, but I think that undercuts your claim that artificial contraception devices, or any other technological artifacts, are “morally neutral.” Technology does “do things” with moral consequences–or at least it helps produce specific kinds of cultural trends. That doesn’t mean that all technology is either intrinsically good or intrinsically evil (I don’t think automobiles are intrinsically evil, but I think they are generally undesirable and should be used as little as possible–and that is more or less my attitude to artificial contraception as well, which of course is not the same as the orthodox Catholic position represented by Fr. Longenecker).

  • Logicman

    Following the teachings of St. Augustine (and St. Paul) these days seems to have long fallen out of fashion, sadly even within the Church.

    But are you willing to bet your eternity on these great saints being wrong? Seems like a bad bet to me……..

    Check it out: the marital act is for procreation only, all else is of sin (lust), even including all acts where no procreation is possible due to natural causes (old age, etc.)

    Never forget, God and His morality are immutable, so what was morally correct two thousand years ago is exactly the same today in His eyes. But the world ignores that…”modernism” is one of the greatest weapons of the enemy.

  • Avignon Days


    Strange then that God arranged for the sexual act to not produce children the majority of times of its occurrence. The Bible has no such mandate that sex is only for procreation since it would be a logical contradiction. In the old law, God arranged for the timing of intercourse to be favorable to child birth so that the Jews would multiply and more securely bring forth the Messiah according to Augustine with Jereome who did not prefer numerous children for Christians (see “The Good of Marriage” section 9 by Augustine and “Against Jovinianus” by Jerome/Book 1/47-4smilies/cool.gif.

    The Church is not bound by Augustine or Aquinas…if it were, it would have erred on the Immaculate Conception.
    The Catholic Church permits the marriage of the sterile and the marriage of the elderly but not of the impotent.

    Augustine fornicated for a decade/ dumped the woman who bore him a son/
    agreed to his mother’s choice of a young woman for marriage/
    but could not wait for her to reach an appropo age and thus he took another mistress. Aquinas held that after a sin is forgiven, God may leave remnants of sin within the person which are strong dispositions to the same sin. Ergo Augustine according to a writer of his time, was never alone with women after his conversion yet Jerome, another non virgin who repented did not have that same trouble being near women.

    Augustine saw women as good for one thing when he sinned and yet at times at least after his conversion, once again he saw them as good only for one thing: procreation. Here is the passage with Aquinas unforetunately parroting him on woman’s one value:

  • Kathleen

    First, what you are describing is the middle-class Catholic world. In the working-class world, WOMEN ALWAYS WORKED OUTSIDE THE HOME! They were laundresses, servants, waitresses, cooks, factory workers, and all those other invisible, under-privileged workers. They also raised their families and did all the household work.

    Second, you assume that every woman who married had half a dozen children. In fact there were many only children or childless families; infertility has nothing to do with intention. Childhood illnesses left many women infertile.

    Third, to some who have memories as full of holes as Swiss cheese, note that after centuries of religious persecution, and WASP bigotry in the United States, immigrant Catholics were often frightened. They were threatened by KKK, Nativists, etc. They were constantly called un-American for being Catholics. Read John Jay or Margaret Fuller Ossoli or Margaret Sanger. Read the attacks on Alfred Smith. John Kennedy wasn

  • MB

    An important book which helps to dispel problematic notions of vocation:
    “Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery”, by Fr. Richard Butler, OP
    ISBN-10: 0895558238
    pub’d in 1961, reprinted by TAN in 2005
    quick link to Amazon:

    Unfortunately, the mistakes addressed in that book still prevail among the literature and vocabulary of many vocations offices and directors. Every generous young person, priest, religious and parent should borrow or buy a copy of that book, read it, and take it very seriously. If that happened, I think we could truly hope in a new flourishing of our religious and priestly institutes.

  • Ruth

    Birth control is like a credit card — it feels like you’re getting something for nothing, but sooner or later, you WILL have to pay a price- one way or another. Thank you for your excellent commentary, Fr. Longenecker, from another convert.

  • MG

    I just want to thank you for this wonderful post. It enlightens but also bolsters the faith of those who have taken the sacrificial path. Combine this with Msgr. Pope’s latest entry on marriage and we have a great one-two punch!

  • JC


    I’m confused. You say Father is “off the mark,” yet everything you list has to do with contraeption.

    In one of my first replies to this article, I noted how Cardinal Stafford said in 2008 that _Humanae Vitae_ marked a horrible division in the priesthood, when the majority of priests objected to HV, and the minority–including the future cardinal–were persecuted by their brethren–even physically threatened–for supporting the Pope.


    Your point is? Yes, it’s a myh that women ddin’t work outside the home. But really the idea of either parent “working outside the home” is a development of the industrial revolution.

    And why is it that medical infertility is always brought up as an excuse for contraception? I am limited in what I can do physically because iI have to prevent strain on my arteries. That doesn’t mean I necessarily feel offended when people criticize laziness (only when people falsely criticize disabled people for laziness). Quite the contrary, the fact that I am unable to use my body makes me all the more outraged at people who are able-bodied and *don’t* exercise or *don’t* work hard.

    If my wife and I were infertile, we would be all the more offended by thoes who abuse their gift of fertility.

    Of course there was a lot of anti-Catholicism, and still is, in America. But the problem, as you note in your reference to JFK, is most of that anti-Catholicism is *JUSTIFIED*. Consider the various condemnations of aspects of American culture by Pius IX and Leo XIII. I mean, much of our modern anti-Catholicism comes from pro-abortionists and homosexuals who are angry that we want to tkae away their “rights.” Well, don’t we??

    Kennedy was able to be president because he renounced obedience to the Pope–and so has almost every Catholic politiician since.

    Lastly, which stuff about the inquisition do you mean, and how is that relevant?

  • James Dominic James

    You identify real obstacles to flourishing. Henri Nouwen’s writings might not be for everyone, but I found his Reaching Out to be good on this score. Journeys from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to community, and from illusion to prayer are journeys into union with God, and they are interconnected, nourishing one another. Finding ourselves to be lonely can be the same thing as “hearing” God “call” us into solitude, and so on. The pain can be our being reached by Love, our being drawn by Love. That being said, if this approach to things doesn’t help, may you find another.

  • Aubrey


    1/3 of my generation will remain catholic and 1/3 of my generations children will remain catholic. 1/3 of 1/3 is 1/9th.

    That means that in 60 years only 10% of the American church will remain. That is the future of the catholic church in American unless it wakes up.

    What most people don’t get is that the battle is over and the progressives within the church won. They succeeded in rupturing from tradition as they wished, but they also ruptured from the Truth significantly.

    As a result they have destroyed much of the body of the church. Most Catholics don’t even know it.

    When you look at my post above you’re note that I’m drawing attention to the social history of Catholics in the US from the pre-WWI to the present. You’ll see that the changes that have taken place range broadly and most don’t relate to contraception at all.

    That’s why Fr is so very, very, very far off the mark and uninformed of most of the social history of the US and of Catholics within the US.

    1) A shift from ethnic enclaves towards suburbia influenced by the destruction of their neighborhoods as part of “urban renewal.” Dig into this a little bit — and answer this: How many catholic high schools exist in suburbia versus the metropolitan areas. Why is that? This has nothing to do with contraception. Also their communities weren’t focused around their parish anymore. One’s parish used to be the focus of social events, education, family, faith and community. Suburbia changed most of that.
    2) College education and the attendant ideological shift of students who attend secular state universities. This only relates to contraception indirectly. How many catholic high school students take courses on “Eastern Religions” compare to university students? It does relate to dramatic change in standard of living though. American Catholics became much more wealthy as a result of their college educations. Wealth can have a very corrosive effect on faith. High school also looses it’s status as the terminal education program. Catholic 2ndary school shifts it’s focus.
    3) The American churches response to VII is only indirectly related to contraception. What don’t you get about that? Also see the churches response within the context of suburbia. See the extent to which members of the church chose to break (as in rupture) from tradition and the extent to which they never really understood the biblical substance that tradition stands upon. The disconnect wasn’t because of contraception. The disconnect was the result of 100 years of poor formation within the clergy and laity. It’s one thing to participate more in the mass, it’s another thing entirely to understand the roots of the mass.

    Just look for instance at the total number of seminarians as recorded on the Georgetown web site. Look at the rate of decline since 1960 and the growth up to 1960. How many seminarians are there today as compared to 1960? How about 1/10th. That’s not the sign of a vibrant church. Look at the growth in population of the US since 1960. Now look at the growth in the catholic population since 1960. These numbers tell you about the underlying events. The catholic church in the US is contracting. It is growing in absolute numbers but it’s shrinking in relative numbers. Were it not for 40 million Hispanic immigrants the church would have shrunk in both absolute and relative numbers.

    So you see Fr was way, way, way off the mark. Contraception is but one symptom of the current crisis.

    At it’s heart the crisis exists with

    a) The failure of the faith of our bishops — many aren’t connected to our faith, many aren’t focused on Christ, nor are many listening to the Holy Spirit. They aren’t connected to our faith as derived from the New AND Old Testaments.

    b) The failure of leadership within the church — the clergy.

    Many bishops seem to be pathologically incapable of making hard choices. Many consistently fail to make the hard choices that they face about who to admit to the seminary, whether to close their seminary, who to allow to teach our children in catholic schools, etc.

    Priests consistently fail to make the tough choice of speaking the truth of our faith. The Eucharist is body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ our Lord and should be treated as such — not as crackers. And they need to tell people to get their rear ends into the confessional before they receive communion.

    c) The clergy need to be properly educated in social justice and how it relates to respect life issues. They need to be willing to take the heat and educate the catholic laity.

    Abortion is the number one social justice issue in America today. When you take someone’s life you take away their ability to get housing, their ability to go to school, their ability to get health care. Most priests are totally ignorant of this. Many priests vote for pro-choice candidates. Most priests see this as a theoretical issue because they don’t have to step across bodies on their way to mass.

    Those are the conclusions that I’ve drawn from having read many books about the catholic social history in the US. I’m always looking for more information. Please recommend any that you thing would further enlighten me.

  • JC

    Hi, Aubrey,

    You’re exactly right, but contraception is at the heart of all the problems you identify.

    Abortion is not the #1 social issue: contraception is. John Paul II couldn’t have been clearer on that point. Contraception causes abortion. The radical pro-abortionists say, “They want to take away abortion because they also want to take away contraception.” The Supreme Court says abortion must be legal as long as contraception is legal. NSSM-200 (1973) says that if the US is going to push contraception as “population control”, it also has to push abortion and make the US public accept abortion. Catholicism says there is a link between abortion and contraception. The only people deny that link are the kinds of “pro-lifers” who want to allow contraception while fighting abortion.

    The rampant heterodoxy among bishops, priests and theologians was nascent even before Vatican II, but it was catalyzed by Humanae Vitae.–See Ralph McInerny’s _What Went Wrong with Vatican II_ and Google Cardinal Stafford’s reflection on the 40th anniversary of _Humanae Vitae_.

    And contraception is very obviously at the root of the rampant economic prosperity of our society over the past 2 generations. In _Mater et Magistra_, speaking of how the methods used to control animal populations cannot be applied to human beings with souls, John XXIII predicted that “population control” would only cause short-term ecnoomic prosperity followed by a big fall.

  • Friend of Council of Vienne

    Could you explain why predominantly Catholic countries are foremost in cocoaine production (Columbia and Peru) and some are next on the worry list for debt in Europe after Greece (Spain,Portugal,Ireland and Italy) and one is first in prurient pre Lenten parades called carnival along with immodest thong dress on beaches (Brazil). Could it be that God wants us to clean up Catholic countries prior to accusing others. Picture Japan with little Christianity (2%) and a low murder rate and low infant mortality rate and long longevity rate looking at Catholic Latin America with 5 countries being in the top 12 murder rate countries of the world. Should she convert based on the fruits we have produced there?

  • Mary Kenny

    Great points! Catholicism is overrated in its ability to produce stable and prosperous societies. It sure made my family miserably dysfunctional. And it didn’t prevent Rwanda’s genocides!

  • Mary Kenny
  • Norman

    Celibacy for the clergy also reduces the numbers. For more clergy make celibacy optional. We had married clergy until the 12th century after all.

  • Patty

    We have no one to blame or a point finger at other than ourselves for the crisis in our clergy situation.

    It is because of our sins that we have this crisis.

  • Maman A Droit

    I thought this article, while clearly not intended to be a comprehensive look at every barrier to increased vocations, was very insightful.

    I want to address the assertion made earlier in the comments that NFP is no different from any other form of contraception in terms of impact on women’s ability to work outside the home. This is innacurate. To truly practice chaste NFP, a couple would 1.)be open to children unless there is a very serious reason the couple can’t have children now (I.e. if the woman has to take a medication that would endanger a pregnancy) and 2.)practice ecological breastfeeding, which results in natural child spacing (*note: the Church does not consider formula feeding a sin, but it does advocate breastfeeding as superior when possible, see “The Art of Natural Family Planning” for more extensive discussion). If a woman is doing this and does not have any fertility issues or a grave reason not to have kids, as I mentioned earlier, she’ll probably be pregnant or nursing for at least 10-12 years of her life, possibly longer. This would pretty much rule out any possibility of working outside the home.

  • M. Elizabeth

    What an article! Thank you, Father, for having the courage to write this message. My husband and I have 4 children, are a Catholic Engaged Encounter Junior presenting couple and an NFP presenting couple. I also teach Christian Vocation to Seniors at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School. Satan is alive and well and has promoted the lie of contraception in such a highly successful way that our culture has bought into the lie “hook, line, and sinker” to the demise of all vocations. Our hope is in teaching the truth to our children about married sacrificial love and the joy of the sexual married union to both unite the couple and procreate with God. God and nature always concur; therefore, one only need to look at how the misuse of our human sexuality has caused numerous societal woes from an increase in STD rates to an increase in teenage suicides. God is certainly not stupid. He is the author of marriage and He wants us to be happy and fulfilled in our vocations. Today, the term “sacrifice” has a negative connotation. Sacrifice brings not only peace, joy, and contentment in this life, but eternal life.

  • Beth

    Plenty of families I know who use NFP have only 1, 2 or 3 children. Some large families I know use contraception. I don’t believe contraception is the cause of our vocations crisis and I have never understand why people in the church insist on taking this stance on the subject.

    Contraception enabled women to work outside the home? NFP enable the same.

  • Beth

    Aren’t there more men and women in the Catholic church today then there were in the 60’s? This article gives the implication that there are less available men and women in the church due to contraception when according to the growth stats that I see the Catholic Church has grown world wide since the 60’s. It does not add up–seek your vocation crisis solutions elsewhere.

  • Bernadette

    I am a mother to 5 children, one in Heaven and 4 live children. I recently I gave birth to number 5 and the members of family and medical profession who say now that you have had your last child shocked me.The only ones who haven’t said that are the doctor who delivered the baby and my lactation nurse who wanted more children but stopped early because she thought she could not afford children.

    The delivery doctor was talking about the next child before I have even made it to the labour ward. Women drive for miles to see this doctor because he is so pro-big families.

    I found contraception pills in my 2 sisters’ cupboard who both told me this was my last child. Like how can we give back to the religious vocations if we don’t have the big families, God-willing? We talk to the children about their vocations and make friends with nuns and priests so they see it as normal.

    Yet as a stay at home mother, the Australian suburbs are empty with the contracepting women at work. What was more alarming was meeting these women on their days off from paid work at the Catholic Mother’s playgroup in the church hall. Wow…I could not believe there stories of why they stopped having children. One was worried about the size of her 10 seater table even though they only had 2 children. She was the same lady who suffered badly from an IUD contraceptive device, but had a second one inserted.

    The children of these mothers would always want to hold my baby, of course they wanted another brother or sister but Mum and said no…………the cotraceptive family. Yes we live in a diocese with no vocations to the diocesian seminary…………while the neighbouring dioceses who preach life have 45 and 11 respectively studying for the priesthood.

  • Bernadette