Why ever more priests are declining to become bishops


Catholic Herald, 26 September 2019

This Friday, September 27, William Joensen will be ordained the new Bishop of Des Moines, Iowa. Fr Bill and I have taught together for more than 10 years at the annual Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society in Kraków, so I know the good people of Des Moines have been blessed with their new bishop. As for the new bishop himself though, my feelings were mixed.

“Congratulations on the appointment, and I admire your generosity in accepting the nomination,” I emailed him on the day of the announcement, news of which he had kept confidential with admirable discretion, even though we had been teaching together that week. “A great many priests turn it down these days, and with an abundance of good reasons. Being a bishop is a blessed burden, and today often more burden than blessing. May the Lord reward you for your generosity!”

When I was in the seminary 20 years ago you would still hear the joke that while there might be a crisis in priestly vocations, vocations to the episcopate were abundant. The implication was that many more priests desired to be bishops than would actually be consecrated as such.

Perhaps so, but a good number of priests declined the nomination even then. There are no public figures – perhaps no reliable figures are kept at all – about how many priests asked to be bishops turn it down. But off-the-record, those who would know – senior archbishops, curial officials, those who work in nunciatures – speak of a “vocations crisis” for the episcopate. If 20 years ago in such conversations you might hear figures as high as 25 per cent who declined, now those figures are more than a third, or even half.

Again, this cannot be verified. But when appointments are delayed, it is almost always assumed that a priest nominated has declined, meaning that a new process must begin. I was still in the seminary when I first heard a curial cardinal speak to group of priests about the importance of accepting a papal nomination to be a bishop. The problem has only grown in the interim.

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