Fear, not the demands of celibacy, hold men back from becoming Catholic priests, the Detroit Archdiocese's director of priestly vocations told a conference of vocations directors here Oct. 28.
"Celibacy is not what keeps men out of discerning their call," Father Tim Birney told the Diocesan Vocation Directors of Canada national conference that drew about 40 priests from across Canada.
"What holds men back is not celibacy but fear," he said. "A young man might be feeling God is calling him to the priesthood. Instead of jumping for joy he has this communication going with God, he is scared."
When he preaches in different parishes, Birney comes across people who want women priests or married priests and say the rule on celibacy has got to be changed.
"Everybody is an expert on the issue," he said. "Saying celibacy is the issue keeping men out of the priesthood is like saying monogamy is what keeps people away from marriage."
Birney said he had a file of about 25 men who would be in seminary now if it weren't for fear of taking the next step.
"The next step is not signing the dotted line in blood," he said. The next step is taking a year off to begin a process of full-time discernment in seminary.
Today, priests are "very poor at inviting young Catholic men to the priesthood," Birney said. "Nine out of 10 respondents who expressed some interest in the priesthood had never been approached by a priest on the subject."
Birney also pointed out that people discourage young men from the priesthood. They tell him "there must be something wrong with you," or that it is "not normal."
Studies show priests "are among the happiest men in the world," he said. Father Andrew Greeley, a sociologist, did a study in 2004 that showed that most priests found life in the priesthood, "better than expected."
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a licenced psychologist, did a survey that found 90 per cent of priests were happy with what they do and 66 per cent considered celibacy a grace or a gift, Birney said.
Other surveys show 50 per cent of Americans "complain about their jobs."
Work like Rossetti's and Greeley's combat the negative view in the media. "We should be out there presenting the best that there is about the priesthood."
Birney promotes a four-step process to encouraging vocations: Pray, Invite, Love and Live that makes an easy to remember acronym, his vocation PILL.
"Young people aren't magically going to fall into seminary," he said. "How many of you have ever invited a young man to consider the priesthood? Not to be a priest, but to consider the priesthood."
"Some men will be honoured; some will run away from you as fast as they can," he said.
He recalled asking one prayerful young man the question and he "began wearing garlic around his neck" and avoiding him. But eventually he told Birney, "Ever since you extended that invitation I thought about it. I can't get it out of my head."
This man will be ordained a priest in May, he said.
Love the priests you have, Birney said. "When you love him, you breathe love into him."
Young men considering the priesthood will see that the priest is loved by people, he's feeling intimacy. "If you love the ones you have, you will inspire more to follow in their footsteps."
He told of a young man who heard his parents constantly complain about the priest once they got home from church. "He immediately ruled out priesthood."
"We'll never be able to build something if we are constantly knocking it down," he said.