Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 2004
Decline in priests, nuns, concerns
Vatican prefect alarmed at 11 per cent drop
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The membership of Catholic religious communities in Canada dropped 11 per cent since the last general assembly of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) two years ago and a Vatican official lays much of the blame on "secularization."
"The situation is tragic," said Archbishop Franc Rode, the newly appointed prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
"What surprises me at this congress - where we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the CRC - is that we're speaking about many subjects, but we're not speaking about crucial issues," he said. "For example, no one has asked why the numbers have diminished."
The theme of this year's CRC assembly was, "See, I am doing something new, can you not see it?" based on Isaiah 43:19, and included talks on globalization, youth and religious diversity.
Rode suggested "secularization of society and religious communities," and Catholic families having fewer children have "contributed to the diminishment of members in Canada."
Named as prefect of the congregation in February, Rode, 69, said the central question that should be asked at the CRC's anniversary conference is, "What are the causes of this diminishment?"
The former archbishop of Ljubljana, Slovenia, made the comments in an interview on the second day of the CRC conference June 3-7, attended by about 300 leaders of religious communities in Canada, as well as the heads of the CRC's counterpart organizations in the United States and Latin America.
Rode noted that the number of consecrated men and women religious in the member communities of the CRC is dropping at the rate of over 1,000 a year and agreed there are no easy answers to the problem.
"But if we could have more dynamism and more of the will and desire to really proclaim the Gospel today and evangelize, then that could be another way to address the situation."
The prefect of the congregation for religious life suggested religious communities return to "a certain religious discipline which, perhaps, had been exaggerated in the past." The communities appear to have gone to the other extreme, he said, and have placed less emphasis on religious discipline.
"I have not heard any talk about prayer or the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession," he said. "At a meeting of major superiors we should also discuss personal prayer, liturgical prayer, prayer in communities.
"We must also speak about the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the community and also the sacrament of Reconciliation in the personal prayer life of religious."
As of Jan. 1, the number of men and women religious in the CRC's 213 member congregations stood at 22,471, having dropped by 2,500 in the last two years. Faced with the decline in numbers, the CRC in 2002 restructured the organization to consolidate its resources in one bilingual office in Montreal.
"In terms of numbers we are fewer and fewer," acknowledged Sister Gisele Turcot, (Our Lady of Good Counsel, Montreal), before completing her two-year term as president of the CRC. "Members and getting older and not so many people are joining us. But at the same there is an awareness of issues in society, for example, of social justice.
"There will always be some young people and older people, too, to follow Jesus Christ in some radical way. There is a thirst for spirituality," she said.