The Age has a piece today on the Wilkinson study I wrote about yesterday, predictably spinning it as all about the dreadful restrictions Rome puts on bishops stopping them from employing married and women priests (interesting that the story mentions St Aloysius' Caulfield without mentioning that other bunch based there who babble in strange tongues such as Latin and actually control the church building...!).
Plus a lot of anti-overseas priests ranting, which I find particularly bizarre in such a migrant-based country so much in need of evangelizing!
But in reality there is a lot of evidence that priestly vocation numbers are strongly influenced by the efforts of bishops. In fact, I would suggest that it really is a very good indicator of their performance as a bishop, and their views on the actual desirability of having more priests.
Bishops can influence vocations
Indeed some of our bishops - notably those of Lismore (Bishop Jarrett) and Wagga Wagga (Bishop Hanna, although it was his actually his predecessor who established the diocesan seminary which has helped its counter-cultural trend) are showing how it is done. Hmm, there are some big vacancies coming up aren't there?
And some Archdioceses, notably Adelaide (sixth largest in terms of catholics, but with only three seminarians), Brisbane (second in terms of Catholics, but with half the seminarians of Melbourne, Perth and Sydney; still a big improvement on the situation only a few years back) and Hobart (with one seminarian) are looking pretty sick.
It is true of course, that turning around an anti-priest culture and encouraging vocations does take time. So you have to make some allowance for how long the current bishop has been in place - so Parramatta will no doubt change in the next few years, and Canberra is arguably still in the middle of a turnaround process.
And of course there are always a range of factors that have an impact.
Some dioceses are doing a lot better than others...
All the same, the data are instructive, showing that there are very big variations between dioceses in terms of success in generating vocations.
And the variations seem pretty well correlated with degree of conservatism/liberalism.
The numbers below compare catholic population numbers (from the Catholic Hierarchy website, slightly out of date in some cases, but the proportions still hold) with the number of diocesan seminarians as at July 2010 (from the Wilkinson paper).
I've put the data in order of size of Catholic population, and listed the top ten Latin rite dioceses by catholic population - then skipped quickly over the most of the numerous smaller dioceses that have only one, two or in a very few cases (Armidale& Bunbury) three seminarians, except where they are archdioceses, and just included the star performers amongst the smaller dioceses.
1. Melbourne (Hart, 2001): Catholics, 1, 029,182; seminarians, 30.
2. Brisbane (Bathersby, 1991): Catholics, 621,000; seminarians, 13.
3. Sydney (Pell, 2001): Catholics, 578,567; seminarians, 25.
4. Perth (Hickey, 1991): Catholics, 380,010; seminarians, 26.
5. Paramatta (Fisher, 2010): Catholics, 307,392; seminarians, 11.
6. Adelaide (Wilson, 2001): Catholics, 275,174; seminarians, 3.
7. Broken Bay (Walker, 1996): Catholics, 206,000; seminarians, 1.
8. Wollongong (Ingham, 2001): Catholics, 195, 669; seminarians, 5.
9. Canberra-Goulburn (Coleridge, 2006): Catholics, 160,700; seminarians, 6.
10. Maitland-Newcastle (Malone, 1995): Catholics, 147, 602; seminarians, 1.
12. Lismore (Jarrett, 2001): Catholics, 105, 609; seminarians, 11.
17. Hobart (Doyle, 1999): Catholics, 87, 691; seminarians, 1.
21. Wagga Wagga (Hanna, 2002): Catholics, 62,000; seminarians, 11.
The numbers speak for themselves....