Father Kenneth Doyle

Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I am very saddened now whenever I read the obituary notice for a priest — even if I haven’t known him personally — because I feel that this continues the downward spiral for the Catholic Church which has meant so much to me. (I am now 73.)

When is the church going to do something about the shortage of priests? Each year it gets worse and worse — and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. (At the very least, they should hire some staffing consultants.)

We need the church more than ever, but parishes are being forced to close because priests aren’t available. (Baltimore)

A. Far from “doing nothing,” the Catholic Church in the U.S. is energetically involved in promoting vocations to the priesthood. This effort is making some inroads, even in a culture that seems to marginalize priests and in which parents are often reluctant to have a son choose the seminary because they have different hopes for him.

In 2015, 3,650 men were enrolled in post-baccalaureate studies for the priesthood — a modest increase from the low year of 1998 (3,114 students), but nowhere near the peak years of the 1960s (8,159 students in 1968).

In some places where particular energy is applied to these efforts, the results are remarkable. One small farming town in central Michigan with a population of 1,224 has now produced 22 priests; that town’s Catholic parish has a weekly Holy Hour to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and fundraisers are held regularly to support those who have chosen such paths.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops encourages diocesan and school newspapers as well as parish bulletins to run interviews with priests and religious on how they discerned their own calling.

A key factor in promoting vocations is personal encouragement from other Catholics. Recently, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate determined that 350,000 single Catholic males in the U.S. have “very seriously” considered a vocation to the priesthood, but only 1,000 enter a seminary or novitiate each year. That same study shows that if a young man has three people encourage him toward the priesthood, he is five times more likely to consider such a vocation.

In my own diocese, some success has come from a program titled “Called by Name.” On one particular weekend, churchgoers throughout the diocese were encouraged to write on a card the name of someone they knew who they felt would make a good priest.

Those named were then contacted by the diocese and invited to an evening with our diocesan bishop where, in low-key and friendly conversation, the needs of the church were discussed. This effort resulted in some young men entering the seminary and several others who began to discern a vocation with the help of a spiritual director.

Q. In the old days, Catholics never ate meat or drippings from meat on Fridays. I personally still don’t eat meat on Fridays — or even on Wednesdays (monastic training!) But I recently heard that the church now permits us to eat gravies made from meat on Fridays.

I often cook beans and rice with sausage, so my question is this: May I eat the beans and the rice, on days of abstinence, without the sausage? (Austin, Texas)

A. Canon 1251 of the church’s Code of Canon Law requires Latin-rite Catholics to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year, as well as on Ash Wednesday. That same canon, however, gives to national conferences of bishops the authority to modify this requirement. In some countries, for example, meat is generally unavailable, which would render such a penance meaningless.

In the United States, Catholics are obliged to abstain on Ash Wednesday and on the Fridays of Lent. So there is no absolute requirement for U.S. Catholics to abstain on every Friday throughout the year; however, the bishops ask that, if we choose to eat meat on Friday, we adopt some other type of penitential practice in remembrance of the sacrificial death of Christ.

But the bishops do still clearly encourage abstention from meat on all Fridays, saying (in a 1966 statement titled “Penance and Abstinence”) that “we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat … in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to church law.”

As to what constitutes “meat,” the bishops say (in a 2016 publication called “Questions and Answers about Lent and Lenten Practices”): “Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces … are technically not forbidden.”

But they quickly add, “However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste).”

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.