LINCOLN, Nebraska, August 31, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The secret recipe for Catholic vocations to the priesthood consists of the prayers of cloistered nuns and fidelity to the Church’s teaching, the bishop of a booming American diocese revealed.
Bishop James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, told Catholic World Report in a recent interview that “the secret of a successful vocations program … begins with prayer.” The Diocese of Lincoln is home to two communities of cloistered nuns who pray for vocations constantly, he said.
“Having the security of knowing that the Diocese of Lincoln is 100 percent faithful to Church teaching on faith and morals is very appealing to many young men considering the priesthood,” Conley explained.
The bishop’s words come at a time when vocations to the Catholic priesthood in places like Germany have nose-dived to an all-time low. Lincoln, with under 100,000 Catholics, currently has 43 seminarians and 139 active priests. Last year, only 58 men were ordained in the 27 dioceses in Germany.
Conley noted the importance of giving college students access to authentic Catholicism in order to foster vocations. About 100 of the diocese’s priests have had an affiliation with the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska, and the Newman Center’s pastor is also the vocations director.
“We … built a new church in the middle of the campus; it’s a neo-Gothic, traditional church that has the largest stained glass window installed in a Catholic Church in the past 100 years,” Conley said. “It is a beautiful monument of faith, and is right in the middle of the campus. Ninety percent of Catholics attend college at secular universities, which tells me I need to focus my resources there.”
Catholic elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Lincoln are much more affordable than Catholic schools in other parts of the country. Catholic elementary schools in Lincoln cost parents an average of $640 per year; Lincoln Catholic high schools cost parents an average of $1,400 per year. Parishes subsidize remaining costs.
The Diocese of Lincoln is also home to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s (FSSP) Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. The FSSP is a Society of Apostolic Life that offers the sacraments in their pre-Vatican II forms.
Contraception ‘integral’ to the life issue
Conley, who was arrested with Operation Rescue in the pro-life movement’s early era, said the right to life is the most important political issue he considers when voting for a candidate for public office.
“If we don’t get the life issue right, what else is there?” he asked. “If you’re not alive, no other rights pertain. It is fundamental, and we have an obligation to respect those rights.”
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“Close in importance to the life issue is the family,” he continued. “Life comes out of the family, and a candidate’s understanding of marriage and human sexuality is crucial.”
Also “integral to the life issue” is contraception, Conley said. “If we don’t get that issue right, we won’t get abortion right. Abortion is the backup for failed contraception. The marital act is a mutual act of self-giving. We can’t tamper with it; it is sacred ground. That’s a fundamental truth.”
What Pope Paul VI predicted Humanae Vitae, in his encyclical upholding the Catholic Church’s opposition to artificial contraception, is “happening now,” Conley said. “Widespread divorce, abuse of women, pornography, and state-controlled population growth” have been brought about thanks to contraception.
‘Government will try to force’ the Catholic Church to ‘accept new definitions of marriage and gender’
Conley stressed that religious freedom doesn’t just “mean a right to worship in our churches, but to live our faith publicly without government intrusion.” It is “our freedom to live our faith with respect to our conscience and all that follows from that.”
“I think absolutely the government will try to force institutions like the Catholic Church to accept new definitions of marriage and gender,” he warned. “I have no doubt the government will pressure us to change, even though we never will. We can’t. We can’t change our understanding of marriage and gender; we can’t change Church teaching. We will have to stand strong, and they’ll come after us.”
The bishop said it’s “irresponsible” to “accept or condone the behavior of those who feel they are not the gender they should be.” Instead, “we need to care for them and accompany them. … To encourage gender reassignment surgery, which sterilizes a person, does not help him. It has become a political issue, when it is really psychological.”
Conley compared the persecution Christians will likely soon undergo to the persecution faced by martyrs in the early Church and in 16th– and 17th-century England.
He predicted Catholic social service agencies will be affected first.
“While there’s been a great history of partnership with the American government in charities, if it means compromising our fundamental beliefs, we can’t take the money,” Conley said. He said the Diocese of Lincoln’s Catholic social services has gone from being 15 percent to 7 percent government-funded “and our goal is to completely eliminate any government funding.”
Read Bishop Conley's full interview with Catholic World Report here.