By 1974, the number of seminarians had fallen to about 5,000. It plateaued at about 3,100 in the mid-1990s, and since then, enrollment has remained stable.

If it’s not the sexual abuse scandals that are solely driving down calls to the priesthood, what is? At the heart of that question is another one: What should a priest be?

It’s a question that’s at the forefront as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, like national bishops conferences around the world under the direction of the Vatican, embarks on an update of its Program of Priestly Formation, which was last revised more than a decade ago.

‘Blind obedience is gone’

There has been a sharp divide in Catholic beliefs worldwide since the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, or Vatican II, which sent the message that the church was part of the modern world. Parishioners became more involved in Mass and in parish life. Church leaders reached out to other denominations and even other religions. The church became more accessible — Mass is celebrated in local languages instead of Latin, and women have roles in the celebration.

The divide has widened since the election in 2013 of Pope Francis, who has called for the church to be “anchored” to Vatican II. There are various ways to characterize the divide — conservative or liberal, traditionalist or modernist — but the most common is pre-Vatican II or post-Vatican II.


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