Whilst people often believe that the number of priests in England and Wales is in decline, this is not a true picture. The decline from the 1950s to the 1990s in priestly vocations was in fact an adjustment from an anomaly. Factors within the Church and wider social factors led to an unusual surge in religious vocations in the mid twentieth century.
The decline or adjustment was complete by the turn of the Millennium and during the last ten years, numbers entering diocesan seminary had doubled from its lowest point in 2001 and this increase has been sustained.
The first series in blue shows the numbers entering diocesan seminary. The red series shows the numbers entering the one-year preparatory programme in our seminary in Spain.
It also often comes as a surprise to people when they learn that the average number of ordinations in the 2000s (noughties) at 26 per annum was higher than in the 1930s and 1940s when there were only an average of 6 and 18 ordinations per year respectively.
The number of ordinations in the nineteen nineties was boosted by former Anglican clergy who were received into the Roman Catholic Church, bringing much valued experience with them. These ordinations were highest in 1996-1997. The latest figures, however, do not include ordinations of former anglicans who are part of the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The numbers of young people joining discernment groups is rising across the country. For example, the successful Compass discernment project which began at Worth Abbey is this year opening in Salford in response to demand from the North of England. The statistics above do not include ordinations for religious congregations, which are also rising. For example, the number of entrants to congregations of men was 13 in 2004 compared with 26 in 2009.
The National Office for Vocation and indeed the whole Church is encouraged by the figures and by the generosity, integrity and talents held by the young people in our seminaries and religious congregations today. We will continue through the National Vocations Framework to provide more opportunities for young people to hear the call of Christ and help them find the confidence to respond to that call.