- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tomorrow, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick will don his symbolic vestments to ordain the last class of priests under his watch — the Archdiocese of Washington’s largest in more than three decades and the second largest in the nation this year.

In the ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Cardinal McCarrick will ordain a diverse group of 12 men, the most Washington has added in any year since 1973. The event will mark his last major act as leader of Roman Catholics in the nation’s capital.

In his weekly column in the Catholic Standard, the cardinal echoed concern over recent global shortages of new Catholic priests, saying that “in so many parts of the world, a priest and religious vocation shortage troubles the Church.”

Cardinal McCarrick conjectured, “Perhaps more than anything it is a result of smaller families.”

Last week, the Vatican accepted Cardinal McCarrick’s mandatory offer of retirement after five years as the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. Cardinal McCarrick has served nearly 47 years as a Catholic priest and has been a bishop since 1977.

Cardinal McCarrick has headed the Papal Foundation and Catholic University of America and has been a member of the Board of Catholic Relief Services. He also has served on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The cardinal credited the diocese’s location for attracting a large and diverse class of new priests.

“Because Washington is such a magnet, almost half of our seminarians come from other parts of the United States or even from abroad.”

Earlier this month, the Catholic News Service reported that although the number of new priests nationwide remains steady, the ordination class of 2006 is better-educated, older and more likely to be foreign-born than their colleagues of years past.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Catholic research organization based at Georgetown University, 80 percent of the men scheduled for ordination this year obtained bachelor’s degrees before entering the seminary and 30 percent of them earned graduate degrees — at schools such as Princeton University, University of Chicago, Loyola College, University of California at Berkeley, Xavier University, University of Notre Dame, Catholic University and University of Dallas.

About 75 percent of the candidates reported having full-time work experience before studying for the priesthood, with the most common field being education.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s class of 12 come from a variety of vocational backgrounds, including careers as physicist, computer engineer, stockbroker, sales manager, scuba diver and Air Force parachutist. The group includes natives of Spain, Cuba, Britain and Hungary.

With the diocese representing 140 parishes and more than 560,000 Catholics in the District and five Maryland counties, the backgrounds of the new priests likely will prove valuable in outreach. Facing public skepticism and the recent sex-abuse scandals, men of the cloth have lost part of the credibility and honor they were endowed automatically in the past.

The Rev. David M. O’Connell, president of Catholic University, said of the new group: “If anything, the revelation of recent scandals has made seminarians firmer, more determined in their commitment and much more realistic about their lives as priests.

“The desire to live up to one’s celibate commitment and the efforts made to do precisely that are more than half the battle.”

He added, “Combined with a very strong emphasis on healthy celibate living, I believe our seminarians in the Archdiocese of Washington and elsewhere are better prepared to meet the challenges that are a part of every priest’s life.”

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated that the priesthood should be understood as a commitment to a life of service and not as a career opportunity.

The pope expressed his conviction that priests should realize that following a vocational call may be in contrast with one’s desire for self-realization and esteem, saying that the priest as a “good shepherd” must be ready to sacrifice himself, know his flock and serve unity.

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