What’s behind the Latino priest shortage?

The Rev. Gilbert Guzman was ordained to the priesthood with nine others June 2 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (Victor Alemán/Angelus News)The Rev. Gilbert Guzman was ordained to the priesthood with nine others June 2 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (Victor Alemán/Angelus News)

Gilbert Guzman is 51 and, in a way, he began a new career on June 2. He was ordained to the priesthood that day at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. While discernment is never easy, he said it was even more complicated as a Latino.

“You might get raised eyebrows if you say you want to be a priest. ‘What’s wrong with you that you don’t want to get married?’” Father Guzman told America. “We need to see ourselves as a gift to the community, not a scourge.”

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Father Guzman, a self-described late vocation to the priesthood, said part of the struggle in his discernment was cultural. He was born in San Diego, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. He describes himself as a Mexican-American and said his cultural background added “all sorts of complex forces” to the discernment process.

“You might get raised eyebrows if you say you want to be a priest. ‘What’s wrong with you that you don’t want to get married?’”

“Being Latino, there was a little more pressure to just go back and have a girlfriend and get married,” Father Guzman said. “I feel like that might have something to do with the number of Latino priests—the longing to really participate with family.”

The growing number of U.S. Latinos is not reflected in vocations to the priesthood. The Center of Applied Research for the Apostolate at Georgetown University reports that 20 percent of this year’s class of ordained priests are Hispanic. The number is a fraction of the estimated number of Latinos, who make up 34 percent of the nation’s Catholic population—and more than 50 percent of Catholics under 30.

“What I see is that Latinos in the United States are being bombarded by different cultural winds,” said Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College. “There is a materialism and a drive to take advantage of the society in which we live. The values of religious life are not prioritized.”

While discernment is never easy, it was even more complicated as a Latino.

For decades, the church in the United States has been relying on foreign-born priests, a solution that Mr. Ospino said was meant to be temporary. But the vast majority of Hispanic priests are still foreign-born.

“It is easier to discern when you’re in a country where 80 to 90 percent of people are Catholic,” he said. “In the United States, that is not the case. The more removed Latinos and Latinas are from active life in the church, the less likely it is they are going to speak to their children about being priests or sisters or brothers.”

In Latin America, priests tend to live with their families and often bring their parents to live with them in the rectory, Mr. Ospino said. “In the United States, if a priest has to take care of their family, they take a leave of absence. But in Latin America, there are different cultural expectations.”

The growing number of U.S. Latinos is not reflected in vocations to the priesthood.

The Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation in Gardena, Calif., hosts a number of Latinos discerning the priesthood. The Rev. James Anguiano, who had served as the center’s director until July, said that of the 30 men in discernment there, 23 are Latino.

“Many times, in Latino communities, the question is ‘How are you encouraging your own sons to respond?’” said Father Anguiano, now the associate director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He, like Father Guzman, said men feel pressure from their families to have kids.

“The thing I’ve run into more often, though, is men who have families that have fallen on hard times. They leave seminary to help their families financially, to help them survive, which is very honorable,” he said. But Father Guzman encourages men to talk to their families before making the decision to leave. Some parents, he said, might prefer that their son stay in seminary rather than leave to help the family financially.

Merely having Latino priests also contributes to vocations, Father Anguiano said, noting specifically the example of Archbishop José H. Gomez. Having these role models may seem obvious, but the Rev. Jorge Torres, the secretary of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, said it should not be overlooked. Latinos need to feel like their voices are heard.

“They leave seminary to help their families financially, to help them survive, which is very honorable.”

“The more leadership is open to the Latino community the more they will respond,” Father Torres said. “As the Latino community here grows, it’s not becoming Anglo. It’s becoming its own group.”

While their language preference may change, their Latino values remain, he said. “You sacrifice yourself for your family; you’re not looking out for number one; your faith is deeply ingrained,” Father Torres said. “There’s a strong work ethic, and we are very pro-life because of the large families. To take care of the poor and reach out to the immigrant, we do this because it’s in our blood.”

Father Torres is the vocations director in the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., where 50 percent of seminarians are Hispanic. He also noted the percentage of Latinos who go to college is a challenge both for priestly vocations and vocations to the religious life.

Education was another obstacle mentioned by Mr. Ospino, who is leading a two-year Boston College study into Latino vocations. Less than 17 percent of the Hispanic population has completed a college degree, compared to more than a third of all Americans over 25,according to the Census Bureau.

“The vast majority of Latinos are not considering going into seminary or even into service fields, like education or social work or the arts,” Mr. Ospino said, alluding to a study by Georgetown University. “They want to be doctors and business people. They want to be engineers.”

In the United States, Latinos who do complete their college education are more likely to be the first in their family to do so, he said. With their degree in hand, they feel even more pressure to help their family financially.

Latino seminarians, who see few Latino faculty members, do not always feel supported.

Mr. Ospino also noted a lack of Hispanic ministry offerings at seminaries. Latino seminarians, who see few Latino faculty members, do not always feel supported.

St. John Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., where Father Guzman attended, has begun hosting Latino theologians and speakers. But the difference is even more basic than Latino theology.

“Being Latino, we like lots of hugs and kisses, being asked about our well-being by our mothers, ‘How are you? How are you feeling? Are you hungry?’” Father Guzman said. “The hand on the shoulder, leaning against someone, the closeness of being fed. There are so many nonverbal signs of affection that we as Latin people miss.”

At Christmastime, he described a loneliness in the seminary. Latinos are ready for fiestas, when everyone is invited over. While they did have gatherings, “It’s just two hours and good night. What? You want to have a couple more drinks, and everyone leaves.”

“Latinos, we’re better at stuff like this. How we show joy in our bodies, through music and loud talking and food.”

While he was there, they asked 20 of the Latino seminarians’ mothers to help them celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. “They cooked up a storm,” Father Guzman said. “They brought in the rose, the mariachi were playing during the Mass. I don’t know why, but my mother burst into tears, and then I’m crying because my mother is crying.”

Some had never heard mariachi before, he said. After Mass, the seminarians and their families enjoyed salsa, arroz con leche and other specialty dishes. And the mariachi continued.

“They didn’t know you could have music and food at the same time!” Father Guzman laughed. “Latinos, we’re better at stuff like this. How we show joy in our bodies, through music and loud talking and food. We know about the fiesta.”

But when that is not reciprocated, Latino seminarians can feel like they are unloved. Father Guzman described it as another cultural hurdle. But he is not discouraged.

“Every hardship can become a gift of grace when we trust in the Lord,” Father Guzman said. “We’re being stretched a little bit more. We can’t contain the infinite love and mercy of God. We have to see each person with fresh eyes, without any prejudice. As a priest, your very life becomes a testimonial of what it means to walk side by side with the Lord Jesus.”

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Nora Bolcon
1 year 3 months ago

Again, the problem is not hard. Ordain women to priesthood and make all levels of ministry open to them immediately, including the papacy. We need to demand this from our pope now as a matter of plain justice.

Then you can in good conscience allow for married priests in both sexes if we are still lacking in priests. Only with women ordained priests under the same sacrament as men can we open priesthood to married people without causing greater, self-destructive, sexism in our church.

No one should support married priests unless women priest are already being ordained priests the same as men, as a matter of human dignity, and the refusal to allow even further abuse of the human dignity of women than we have already perpetrated.

However, no damage is done to allow married priests once women are being ordained without prejudice.

Basically, We must just demand our hierarchy act like Christians and treat all members the same way they wish to be treated and then we are free to allow other things which may improve our church even if they are not human dignity issues.

justinreany@gmail.com
1 year 3 months ago

Don't be a modernist idiot! We have a prime example of what happens when a "church" follows secular society and it's yrends/fads. The Anglican/Episcopalian community has done everything in its power to secularize: homosexuality, contraception, divorce and remarriage, "ordaining" women to ministry, etc. They are more obsolete and insignificant than ever. Latest report I read is that in the UK the Anglicans have a 3%-6% attendance rate. In the USA 10%-18%! Not a flourishing result if you ask me. If your suggestion to ordain women, authoritatively and perennially forbidden by Divine Revelation, were followed we would see in no short order a complete implosion of vocations. I think the Catholic Church might be too God centered for you. The Epscopalian community might be a better fit for you. Leave the Church a Jesus Christ gave us alone and leave in body since you have already left in mind and spirit.

justinreany@gmail.com
1 year 3 months ago

Don't be a modernist idiot! We have a prime example of what happens when a "church" follows secular society and it's yrends/fads. The Anglican/Episcopalian community has done everything in its power to secularize: homosexuality, contraception, divorce and remarriage, "ordaining" women to ministry, etc. They are more obsolete and insignificant than ever. Latest report I read is that in the UK the Anglicans have a 3%-6% attendance rate. In the USA 10%-18%! Not a flourishing result if you ask me. If your suggestion to ordain women, authoritatively and perennially forbidden by Divine Revelation, were followed we would see in no short order a complete implosion of vocations. I think the Catholic Church might be too God centered for you. The Epscopalian community might be a better fit for you. Leave the Church a Jesus Christ gave us alone and leave in body since you have already left in mind and spirit.

Tim Donovan
1 year 3 months ago

I've always loved caring for children, but as a celibate gay Catholic, the opportunity to become a father isn't possible. Years ago, I considered becoming a single foster father, and went to a meeting at the Philadelphia Archdiocese Catholic Social Services. I now can say this without shame, but I didn't think my last treatment for a mental illness would make me eligible. I can understand the pressure of Latino men from their families to have children. But I found fulfillment in being a Special Education teacher (now retired) of children with brain damage, and in helping to care for my (now) adult nieces and nephew. The Washington Post (July 23, 2018) reported that according to the latest census projections, by 2045, Latinos are expected to be about 25% of our nation's population. In theory, this should be among Latinos a rich source of vocations to the priesthood. However, since surveys indicate that young people increasingly are not identifying with any religion, I think this will be a challenge for the Latino community. I believe there is hope however, in that Father Torres noted that in the community, there is "a strong work ethic, and we are very pro-life because of the large families ." Perhaps Latino role models such as Archbishop Jose Gomez, as well as vocation programs that emphasize both priests joining in fellowship with other priests, while remaining close to their families, may increase vocations. Also, although this may be seen as being naive, I believe that each priest is a "spiritual father," just as Jesus was an unmarried Father figure to those in need of consolation and care in His Jewish community.

John McGrath
1 year 3 months ago

Why can't priests bring family/relatives to live in the rectories? This sounds like a good idea.This used to happen all the time.

John Walton
1 year 3 months ago

This problem goes away when you allow priests to marry, and married men to become priests.

Celibacy is a sacrifice and a gift, but hardly a bona fide requirement.

J

Phillip Stone
1 year 3 months ago

Could be something to do with worship of God or money.
Matthew 19:24 - camel, eye of needle ...

In Australia, vocations have fallen in line with the rise of the GDP.

Most young priests are from Africa or Asia

DAN WATERS
1 year 3 months ago

Interesting that the photo that accompanies this article is of Deacons...

John Love
1 year 3 months ago

Those deacons are walking up the isle to get ordained as priests.

justinreany@gmail.com
1 year 3 months ago

Apart from the irritating, moronic, and vapid calls for female ordination (satanic in origin) indicative of American Magazine readership, the article brings up a very sad perspective. The Hispanic community is always lauded by many in the Church as being the "real Catholics." But in reality, they are no more Catholic than anyone elae. They are the quintessential "cultural Catholics." As a good friend pointed out that as the culture changes for the worse, so do cultural Catholics. I often attend Spanish Masses in my diocese due to my work and the times I can get to Mass. I see greater disrespect for the sanctity of the Mass, inappropriate dress, and general lack of reverence. People talking and laughing during the consecration. Teens goofing aroung. None of that shirt would fly at the English-speaking Masses. No way.

Vocations come from Holy families. If vocations are not coming, there is a lack of real sanctity.

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