How are vocations doing? The numbers tell the story

Over at Catholic Vote, Thomas Peters is touting some interesting statistics about this year’s class of ordinands. The USCCB has been publishing a report on men being ordained as priests for the last 15 years.

A little Googling, though, reveals a little more.

This year, according to the USCCB, 480 men are to be ordained in the United States.

That’s a 10% jump from last year, when it was 440.

And it’s an even more sizable jump from 2008, there were 401.

Things are looking up.

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33 responses to “How are vocations doing? The numbers tell the story”

  1. Does that include all orders? It seem like relgious priests in orders like the Franciscan Friars always have men entering, not dozens, but more than a handful a year. (Fr. Groechel’s has grown a lot)
    Parish priests seem to have less, but they have a wider area to cover and for some it’s not as appealing.

  2. and how many of those newly ordained priests will not leave the priesthood? that’s what actually matters to me. Not how many are ordained but how many leave and why. Many will be ordained but only a minority will stay. And that’s also a reality we, as a church, must face. We must face the reality and change some politics concerning the priesthood.

  3. MBd…

    You raise an interesting point.

    A reader dropped me an email asking that same question, and pointing out that recent CARA reports have indicated a lot of these new ordinands are leaving a lot sooner, too. The “seven year itch” has become more like the “three year itch.” Which only serves to emphasize that truly matters isn’t quantity, but quality.

    Should we pray for more vocations? Absolutely. But more importantly, we need to pray for good vocations.

    Dcn. G.

  4. For what it is worth:

    For over the past 15 years, in our Midwestern Diocese, we have had three times the number of ordinations of married men to the permanent diaconate than we have had celibate men to the priesthood.

    This year is no exception: three priestly ordinations scheduled for May 2011 and nine permanently ordained deacons scheduled for September 2011.

    There will be no diaconal ordinations next year (2012) due to a schedule/recruiting shift. The cohort of diaconal candidates scheduled to be ordained in 2013, however, should still be three times those men ordained to the priesthood in both 2012 and 2013.

  5. 400 or so each of the past three years from a Catholic population in the USA of approximately 68 million? Not very impressive.

    I suspect, as MBd wrote above, a number of them will leave rather early in their careers making the actual gain in numbers of priests even less significant.

    The question being answered by everyone except the church heirarchy is why such low numbers and why so may defections and resignations. The answer seems to be, in great part, the man-made rule on celibacy and to some lesser degree the ban on female priests. Both restrictions are antiquated.

  6. I had a link on “why priests leave” which was more of a scientific resource link I will still try to find. This is more anecdotal:

    Many reasons, but being disallusioned with the “reality” of a priests life, loneliness was a big one, not being around people, but significant relationships…you are so afraid to have strong bonds with anyone, you stay alone. Your with a guy too much, your gay, a girl, an affair, a child..don’t go there.
    Some felt they couldn’t be true to their vows and training, no one else was, if you alienated your parish, that equaled no money or less numbers at mass so you looked away.
    Lack of prayer for men living alone and not in community was also mentioned and lack of support from their bishops.

    Years ago, an older priest told me “3 squares and a bed” a nice parish, help with chores, duties, respect, all made it attractive, now men going in, have a different reality, maybe that’s better in some ways.

  7. Deb does a good job, I think, of pointing to some of the most likely reasons so many leave. (Especially in this age of only one priest per parish — or one priest covering two or three or four parishes — loneliness seems likely. Burn-out as well.)

    And Frank points toward some changes that might result in a great increase in priests over the long haul. (They are big changes, but from big changes big improvements often result.)

    It is altogether possible that the Lord is indeed sending us plenty of “good vocations” to the priesthood, but the church is simply busy rejecting those folks: married men and women (both the married variety and the unmarried). We can pray all we want for more vocations to the priesthood — and we should pray, definitely — but at some point maybe we are similar to the guy who said, “Lord, why won’t you rescue me from this cliff?” even as he passes up the helicopter buzzing past him, with the rescuer’s arm extended as far as it can go.

  8. Still amazed that anyone is even talking about women priests in the Catholic Church. The Pope stated emphatically that this was settled for all time in that the Church has no authority to change this to allow women priests. Yet we still see posts as if this is not true. Soon Pope John Paul II will be made a saint. Do not see the Church changing what this Pope who will also be declared “Great” said that cannot ever be changed.

    I do not think there will be change to the issue of married priest either and I think that position, if it was going to happen, would have come when the Church was much more liberal over the last 40 years. As it grows ever more conservative, I do not think this will change. The vocations will grow as the Church begins to preach the actual teaching of the Church boldly and completely and stop much of the dissent that has led Catholics astray over these last decades.

  9. Well said, Greta, on the non-question of women priests. It is truly sad that so many people think of it as merely a matter of ecclesiastical legislation, which is subject to change, just as people often think of all moral teaching as a matter of Church “rules,” rather than part of the God-given order of creation.

    There is tremendous opposition to admission of married men to the priesthood for the Roman rite. But this is, unlike a male-only priesthood, a matter of church rules, not divine establishment. The availability of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to the faithful is, unlike priestly celibacy, a matter of divine will. Therefore the questions must be, “Do we have sufficient priests where the faithful need them?” and, if not, “Would calling married men to priesthood significantly alleviate any shortage?”

    In pondering these questions, a long view is necessary. We need not consider the situation of sixty years ago as normative. We have to realize that the expectations of many of the faithful for a Mass in a style they enjoy (with the music they like), at the time that is most convenient for them, and in the beautiful building where they worshipped as children may be unrealistic. But the Mass must be made truly available, and if married priests are the difference between having it and not having it, then we need married priests.

  10. “Do we have sufficient priests where the faithful need them?”
    Well, obviously, not.

    “Would calling married men to priesthood significantly alleviate any shortage?”

    I think, to a certain extent, it would. While it wouldn’t solve the vocational crisis, it would slightly alleviate the shortage of priests. Anyway, as Deacon says, what’s important is that we have first and foremost GOOD priests. Not every priest is annointed by the Holy Spirit,not every priest is a preacher, not every priest is healthy in every sense of the word, not every priest has the gift of celibacy. Discernment, prayer and Bible reading are KEY.

  11. Beautiful! 😀

    As for how many leave… I’ve heard 2 in 25 or so. Pray for our priests- they need our prayers and our support!

    Women’s vocations seem to be on the rise as well. Let’s keep praying and challenging each other to holiness!

  12. Our priest gave a story recently about following people and not God, a popular priest had people follow him parish to parish when transfered, a “fan club” of sorts. He then told of a young man in seminary who loved a bishop outside of his diocese and petitioned to follow his friend who was also going to this city from the seminary and it was granted. Well, one year later, the bishop died and 3 years later, his friend left…I don’t know if he is still there, but he was not following Jesus, just people. That is something new vocations have to be wary of, what are you here for?

    I can’t see women ever in the church, not with Jesus using all men, although women had a BiG part in the scriptures, all good. He picked that time, not a more progressive one. Married priests maybe, he said it was better not to be married for obvious reasons, but not “you will not marry”. (matthew 19)
    The church can’t afford it right now, can you imagine if they told young men that they would be taken care of, their wife, their children, she doesn’t have to work, because that might cause disruption in the household, Catholic school, sure….maybe I’m being factious, but you would be opening a whole new pandora’s box of issues.

  13. Women can’t be priests? Why? Just where in the scriptures does it explicitly ban female clergy? That the apostles were all male is not sufficient — that was the nature of the times.

    But, if that is the argument, there was slavery in the scriptures,also. In fact the Catholic Church at one point rationalized slavery in the USA. It is fallacious to take only parts of the bible literally — it should be all or none.

    Deeming 50% of the human race not as worthy of exalted positions as the other 50% is wrong. Women are as morally strong, as intellectually gifted, work as hard, and are in every way as qualified to lead as men. To think otherwise is, at the very least short-sighted, and at the most so uncharitable and demeaning as to be sinful.

  14. Vocations to the priesthood rise where the bishops are faithful and the people are faithful. It’s as simple as that and. if you can’t see it, then you aren’t looking at the essential facts, including both quantitative and qualitative analysis of trends in priestly formation and ordination. Men who are called to serve as priests usually do not fully respond to the call because of the lack of faithfulness (not only within themselves) but within their families, friends and even pastors. If there is a lack of vocations to the priesthood it is our fundamentally our collective fault. Indeed, there are plenty of men who would be priests but for the obstacles that we place before them in their path of discernment. There is a vocations crisis within our families and our society because we do not pray enough, we do not evangelize enough and we do not extol enough the truth of the Catholic faith. Discipleship is the answer. (If you want a compelling perspective on vociations, read Fr. Brett Brannen’s “To Save a Thousand Souls”.)

  15. Re: Deb #12

    “The church can’t afford it right now, can you imagine if they told young men that they would be taken care of, their wife, their children, she doesn’t have to work, because that might cause disruption in the household, Catholic school, sure….maybe I’m being factious, but you would be opening a whole new pandora’s box of issues”

    Deb is correct. Neither the “institutional” nor the “collective” church has any idea how to deal with married clergy. Some 95%+ of permanently ordained deacons are married and the church considers them clergy. If these guys have young families, particularly if the deacon is assigned to his “home” parish, they have to expect that the “PK-Preachers’ Kids” and the “PW-Preachers’ Wife” syndrome will kick in. The family lives in a glass-house and one wonders how the deacon and his wife can keep their children “normal” under the social pressure.

    Also something you might not realize; if a diocese does ordain a married man as a Roman Catholic priest — some expert said that there are 500 legitimate RC married priests across the country — that married priest cannot ever become a parish pastor. Not sure if that is universal Canon Law or USCCB national practice but that prohibition does exist. Apparently, there is some belief that having a married family man as an RC priest/pastor would create a financial conflict of interest.

  16. Frank — The Church discerns things with the guidance of the Holy Spirit when the question has been raised.

    See 1Timothy 2:12.

  17. Naturgesetz — I go back to my claim that literal interpretation of the bible is all or none. How about 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 about Bishops being married?

    Is the Holy Spirit guidance available only for the decision-making clergy? Why could it not be the reason for my conclusion that female clergy is moral and acceptable?

  18. It is a fact that Jesus selected only men to serve as the Apostles. It is also a fact that He only selected Jews. Shall we continue to be bound by this as a matter of “divine will”, a received teaching of the Church that is not subject to alteration? With all due deference to John Paul the Great, the “teaching” that the Church has no authority to ordain women as Priests appears to lack adequate scriptual foundation, and rests instead on the infirm mantle of preference.

  19. Frank — “I go back to my claim that literal interpretation of the bible is all or none.” That claim is not self-evident. There is no reason why some passages cannot be literally true and others not. We have a Magisterium to sort things out for us when serious questions arise and must be answered.

    We all get guidance from the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. But when it comes to matters of doctrine, it is the bishops and the pope who get the guidance to discern correctly, because they are the ones who have that responsibility. To suppose that the Holy Spirit would guide you or me to the correct decision on female ordination and leave the Pope in the dark strikes me as ridiculous. Your conclusion doesn’t matter. My conclusion doesn’t matter.

    The Pope considered the matter, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and concluded that the unbroken tradition of the Church in this matter was in conformity with God’s will and the Church does not have the power to ordain women — and that the matter is settled. And it seems to me that if we believe what the Church has traditionally understood by “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” “he who hears you hears me,” “you must strengthen your brothers,” — if we believe what Vatican II taught about the teaching office in the Church — then we cannot escape the conclusion that women priests are an impossibility.

  20. One of my favorite Catholic teachers said “God speaks always to the Pope but that doesn’t mean the Pope always listens”. I revere Pope John Paul II as a good and prayerful man and as a great spiritual leader – he may even be a “saint”. However, he was also a man, who came from a Catholic tradition virtually untouched by Vatican II and he brought his own philosophy to his role as leader of our Church. There have been many examples over the life of our Church where a pronouncment of the Pope was revised or reversed by a subsequent Pope so the “Pope John Paul II said it, I believe it, that settles it.” doesn’t work any better than the equivalent comment about the Bible.

    Personally, I would prefer we start by allowing married men to be ordained to the priesthood AND be parish pastors before considering the ordination of women. But I also do not find anything is scripture that prohibits it and even find citations of women in roles of authority within the hierarchy in the early Church.

    Blessings in the Easter season!

  21. Fiergenholt, you wrote:

    “Also something you might not realize; if a diocese does ordain a married man as a Roman Catholic priest — some expert said that there are 500 legitimate RC married priests across the country — that married priest cannot ever become a parish pastor.”

    I believe you are mistaken on this point. Dwight Longenecker (who writes the Standing on My Head blog) is married and has several children; he is a former Anglican priest who was ordained in the RC church perhaps five or six years ago. For the last year or so, he has been the pastor of a parish in Charleston. Though I’m not a big fan of Fr. L’s conservative stances, I do think his situation proves that one can be married and still be an effective priest. (Of course, it also raises the question of why the RCC sees this as a viable situation for converts, but not for cradle Catholics.)

  22. There was an Anglican parish in Columbia, SC which swam the Tiber in the early-mid-80s. Priest, family, parishioners and they took their parish property with them and gave it to the Diocese of Charleston. I knew the pastor’s daughter, and he was ordained a Catholic priest and served as the pastor of this parish until he retired.

  23. Jus tout of curiosity, what is the minimum replacement figure?

    How many priests retire or die every year? I suspect that figure is well above 480.

    I don’t mean to be overly pessemistic, but I think the priest shortage is getting worse not better.

  24. Re: UC #23

    I just checked the some recent data from my diocese. In a two year period (2009-2010), we ordained six men to the priesthood; but 12 died. That does not include any who transferred out and were incardinated elsewhere or who were removed “for cause.” Nor does it include any who transferred in and were incardinated.

  25. Frank, I have nothing personal against women priests, but would they be celibate? How do you do a good job as a priest with a large family? I don’t see that even with other religions, I have orthodox Jews on my street and Rabbi’s are not home often either.
    True, many things in the bible are antiquated, but it’s all they have to go on to some degree. There are parish’s that still wont have female alter servers (one in my area) because it might give them “ideas”…well maybe it would just keep them closer to the church. I don’t think Jesus would mind that either.

    Sure vocations would rise if a priest could marry, have children and his expenses paid, I think many would hear the call and not be called also…they had a hard time discerning vocations in the past, I think they would have a harder time with married men.

  26. Deb — If a literal interpretation of the bible is not the norm (and I don’t believe it should be) then other interpretations are always on the table. The fact that other interpretations are even considered seems to lend credence to your statement about many things in the bible being antiquated. The church has changed its mind many times. Galileo’s damnation and celibacy for the priesthood come to mind.

    Mandatory celibacy is another issue — in my opinion a bad idea for male or female. A personal choice of celibacy is always okay.

    I agree the family issue is a stumbling block, though large families are rare these days. Doctors seem to deal with the issue quite well, as do police officers, fire fighters, and other on-call or rotating-shift workers. And other religions seem to be doing just fine overall, at least as evidenced by the fact that they aren’t trying to emulate the Catholic method.

    I think we need to think more about what a married or female priest will bring to the table. The benefits might be of greater consequence than the financial negatives. Maybe the church as an institution is living too high-on-the-hog.

  27. Let’s be a people that rejoice in God’s blessing. So many have been praying for an increase to the priesthood and religious life for so long. God has heard our prayer.

  28. Related to this topic, I have heard it claimed that the orders of sisters and brothers which have kept the traditional habits, like the CFRs and the Sisters of Life, have done much better at recruiting new members than the orders which wear modern clothing.

    Has anyone seen any research to back up that anecdote?



    PS, and in my area, many more priests are wearing the cassock than 10 years ago, too.

  29. I like to read about and give monetarily when I can, orders that feed my soul. I love Fr. Groechel’s order of Franciscan Friars and they have grown a LOT over the years and are in different areas. You tend not to hear gossip about these orders (not that they are exempt) because how they live leaves less time to stray.

    I think people want reverent parish’s overall. I live in a big city and we have many Catholic church’s, none are bursting at the seams, but the Dominican Church is busy, young, old, and in-between. They have confessoin 6 days a week and have people in lines, 3 masses a day, 4 on Sunday and they come from surrounding cities, some 20 minutes or more to go to this church. Something feeds them that the others don’t. Everything is done with reverence. Whether you disagree with some aspects of the church, if you feel like it’s just a social hour, there is a part of you left empty.

    I also watched how EWTN’s sisters grew and had nuns leave to form other groups in Texas and Arizona. Just watching what 5 nuns did in over a few years span in Arizona is remarkable. If you care to look, they are just finishing a new chapel and hope to have a place for new sisters to stay in the future. God’s grace was abundant.

    There are many others, but I feed myself with this, when I get down and feel like I did years ago when I left.

  30. Here’s one small study:

    I know Fr. Groechel says that the ones that aren’t full of faith, community and prayer, fail and others grow. Many sisters, like the Dominican Sisters of the Eucharist are bursting with young women, some are turning women away for a year, other orders are older and dwindling and will one day be gone.

    The anecdotal evidence that priests in community seem to be growing (as with my Domincan Church) doesn’t help the many church’s that need parish priests. They have more freedom, money, a different life of service, but I don’t think the really hungry men are as attracted to that as they are to being in a community. It just seems that way. The joy I see and feel in the presence of some the Friars I have met, it’s something you can’t put your finger on but I don’t see or feel with many overworked parish priests.

  31. Deb, thank you very much for the link to the article — very interesting! We have had some vocation directors visit our parish school and CCD classes, and while they have interesting stories, I don’t recall them talking about the things the article identifies as attracting young men and women. It definitely gives me some new things to discuss with my class.

    On your point about priests living in community, the Archdiocese of NY did a survey around 2005 or so about attitudes toward staffing parishes. Our parish council, as just one data point, was willing to break the parish church / parish rectory model in favor of having the priests live in community in one central place and commute to the parishes. We have a lot of permanent deacons in our area, and we thought the priests might prefer living together in larger groups while the deacons would stay with their parishes in their own homes. And since we are a suburban parish, the majority of our parishioners are commuters.

    Interestingly, our three (yes, 3) parish priests were cool to the idea. One person asked “didn’t you like living together in the seminary?” and our pastor changed the subject.

    As we look at the ratio between priests and parishes, I think it is more palatable for the priests to live in a community unattached to a particular parish than to say one parish “won” by having its own priest(s) and another is “on the road to closure” because there is no priest assigned. Ditto for parish schools.

  32. John, I think the problem is a couple of things. Many priests who are parish priests wanted the autonomy of living alone, having a schedule they make, having some money, etc. It is also very hard to go backwards, if you get used to something. That is why some convents and communites will put a younger age limit on incoming men and women, we get VERY stuck in our routines.

    I think the reason communties like the Franciscan Friars and Domincan’s have older men come and stay, along with younger, is that they were attracted to that charism to begin with or saw it and felt at “home”. That said, it’s still hard as some men told me, but the benefits outway the downside to them. As one olde Domincan told me last month, “I don’t know how the average parish priest does it, the community prayer, the meals together, it’s like a family, you don’t always agree, but your family.”

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