Vocations Crisis Data

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

June 15, 2001



            Like most things, the vocations “crisis” is partly a mater of perception. 

Depending on which Catholic publication you read, you get  various opinions on the situation.

            If you read the conservative National Catholic Register (as I often do), you would think that there is no vocations problem at all.  It if full of stories about overflowing seminaries and growing applications.  It has pictures of smiling ranks of Legionaries of Christ lined up with the Holy Father.

            If you read the liberal National Catholic Reporter (as I don’t much anymore), you would think there are simply no vocations at all.  It is full of stories of aging priests and priestless parishes and the need for alternative ministries.

            The odd thing is, both are correct in their own way.  The difference in reporting is driven more by ideology than the facts.

            Conservatives want to say, “What problem?”  That is because they would like to see a  return to the church as it existed prior to 1965.  They certainly don’t want any change in the priesthood that might be driven by necessity if they admit to a vocations crisis.  They see the wings of the Holy Spirit in the resurgence of vocations in some few conservative dioceses and movements.

            Liberals, on the other hand, want to see change.  They see a problem in a clerical, patriarchal church that seems to be dying for lack of people to preach and celebrate the Eucharist. They see the hand of the Holy Spirit in the declining numbers.  She (as they would say) is inviting the church to change.

            As a parish priest, I’m caught somewhere in the middle.  I know that a real problem looms in the future.  We are dying and retiring much faster than we are being ordained.  In some places, the “crisis” is already here.  Some of my classmates are pastors of three parishes.  I have done weddings in parishes with no priest at all.  Our sister parish in Mexico has twenty churches and one priest.

            But I also know that parish life is generally healthy.  Most people are happy with their priests.  We have one young lady in our parish entering the convent this year and several young men thinking of priesthood. 

            But what are the facts?

            There is an organization in Washington, D.C. that keeps the facts.  CARA (Center for Applied Research and the Apostolate) compiles data based on the information supplied by the U.S. bishops to the Official Catholic Directory. 

            It is best to let the data speak for itself.  Over a period of 25 years, what has happened?  Compare 1975 with 2000, and judge for yourself.


                                                1975                                                    2000

Diocesan priests                       36,005                                                 30,607

Religious order priests               22,904                                                 15,092

Total priests                              58,909                                                 45,699

Priestly ordinations                         771                                                      442

Major Seminarians                      5,279                                                   3,474

Permanent deacons                        898                                                 12,378

Religious brothers                     8,645                                                    5,662

Religious sisters                      135,225                                                 79,814

Parishes in U.S.                        18,515                                                 19,236

Parishes w/o resident priest            702                                                   2,843

Catholic population                   48.7 million                                           59.9 million

Percent of US pop.                     24%                                                     22%


            Is there a vocations crisis or not?

The slide downward has halted.  But it is a long “up-hill” climb. 

 Is the glass half empty or half full?  You decide.