Vocations Crisis Data
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
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
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.
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 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.