Priest shortage in the Roman Catholic Church
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2013)|
In the years since World War II there has been a substantial reduction in the number of priests per capita in the Catholic Church, a phenomenon considered by many to constitute a "shortage" in the number of priests.
Shortage by area
Worldwide, the total number of priests in 1970 was 419,728. In 2013, there were a total of 412,236 priests. While the total number of priests worldwide has therefore remained about the same since 1970, the Catholic population has nearly doubled, growing from 653.6 million in 1970 to 1.196 billion in 2013.
The number of parishes with no resident priest pastor has grown from 39,431 in 1970 to 49,172 in 2013. The number of parishes without a priest does not include the thousands of parishes that have closed for lack of priests.
The situation in the USA is that the “Catholic Church is unique among eleven of the largest Christian denominations in several areas: the dwindling supply of priests, the increasing number of lay people per priest, the declining number of priests per parish, [and] the increasing number of 'priestless' parishes...In the Catholic Church, the total number of priests has declined from 58,534 in 1981 to 52,227 in 1991 and 45,713 in 2001 (a 22 percent loss between 1981 and 2001). Requirements for celibacy, poverty and obedience may be factors. In every other group, including denominations in which membership has declined (e.g., the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches), the total number of clergy has increased.
With the Catholic population increasing steadily and the number of priests declining, the number of laypeople per priest has climbed from 875:1 in 1981 to 1,113:1 in 1991 and 1,429:1 in 2001 (a 63 percent increase). The declining number of priests in parish ministry is producing a marked increase in the number of 'priestless' parishes. In 1960, only about 3 percent of Catholic parishes had no resident pastor. By 2000 that figure was up to 13 percent, and by the summer of 2003 it had risen to 16 percent".
Between 1965 and 2010, the number of USA parishes without a priest climbed from 549 to 3,342. Research by Davidson found "a growing shortage of Catholic priests but an increasing supply—some analysts say an oversupply—of clergy in most Protestant denominations". Similarly, research by Richard Schoenherr found that "the current clergy shortage is a distinct Catholic crisis".
In Ireland, one of the organizers for the progressivist Association of Catholic Priests, Father Brendan Hoban, described the situation in these terms: "We believe that in 20 years time there will be very few priests in Ireland. We believe too, as everybody understands, that without priests you have no Eucharist, and without [the] Eucharist you have no Church. We are saying, 'What's the plan B?'"
Around the world, the priest shortage is leading to a sacramental and pastoral deficiency for religious communities. This is because the faithful currently depend primarily on priests to confer the seven sacraments in Catholicism. The distances that faithful must travel for a Mass, baptism, etc. have become ever longer since the priest shortage has led to the closing of many local churches. On the other hand, priests must travel greater distances as they are spread to cover more parishes. Priests have less time for the individual churchgoer since they must care for a greater number of them.
In some western countries the shortages have meant many parishes have had to share a priest and staff with one or more other parishes or have had to close. In many parishes, some of the duties performed by priests are instead performed by other personnel, such as deacons and members of the laity.
Researcher Dean Hoge explains "I was given a foundation grant to estimate if the celibacy requirement is a large or a small deterrent to keeping men from entering the priesthood, and on basis of a survey of Catholic college students, I found that it was the single biggest deterrent. If celibacy were optional for diocesan priests, there would be an estimated fourfold increase in seminarians, and the priest shortage would be over. The priesthood would grow until it hits financial limits".
Some pundits have gone further, arguing that the shortage of priests contributed to the Catholic sex abuse cases. The suggestion is that the Roman Catholic hierarchy tried to act to preserve the number of clergy at all costs and ensure that sufficient numbers were available to serve the congregation, despite serious allegations that some priests were unfit for duty. Others disagree and assert that the Church hierarchy's mishandling of the sex abuse cases merely reflected their prevailing attitude at the time towards any illegal or immoral activity by clergy.
- Dean R. Hoge, The First Five Years of the Priesthood: A Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. 2002. p. 3.
- A.W. Richard Sipe, Celibacy in Crisis: A Secret World Revisited. Brunner-Routledge, New York and Hove. 2003. p. 136.
- "Frequently Requested Church Statistics". Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
- Davidson, . "Fewer and Fewer". America.
- "The Changing Demographics of Roman Catholics". PRB.org. 2005.
- Schoenherr, Richard. 1993. Full Pews and Empty Altars: Demographics of the Priest Shortage in United States Catholic Dioceses. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, p. 6
- "Association of Catholic Priests discuss Church's future". BBC News.
- "Catholic Church At Crossroads: Demographics, Social Issues Pose Challenges". NPR.org.
- epd: Katholische Kirche setzt Strukturreform fort
- Hoge, Dean. The Current State of the Priesthood: Sociological Research 2005. Catholic University of America.
- (2004-06-11). "Catholic Priests in India 'Outsourced' to Meet Clergy Shortage in West". VOANews.com.