Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, is one of the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council. On 7 December 1965 the document was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, after an approval vote of 2,390 to 4 among the assembled bishops. The title means "Order of Priests" in Latin. As is customary for such documents in the Catholic Church, it is taken from the first line of the decree (its incipit).
Agitation among the Council Fathers for a separate and distinct conciliar decree on the priesthood began in the second session of the Council (1963), in the course of the discussions about the drafts concerning the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Presbyterorum Ordinis has come to be one of the defining documents on the role and duties of the priesthood in the modern era.
- Preface (1)
- The Priesthood in the Ministry of the Church (2-3)
- The Ministry of Priests (4-11)
- Priests' Functions (4-6)
- Priests' Relationships with Others (7-9)
- The Distribution of Priests, and Vocations to the Priesthood (10-11)
- The Life of Priests (12-21)
- The Vocation of Priests to the Life of Perfection (12-14)
- Special Spiritual Requirements in the Life of a Priest (15-17)
- Aids to the Life of Priests (18-21)
- Conclusion and Exhortation (22)
The ministry of the priest derives from what is completely unique to priests, that is, the “sacred power of orders to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins.” The document was intended to emphasize the special sacramental consecration of priests. Chapter Two, on the "Ministry of Priests", recognized the benefit of some type of communal contact among priests.
...in order that priests may find mutual assistance in the development of their spiritual and intellectual life, that they may be able to cooperate more effectively in their ministry and be saved from the dangers of loneliness which may arise, it is necessary that some kind of common life or some sharing of common life be encouraged among priests. This, however, may take many forms, according to different personal or pastoral needs, such as living together where this is possible, or having a common table, or at least by frequent and periodic meetings."
Chapter three addresses practical considerations such as fair compensation, vacation time and health care.
As a priest dispenses the mysteries of God, he can see himself in the man who sowed his field, of whom the Lord said: "then sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should sprout without his knowing" (Mk 4:27).
The period that followed the promulgation of Presbyterorum Ordinis was marked by a severe drop in the number of priestly vocations in the Western World. Church leaders argued age-old secularization was to blame and that it was not directly related to the documents of the Council. Historians also pointed to the damage caused in 1968, by the sexual revolution, and the strong backlash over Humanae vitae. Yet, other authors asserted the drop in vocations was at least partly deliberate as part of an attempt to de-clericalize the Church and allow for a more pluralistic clergy. In 1995, according to the Congregation for the Clergy, in recent years, "despite various persistent difficulties, there is a positive quantitative and qualitative recovery which makes one hope for a priestly second spring."
There was a related exodus from the priesthood, which began under Paul VI and continued during the papacy of John Paul II. In 2007, "La Civilta Cattolica" reported 69,063 priests left the ministry between 1964 and 2004; 11,213 later returned.
In November 2015 Pope Francis addressed a conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy marking the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Vatican II decree Presbyterorum ordinis. He told delegates attending the conference, "“The good that priests can do comes primarily from their proximity to – and a tender love for – their people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers. ...Even priests have a biography, and are not ‘mushrooms’ which sprout up suddenly at the Cathedral on their day of ordination.”
- Bruskewitz, Fabian. "Priesthood Is the ‘Nerve Center of the Church’s Whole Life and Mission’", National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2015
- "Presbyterorum Ordinis", Berkley Center, Georgetown University
- Pope Paul VI. Presbyterorum Ordinis, §2, December 7, 1965
- Presbyterorum Ordinis, §8.
- COZZENS, Donald B., The Changing Face of the Priesthood, 2000
- Congregation for the Clergy. "Priesthood: a greater love", International Symposium on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis, October 1995
- Laicizing priests now easier for clergy congregation
- MacDonald, Sarah. "‘Priesthood must not be treated as a job’: Pope", Catholic Ireland, November 21, 2015
-  The full text in English is available at the Vatican website.