Reality Confirms Forecast of Priest Shortage

By McClory, Robert | National Catholic Reporter, July 17, 1998 | Go to article overview

Reality Confirms Forecast of Priest Shortage


McClory, Robert, National Catholic Reporter


Predictions of the U.S. diocesan priest decline originally made by sociologists Richard Schoenherr and Lawrence Young are proving extremely accurate, according to an update in the spring issue of Sociology of Religion magazine.

In fact, said Young, author of the article, recent analysis confirms that the priesthood is "in a state of decline or degeneration." If the church intends to preserve the sacramental priesthood, he argued, it must "jettison male celibate exclusivity in priestly ministry, first through the ordination of married men ... and later through the ordination of women."

The original study of U.S. priests by Schoenherr of the University of Wisconsin and Young of Brigham Young University was based on a meticulous census registry of some 36,000 diocesan clergy in 86 dioceses from 1966 to 1984. Schoenherr died in 1996.

Based on the census registry and demographic trends, the two projected a net clergy loss of 14,000 priests in the 40 years from 1966 to 2005. Their findings provoked controversy. Some segments of the U.S. hierarchy attempted to muzzle the study and its accompanying analysis.

Yet, said Young, a careful comparison between their projections for 1995 (as reported in their book, Full Pews and Empty Altars) and the figures on diocesan priests reported in the Kenedy Official Catholic Directory for that same year reveals less than I percent difference.

In other words, said Young, "the best available evidence strongly supports the reliability and validity of the national level projections."

In some dioceses, he noted, the sociologists had projected more priests for 1995 than the Kenedy Directory figures showed. Chicago, for example, had 48 fewer priests in 1995, according to the directory, than the sociologists had projected. Pittsburgh had 46 fewer, Buffalo, N.Y., 36 fewer and Los Angeles 31 fewer.

In other dioceses, the projections called for fewer priests than the 1995 Kenedy Directory figures indicated. …

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