COMPULSORY CELIBACY AND THE PRIEST SHORTAGE
Priesthood is the linchpin that links structural elements in the Catholic Church. This link is giving way, however, as the priesthood population steadily declines. In a companion volume, Full Pews and Empty Altars, Lawrence Young and I document the extent of the priest shortage in the United States. We report the results of a six-year study in which we collected data from church officials in 86 dioceses and constructed a 19-year census registry of the American clergy covering 1966 through 1984. The registry contains demographic information on 36,300 diocesan priests. It provides original data on the extent and speed of growth and decline in priest populations across the country. 1 These data show that from 1966 to 1984, entrances into the priesthood through ordination and incardination amounted to just over 15,000; exits through leave, resignation, and natural loss totaled just over 22,000; hence the net loss in the number of priests in the United States was a little under 7,000. According to our census counts, in round numbers there were 35,000 active diocesan priests in the United States on January 1, 1966, and 28,000 on January 1, 1985—a 20 percent decline.
We also use these data to describe the demographic transition of the clergy for a period of 40 years, using empirical data for 19 years (1966–84) to make projections to the year 2005. With the presumption that only Catholic males willing to be lifelong celibates will be recruited and retained, we constructed three different projections based on optimistic, pessimistic, and moderate assumptions. The optimistic projection assumes that the relatively high ordinations and net migrations and low resignations and retirements experienced during certain specific years between 1966 and 1985 will continue. 2 Furthermore, if any of these events showed consistent trends toward even more optimistic levels in the future than experienced in the past, estimates of their 1990–94 levels are used. The pessimistic projection assumes the opposite, namely, the relatively low ordinations and net migrations and relatively high resignations and retirements during certain other past years are likely to continue. Similarly, if any of these events showed consistent movement toward more pessimistic levels, estimates of their 1990–94 levels are used. The moderate projection results from assuming that the level of ordinations, net migrations, resignations, and retirements occurring between 1980 and 1984 will remain more or less unchanged from 1985 through the turn of the century. The assumptions about fu