Full Pews and Empty Altars: Demographics of the Priest Shortage in United States Catholic Dioceses

Citation: 
Schoenherr, Richard A., Lawrence A. Young and Tsan Yuang Cheng. Full Pews and Empty Altars: Demographics of the Priest Shortage in United States Catholic Dioceses. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
Abstract: 

The authors provide a comprehensive account of a six-year study of the U.S. Roman Catholic priest shortage. They project that the number of diocesan priests will decrease from 35,000 in 1966 to 21,000 in 2005, with half in 2005 being 55 years old or older. Ordained populations in every diocese are experiencing theoretically predictable phases of transformation at different rates. The priesthood population will become small in number, but relatively young and stable. The continuing growth of the Catholic population will cause the ratio of lay people to priests to increase in almost every diocese. Ordination rates have declined more than 20% per decade since 1966 and the average age of men being ordained has risen from 27.2 to 31.5. Between 1966 and 1984, slightly over half of new ordinations were needed to replace priests lost to resignation. They warn that if present trends continue the U.S. Catholic Church will be forced to emphasize scripture over sacraments and lay ministry over ordained ministry. They conclude that preservation of the more essential elements of Roman Catholicism requires eliminating nonessentials such as compulsory celibacy and male exclusivity.

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