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New report examines the state of priestly vocations in US

Altar boy in robes receives the Eucharist

wideonet | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 02/25/23

Vocation Ministry outlines a variety of factors that can influence the rate at which young men discern a priestly vocation.

A new report from Vocation Ministry is examining the state of priestly vocations in the US, as the National Eucharistic Revival is underway. The report compares data from 2014 against fresh information from 2021, which has shown a diminishment in the clerical ranks, and attempts to explain the numbers through a variety of cultural factors. 

The total number of diocesan priests in the US has fallen by 9% (1,468) since 2014, with religious priests falling further, by 14% (1,654). At the seminarian level, the rates only become more exacerbated, with the total number of seminarians falling from 3,853 to 3,012 (22%). The rate of seminarians reaching ordination has fallen by the highest percentage (24%), from 436 to 332. 

To explain the downward trend, Vocation Ministry suggested several factors that could have a major influence on the desire of young men to become priests. They noted that young boys often become disinterested in a potential priestly vocation before they are ever catechized on how to discern a vocation. The report suggests diocesan focus on sacramental initiation over vocational discernment as a contributing factor to the lack of discernment education, noting that many men enter into lifelong vocations – like marriage – without effectively discerning all vocational paths.

The report notes that it is rare for a young boy to have a priest as a daily presence in his life, with even the most active Catholic families tending to only see the priest once per week at Mass. Meanwhile, Vocation Ministry points towards the worldly, secular materialism that can pull young men away from a vocational discernment. 

Furthermore, parish closures and mergers have created a great strain on priests, with some reports noting 3,500 parishes without a resident priest. When a priest must tend to a highly populated or merged parish, it limits his ability to connect with each of his parishioners. Vocation Ministry’s research concluded that fewer priests directly corresponds to fewer opportunities to cultivate vocations.

Going deeper into the idea that regularly spending time with priests can influence vocations, the report noted that the downward trend could also be in part due to a lack of priests within families. Vocation Ministry notes that there was a time in the 20th century in which most Catholic families could boast at least one family member who was a priest, with families considering the vocation a blessing. 

Today’s average family structure is much smaller than it was in the 20th century, with young couples having fewer kids and putting off procreation until later in life. In smaller families, a priestly vocation means fewer, if any, grandchildren for parents, which in turn makes them less likely to encourage vocational discernment. The report also noted that some parents may dissuade their children from entering the priesthood so they will not have to deal with prejudice from the public over the sexual scandals of the Church. 

The authors of the report went on to list a variety of cultural factors that have an influence on the desire to be a priest in young men:

“And, of course, there are cultural factors that impede being open to discerning a vocation, such as the allure of materialism and career success, a cultural characterization of priests as predators, broken homes where the role of fatherhood is less understood, and a culture that values sex and the consumption of pornography as primary motivators within everyday life.”

Read the full report at Vocation Ministry.

Eucharistic RevivalPriestUnited StatesVocations
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