These numbers suggest a seriously unhealthy Church. UPDATED

From this new study about vocations to the priesthood and ordinations in these USA: HERE

I was told by a bishop that bishops say they do not hear that men have been inspired toward priesthood by Francis.  Of course the plural of anecdote is “data”.

These numbers suggest a seriously unhealthy Church.  I think it was, in part, purposely engineered to force massive secularization of the Church and “changes” to doctrine.

On the other hand, traditional groups like the FSSP have no room in their seminary for more.


UPDATE 28 Feb 2023:

I received this graph.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    That’s only if you look at it one way. If you fall sideways halfway out of your chair (and you’re too old to get up without calling for help), the graphs are actually fairly reassuring.

    The Council (TM) was all about new perspectives! You hate Vatican II.

  2. redneckpride4ever says:

    No room in the trad orders? Sounds like we should fundraise.

  3. moon1234 says:

    It is not just the FSSP that is full. It is ALL traditional orders. ICRSS, SSPX, etc. They are all busting at the seams. This has to scare the pants off the aging powers that be. They most likely see the large rise in vocations to traditional orders as a direct repudiation the current Church.

    That is a FALSE premise. The late +Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, WI, REQUIRED his seminarians to learn the Traditional Mass as part of their formation. [NB: It was Bp. Morlino’s – how he is missed – strong desire and he urged them to. He openly expressed that he wanted them to learn the TLM but that he would not force them to use it.] He encouraged and allowed each parish to offer the Traditional Mass if they so desired. He offered the sacraments in both the new and traditional forms.

    Madison had the largest number of seminarians anywhere in the state and rivaled some of the Tier 2 and Tier 1 locations referenced in the report. MANY of these new seminarians chose a solemn high Mass as their first public Mass, but it was not forced on them. It is what they CHOSE. This clearly shows that men are drawn to things that are Masculine AND beautiful, but have a discerned order and are not EASY.

    The current attack on the TLM by Rome will only push the potential seminarians of the future who feel a call to tradition to beat down the doors of the FSSP, ICRSS and SSPX. They can’t seem to keep up now. A further persecution will only push these candidates to the SSPX where the candidates will feel somewhat safe. Safe to just be Catholic and worship the way their ancestors did and with a high degree of probability of actually having the faith passed on to them.

    Unfortunately, this problem will continue to get much worse before it gets better. Even in diocese that recognize the problem and try to do something about it, they still will push those families with many young men to the fringes for simply wanting to be Catholic. That will only make the decision to attend the SSPX easier. As long as the SSPX is praying for Rome and not dressing down Rome people will become VERY comfortable. They will not return to the diocesan parishes to be the squeaky wheel that gets the orthodox grease.

  4. As a man, I WANT to be challenged. Being spoon-fed trite pop theology that bears no relation to eternal truths isn’t doing anything to bring me to the gates. The young men I know personally who have answered the call say the same thing (using our beneficent host’s comment that adults want red meat and fine wine for dinner, not stewed carrots and pureed fruit): they want to drink deeply from the accumulated wisdom of the Church fathers so they can carry out their calling.

    The priests I’ve met and talked with from the traditional orders are ON FIRE with their vocations. It’s not just 3 hots and cot for them. It’s infused into their being…whomever they were is not who they are now. And I would guess it’s so in no small part due to the rigor of their formation. The mountain(s) they had to climb…the rivers of Thomistic thought they had to swim through, the hours spent in Eucharistic Adoration, devotion to the Blessed Mother. It HAS to change you.

    Anything less…and you get the graphs you see above. Who wants to play “T”-ball when you can work and struggle to join the big show in Fenway being called up to pinch hit against the Yankees? Pretty sure we want major league priests…perhaps the ‘secular’ formation is missing the goal.

  5. Robbie says:

    I know it wasn’t the original intent of the changes 60 years ago, but it seems clear the hierarchy appointed by this pope sees the horrifically low ordination numbers as an opportunity to promote their pet projects like female deacons, female priests, and married priests. A few years ago, Cupich said something to the effect that the low number of seminarians and priests was the Holy Spirit encouraging the Church to find new ways of service. In my book it was the kind of drivel that has come dominate the last decade or so, but this seems to be what the current leadership believes.

  6. Rich Leonardi says:

    You can call it “The Francis Effect.”

    And yes, if members of the current regime will refer to synods attempting to normalize perversion and heresy as the work of the Holy Spirit, they’ll surely extend that attribution to the vocations crisis they’ve created.

    Everyone in the Church is holding their breath for the next pontificate.

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    As young parents we considered our son might have a vocation, and we would have been proud and happy about that, if it had turned out that way.
    Speaking truthfully we would in no way support that decision today. Absolutely not.

  8. monstrance says:

    This is becoming a primary cause of the Church closures and consolidations. Retirements on the horizon.

  9. James C says:

    Cardinal Cupich doesn’t think vocations are low enough yet. He has a new screed in Amerika claiming that all Catholics who love the traditional liturgy are betraying the Council, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit.

    Yes, the Holy Spirit.

    Somewhere, Michael Pfleger is smiling.

  10. rdowhower says:

    I wrote this letter back in 2015. George Weigel basically told me to shut up because I didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m still waiting for him to apologize to faithful Catholics for misleading them.

  11. TheCavalierHatherly says:


    “A few years ago, Cupich said something to the effect that the low number of seminarians and priests was the Holy Spirit encouraging the Church to find new ways of service.”

    Perhaps something like sending lax clergy and religious to serve as galley slaves, as Pope Paul IV (of happy memory) did?

  12. Dave P. says:


    If your son is called to the priesthood, you should support him. If God truly wants him to be a priest, He should not be denied. Steer him towards the FSSP or the ICKSP (be sure he learns French if he wants to join the latter), or towards communities like the Fathers of Mercy, the California Norbertines, or some of the Oratories which have sprung up around the country.

  13. Chrisc says:

    There is one tier 3 and two tier 2 dioceses batting it out of the park. Anyone know how to access the data that shows who these three are?

  14. anthtan says:

    Didn’t Pope Francis once say that any place or order which had a surge in vocations should be examined carefully because it could something not right?

  15. OzReader says:

    What sort of data is available on nations like Poland, compared to their rather liberal neighbours out towards the West of Europe?

    Another question that’s been bugging me has been the attitude towards single life amongst trads. Do they believe marriage, priesthood (or monastic life) are the only ‘acceptable’ vocations, which might tend to inflate numbers in their seminaries (hopefully what I’m alluding to here is obvious), or is there a belief now that there are people who shouldn’t even begin to consider any of those options?

  16. JonPatrick says:

    In my diocese we are lucky if we get one seminarian ordainer per year. If it weren’t for missionary priests from India and Africa we would be in serious trouble. As it is we have seen parishes merged and number of masses decreased to match the availability of priests. Unfortunately we only have 2 Diocesan TLMs in the whole diocese and no FSSP or SSPX chapels so things not looking good if the latest iteration of Traditiones Custodes is imposed on us. So far our bishop has been tolerant of the TLM.

  17. L. says:

    Robert Conquest’s Third Law of Politics: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Unfortunately, I think that today’s Church does not require any assumption.

    Our unfortunate diocese under our former perverted Bishop and his perverted Vicar General worried only about providing for the Bishop’s pleasure, suppressing public relations problems, and planning for the closing of schools and parishes.

  18. j stark says:

    I think the numbers are good news…if you are on the modernist wing of the Church. The numbers will mean more synodal innovation, the opening up of more lay people leading the Church, the pushing for the female Diaconate, more Eucharistic Services, and even the first female Pope (as one liberal female theologian recently pointed out), amongst other things. The decline of the Church, and especially ordinations, is partly planned and desired. Why else do they need to eliminate the Traditional Mass. Pope Benedict was a part of the modernist problem and thought he could wed the Traditional Mass with the Post Conciliar Church; they are not compatible; it is like we are seeing two different Churches existing side by side. This is why it also makes sense why Roche and Francis want to eliminate the Traditional Mass; they are accurate in that it doesn’t jive with Vatican II. It has to be one or the other; there are not two forms of the same rite; they are different rites, different expressions.

  19. tzabiega says:

    It must be taken into account that good seminarians are either kicked out or hastled enough that they resign. In my diocese several good seminarians going through Mundelein “discerned” out though I personally know that many if not most of them were forced out for being too conservative. One young priest in Chicago had his ordination delayed because he was too traditional minded, and he was the only native born deacon set to be ordained that year. Fortunately he was eventually ordained but I can list at least a handful in the Joliet Diocese that weren’t so lucky.

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    These graphs do not tell the whole story even by halves.

    I am developing a first-of-its-kind mathematical model of the priest abuse crisis, which I hope to submit to a peer-reviewed epidemiological journal, soon. It is a complex model taking into account priest formation, sexual attraction, the influence of certain cultural changes in the Church, etc. The basic model is done (I wish I could put graphics in the comments). It is largely based on the causes suggested by Pope Benedict XVI. The model is a separate topic, however.

    Finding the data to put in the model has been a challenge, so I have spent the last few years trying to track down essential data on such things as the number of Catholic scholars, numbers of priests, death rates of priests, etc. The Church has, at best, sketchy statistics on even such elementary measures as how many altar boys there are in the United States at any given time (not to mention altar girls – an important and overlooked point in the abuse crisis). In other words, I have been immersed in this data for a while.

    There are only a couple of sources for data about the Church in the US. One is the CARA data set from Georgetown, another is Pew Research data sets, and the most comprehensive is the Official Catholic Directory (OCD), which is the source of the data in the plots in this post. CARA and OCD differ slightly in their numbers, but the trends are the same. I wish I could post a plot of the total number of US Priests compiled from OCD and CARA. It tells a much more interesting story than the graphs, above. I will send the plot to Fr. Z via e-mail, should he wish to include it. There are two inflection points before the graph falls off the cliff: one in 1970 – the upward graph literally reversed direction – and 1985, when the fall-off accelerates at a roller coaster rate.

    1970 corresponds to the implementation of the NO Mass, the laitization of priests who wished to get married – a reflection of the impact of the sexual revolution – and the height of the counterculture movement, with its emphasis on both the material world and the substitution of an ordered ascetic mystical theology with psychotherapeutic and personalist spirituality.

    After the initial shock of mass secularization, this was followed by the rise of a homosexual culture in the Church. This peaked in the mid 1980’s. 1985 corresponds to the year that the problem of homosexual child abuse was brought to the entire USCCB (which resulted in basically very little happening) as opposed to being an individual diocesan problem before that, as well as the height of the AIDS crisis, and (this is important) the beginning of the digital revolution.

    The whole crisis in priestly vocation can be summarized in one word: selfishness. I don’t mean vicious selfishness, just the ordinary idea of considering oneself in relation to the world and the future. The 1960’s and 1970’s made religion into a matter of the here and now, rather than of eternity. Social justice flourished, but selflessness declined to the point where, today, social Justice is all about self and group identity. The New Mass, with its emphasis on “active participation,” made worship a largely external matter. Being a guardian of eternity (which is what priests are), in the face of such worldly pressures, did not seem quite so important as in years past.

    In the 1980’s, parish environments changed. Even heteronormal priests who were good spiritual fathers lost a bit of camaraderie with their altar boy protégés when altar girls came on the scene. Older priest began to be disillusioned. Young men, caught up in the excitement of the infant digital revolution, stayed away from seminaries in droves, hoping to get in on the adventure of quick money and exciting technology. Somehow, they forgot about the adventure of self-sacrifice, in the process.

    The trend downward in vocations has accelerated, not, as the report suggests, because no one has invited young men to consider the priesthood, but because even if invited, few would hear the invitation, so caught up are most young men with the World. Social media, especially (mark this) in its video forms, has had the effect of focusing youth on largely inconsequential matters of worldly self-identity (which they have not and will not learn is only properly formed by service to others, not constant whining about how unfair life is), while, at the same time creating an environment conducive to depression and despair. To even think about becoming a sign of hope to the world (such is part of the vocation of the priest) is unthinkable to many of them.

    These are all problems of affluence. How hard it is for a rich country to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The graph of US priest growth is exactly backwards in Africa. Vocations are going like gang-busters. Hmm. I wonder why?

    Nowhere does the report even suggest that the fault of dwindling priest numbers in the US might be in ourselves. Attachment to the world and attachment to self, all seeded in the soil of unconfessed sins, is what is drying up priest numbers.

    On a societal level, at the present time, this problem can’t be fixed; it will only get worse (I expect priests to start being arrested within ten years). The only way to get more priests in the short term is on the local family level. Have many children; raise then in the fear of the Lord; teach then the difference in value of eternal and worldly things; train them well in the faith and the arguments of the world.

    I don’t see the problems in the West being fixed within the next fifty years. In fact, it will become made up of largely newly missionary countries, with largely imported priests, mostly from Africa and Asia. Unlike the situation in the 1920’s, when Irish priests came to the U.S. and were welcomed with open arms, these new missionaries will have to accept that the situation will be more like 1650 than 2150 and that they too, like the North American martyrs, may have to die to bring Catholicism back to these shores.

    I didn’t mean to go on so long, but these issues and these data have keep me occupied for a few years.

    The Chicken

  21. gretta says:

    Not to say that numbers dropping aren’t a concern, but I do think we should take into account that the numbers had the biggest drop during the pandemic of 2020 and 2021. It is not surprising that young men may have held off starting school during those years where classes may have been online or delayed, or young men weathered the pandemic at home. It may take a few for numbers to come back. That will be interesting to see if they do return to higher levels for 2022 and 2023.

  22. Dominicanes says:

    Everyone is referencing the Orders, institutes, etc but that is the point…they are not diocesan priests which is a vastly different world.

    Is it also the case that the diocesan priesthood does not seem attractive especially as the younger priests are very overworked because of the shortage of priests and the high retirement numbers.

  23. PadreRon says:

    Our parish has been producing about a vocation a year for the last decade… but all of the guys who are seriously praying about seminary also love the Latin Mass.

  24. PadreRon:

    Of course they do.

    One might be tempted to think that the Whatever High Atop The Thing has in mind also the reduction of priestly vocations and ordinations through the reduction of TLMs.

  25. j stark says:

    I wonder if the Eastern Oriental Churches have had the same decline, especially the ones that maintained their Divine Liturgy after Vatican II. The solution isnt found just in the Traditional Mass; if that were the only Mass, we would likely still have a decline. Dont forget James Martin would have to say it, Priests would still abuse it. The decline in the Church is also cultural, the influence of Modernism and the Enlightenment etc.

  26. UnwaffledAnglican says:

    Being a priest these days is rather like being a cop. The better you are at your job, the worse you will be treated by those in charge.

  27. Ave Maria says:

    So much for the springtime ushered in by VII and the Novus Ordo. And now with even more destroyers in charge, the most faithful of Catholics are targeted for extinction.

  28. maternalView says:

    I discovered that the parishioners complaining about no volunteers, low attendance & decline in donations aren’t interested in offering what makes us unique– our faith.

    So they plan spaghetti dinners, Halloween parties and super bowl parties.

    Involvement to them means more alter boy girls, Eucharistic ministers and families lighting the advent candles.

    No weekly schedule of devotions, seasonal retreats, etc. What spiritual offerings there are usually focus on ourselves as a sort of self help session.

    They try to run a mini NGO and not very successfully. The priest is reduced to a member of management.

    No wonder men don’t think of the priesthood.

  29. ajf1984 says:

    Reading through the full report which our Reverend Host linked, it is stunning to see that, of those men who are answering God’s call (or at least discerning whether He is calling them to the priesthood), a full 70% of them were encouraged by their parish priest. How critical it is for the next generation of priests that those who are already ordained are making these connections with the men of their parish, showing true pastoral care for them, etc. And yet, how difficult this must be for those priests in parish ‘clusters’ spread far and wide, or those urban parishes where the pastor is essentially reduced to the bureaucracy of running a small corporation.

    I have to share this: our archdiocesan seminary here in Milwaukee (which is full to bursting and in need of serious expansion so that it can better accommodate all the men coming for formation, praise God!) holds regular camps both for middle-school and high-school boys. My second son was at one such this past weekend, along with ~30-40 others. A key element is the normalization of seminary life and the vocational discernment process for these boys–there are spiritual elements to the camps (Rosary, Confession, Adoration, and Holy Mass), but there’s also a good deal of sports, chances to talk with current seminarians and young priests, etc. They are making it “normal,” again, for our boys to consider a call to the Priesthood, and I think that is having a remarkable effect. For your “Good News” file!

  30. WVC says:

    @ Chicken

    You bring up an interesting point, and I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg (ba-dum-dum), but many Traditionalist families either severely limit or completely abstain from the “digital life” when it comes to their kids. For example, I have 7 kids, and only the oldest has a phone, and it’s a flip phone. They know about social media, but they don’t partake, and neither do most of their friends. My older 3 have email addresses, and two of them barely use them.

    Left to my own devices, I doubt I would have wound up on this path. I have a very techie background, grew up in that environment, and am exactly the kind of person that would be overly involved in social media. Heck, wasting too much time with that stuff is still a temptation for me to this day. But, when our first was born, and I received the grace to reassess my life and my beliefs when facing the reality of having to be responsible for another soul, my investigation lead me to the Latin Mass, and from there my life has transformed over the course of years so that young me would likely not recognize current me.

    Likewise, I’ve raised 7 kids thus far on a single income. Again, this was after my wife took seriously the desire to be a homemaker and homeschooler, much of which blossomed after we began attending the Latin Mass. No, we’re not poor, but wouldn’t say we’re affluent, either. At least, not compared to my coworkers who are always talking about the 2 to 3 vacations they’re taking every year.

    So there may yet be a corollary between technology, money, the Latin Mass, and vocations.

    But I agree – things are going to get worse before they get better. Especially if they keep trying to kill the Latin Mass and deny the children from that community the opportunity to pursue their vocations with confidence.

  31. diaconus_in_urbe says:

    ’80-’90 shows a pretty sharp drop. Lots of defections, I’d imagine.

    Curious what this graph looks like when pushed back to 1900, as some suggest that a sharp incline in seminary students in the 1950’s – 1970’s was not unrelated to the ability to avoid being drafted in the Korean and Vietnam wars happening at the time (college enrollment was a way to be excused from the draft). The same theory suggests that this (at least partially) explains the sharp drop in already-ordained priests in the late 70’s and early 80’s with the 1-2 punch of the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, and the 70’s being what they were otherwise (i.e if somebody was in seminary to dodge the draft, there probably wasn’t much holding them in place once Vietnam was over, and false promises in the 60’s of a married presbyterate didn’t materialize). Of course, there was also the bizarre things going on in seminaries in the mid-60’s and 1970’s, but that wouldn’t explain the drop-off of ‘already-ordained’ priests starting in the years between 1970-1975 (priests weren’t dying that fast).

    (agreeing with The Chicken, above) My experience in talking to friends across dioceses is that young men are just not being asked, by and large (or worse, actively discouraged by their families in many cases). Often times, parishes with a TLM are also heavy on (large) families which encourage vocations in a kind of self-selecting filter-bias.

    It certainly helps when the local bishop invites young men, but it always is incumbent on the parish priests to invite young men to their ranks (I remember a priest pitching vocations at a parish saying, “Do I look unhappy?!” with a smile on his face having quite the positive effect). Further, a diocesan culture of encouraging men to discern the priesthood (with frequent, accessible events and retreats for men to meet others who are discerning the same vocation) is essential given the current situation. Yes, altar servers are tried-and true source, but if you’re going to turn something around in <10 years, you need to work with 20-somethings.

    Either way, people had better have a plan to foster vocations without a TLM, given the next decade-or-so trajectory of things.

  32. Rich Leonardi says:

    I received this graph.

    Gosh, what happened around 1970 that could explain such a precipitous decline?

  33. hwriggles4 says:

    During my own discernment process years ago (I was in my late thirties) one reason I discerned out was “obedience “. I would have had a harder time being a parish priest under certain pastors and/or shepherds who were making decisions that I found “questionable” or taking some liberties with the liturgy. Yes like many men I have normally held a “9 to 5 type career and still do” but I think most people know there is a difference between having a disagreement when you are a priest versus having disagreements with co workers and employers, although it’s good to handle them tactfully (I was very thin skinned in my teens until about my mid twenties).

    Here’s another thing about being a parish priest – dealing with people from different groups and different organizations within the parish. Yes, like a 9 to 5 job, there are headaches, personalities, financial planning, and differences to work out. There are grievances and sometimes a priest has to put his foot down. Personally I think some priests (some, not all) are not as prepared to deal with personalities (comes with time and having a secular career beforehand can be helpful – and when some seminarians do a pastoral year they do see some of this) and some of these grievances can take up a lot of a priests time. I can see where a man like myself can adopt an attitude of “Gee I am not paid enough to handle these headaches – this is more difficult than my secular job I had prior to entering seminary.”

    Obedience has it’s challenges. So does celibacy as I did realize that even in my late thirties I had not given up on getting married but I found obedience to be a stronger challenge. I think those who read this will understand.

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