U.S. Priests and seminarians survey: more vocations in orthodox dioceses

U.S. Priests and seminarians survey: more vocations in orthodox dioceses

Human Life International

A comparative analysis of different 'styles’ of US dioceses was recently undertaken by Human Life International (HLI). The survey sought to compare the numbers of priests and seminarians in dioceses broadly typed as "orthodox" and "progressive".

For the purposes of its study HLI defined an "orthodox" diocese as one that had exhibited a "general predisposition of fidelity towards the Magisterium since Vatican II."

The term "progressive" was applied to a diocese exhibiting "a general predisposition towards liberal activism and systematic toleration towards dissent from the magisterium since Vatican II".

In the United States, with its large number of dioceses, the contrasts between those at each end of the theological/liturgical spectrum have tended to be more obvious than in Australia.

One might have predicted at the outset that dioceses where, in general, the sacred character of the ordained priesthood is more emphasised, liturgies are celebrated reverently according to the Church’s rubrics and doctrinal orthodoxy is insisted upon and promoted, would attract more recruits - e.g., Lincoln, Nebraska, or Arlington, Virginia. This, in fact, proved to be the case.

The HLI calculations were based on figures from P.J. Kenedy & Sons’ Official Catholic Directories, 1956 to 1997 editions, and editions of the Vatican Secretary of State Statistical Yearbook of the Church for the years 1975, 1981, 1987 and 1993.

The study examined two clusters of 15 dioceses over the period 1955 to 1996. One cluster consisted of 15 dioceses that have had a generally orthodox tradition since 1955 (and especially since Vatican II); the other consisted of 15 dioceses that have had a generally progressive tradition over the same period.

HLI found the following 15 dioceses to be in the "orthodox" category: Amarillo, Texas; Arlington, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Corpus Christi, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Fargo, North Dakota; Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana; Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska; Peoria, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Steubenville, Ohio; and Wichita, Kansas.

The following 15 dioceses were considered to be in the "progressive" category: Chicago, Illinois; Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Los Angeles, California; Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New Ulm, Minnesota; Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Maine; Rockville Centre, New York; San Bernadino, San Diego and San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona.

HLI conceded that the terms "orthodox" and "progressive" were "necessarily subjective", but explained that the 15 dioceses "of each persuasion" were selected "after an extensive review of articles carried in four publications over the past 30 years: National Catholic Reporter, National Catholic Register, Commonweal and The Wanderer.

A list of these dioceses was then submitted to a number of individuals "with extensive knowledge of the history of the American Catholic Church for confirmation and correction."

Two patterns were apparent from the statistics:

1. There are currently nearly twice as many diocesan priests per million active (or practising) Catholics in orthodox dioceses as there are in progressive dioceses (2,057 vs. 1,075); and

2. The proportion of diocesan priests in orthodox dioceses has remained steady, while the number of diocesan priests in progressive dioceses has been continually declining for four decades. In orthodox dioceses, there were 1,830 diocesan priests per million active Catholics in 1956, and 12 percent more (2,057) in 1996.

In progressive dioceses, there were 1,290 diocesan priests per million active Catholics in 1956, and 1,075 in 1996, a 17 percent decrease.

A second statistical analysis looked at the numbers of diocesan priests ordained in the period 1986 to 1996.

Two patterns were evident from this:

1. There are currently nearly five times as many ordinations of diocesan priests per million active Catholics in orthodox dioceses as there are in progressive dioceses (53 vs. 11); and

2. The rate of ordinations of diocesan priests in orthodox dioceses shows a strong upward trend, while the rate in progressive dioceses, relatively low four decades ago, continues to decline. In orthodox dioceses, there were 34 ordinations of diocesan priests per million active Catholics in 1986, and 53 in 1996 - an increase of more than 50 percent. In progressive dioceses, the rate was 16 in 1986, and only 11 in 1996 - a one-third decrease.

With acknowledgement to HLI.

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