Future of Priestly Ministry
Corpus Christi Campaign
Corpus Christi Fact Sheet

Corpus Christi Campaign Fact Sheet

End Mandatory Celibacy
Welcome Back Married   Priests
  Ordain Women Deacons

There is an acute worldwide shortage of priests

  • According to Vatican statistics, between 1975 and 2002 the world’s Catholics increased by 52% to 1.07 billion, but the number of priests stayed the same. In 1975 we had 404,783 priests compared to 405,058 priests in 2002.(Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University)

  • Between 1975 and 2003, the number of U.S. Catholics increased by 32% from 48.7 million to 64.3 million. In the same time period, the U.S. Church suffered a 22% decline of priests from 58, 909 to only 45,699 in 2003. The number of U.S. seminarians decreased by 38% to 3,285 in 2003 compared to 5,275 in 1975. (CARA)

  • Nearly half (105, 530 of 218,196) of the world’s parishes and missions do not have a resident priest (Vatican statistics, 2001).

  • For every 100 priests who die or leave the ministry today, only 30 or 40 replace them, according to Dean R. Hoge, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America .

  • According to the U.S. Bishops’ 2000 study Pastoral Ministry in a Time of Fewer Priests:
    • there are an estimated 27% of U.S. parishes which do not have their own priest.
    • there are more priests over 90 than under 30.


U.S. Dioceses anticipate drastic declines in priests and are closing parishes.

  • The Archdiocese of Boston is currently closing one out of every five parishes. The Toledo diocese recently announced plans to close 33 of 157 parishes.

  • Cleveland Diocese pension projections estimate that by 2027 there will be only 76 active diocesan priests for the 235 parishes in the diocese. This presumes 4 ordinations per year.

  • The Green Bay diocese recently told a local newspaper could be down to 83 priests for 165 parishes by 2010.

  • In the Dubuque Archdiocese, a priest told a national TV newsweekly that in 5 to 10 years, there will be only 75 priests for 200 parishes.

Lay Vocations to Church Ministry are Increasing,

In the United States:

  • In 1986 there were 10,500 students enrolled in lay ministry education programs in 2003 there were 26,000 enrolled tCARA) -
  • there were an estimated 65,000 lay Catholics serving as chaplains and lay ecclesial ministers in 2003. (FutureChurch estimates derived from National Association of Catholic Chaplains and National Association of Lay Ministry)
  • an estimated eighty-two percent of all paid lay ministers are women(1997 National Pastoral Life Center Study)
  • Most U.S. lay/women ministers already have qualifications (and more) to be ordained deacons right now.

Worldwide :

  • the number of lay people (catechists, nuns, members of secular institutes, lay missionaries) and deacons giving pastoral care increased from 3.2 million in 1998 to 3.8 million in 2002. (An estimated 50% of these lay ministers are women).


Many Married Priests Are Willing to Return To Ministry

Worldwide there are an estimated 125,000 priests who left the active ministry to marry. In the U.S. an estimated 25,000 priests have left to marry. Some observers believe 50% of married priests would be willing to return to active ministry if invited. (Estimates by Corps of Reserved Priests United for Service (CORPUS)


Priests Support Discussion of Mandatory Celibacy, Expanding Women’s Roles

  • Irish priests surveyed anonymously by telephone in April 2004, support optional priestly celibacy (69%) and women priests (58.1%) (The Tablet, May 22, 2004)

  • A report commissioned by the Australian Bishops found that 55% of Australian priests believe celibacy should be optional and an another 16% believe obligatory celibacy had had a negative impact. (CathNews.com)

  • In a massive survey of priests in 53 U.S. dioceses 67% of responding priests (2,589 of 3,846) supported open discussion of mandatory celibacy. Many spontaneously commented that women’s roles should also be discussed (Conducted by members of Call To Action and FutureChurch January-August 2004. For results by diocese with comments click here)


Catholic Laity Support Married Priests and Expanded Roles for Women.

A 1997 international study published by Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago and Michael Hout of U.C.. Berkeley, found wide spread support among Catholic laity for married priests in Spain (79%,), Ireland (82%), USA (69% ), Italy (67%,) and Poland (50%). The same study also found significant support (58-70%) for ordaining women in Spain, Ireland, USA and Italy. These findings have been replicated in other surveys by Gallup, Newsweek and the National Catholic Reporter in the past ten years.


Corpus Christi Campaign Talking Points

End Mandatory Celibacy
Welcome Back Married   Priests
  Ordain Women Deacons


We join widespread calls from Cardinals, Bishops and Laity around the world who are asking for open discussion of optional celibacy and expanding women’s roles in the Church.

  • Cardinal Mahony, Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Brazilian Bishops Conference and the Canadian Bishops Conference are just some Church leaders who have called for discussion of optional celibacy over the last 15 years.
  • In April 2004,Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the retired Archbishop of Milan, called for a restoration of women deacons. (John Wijngaards in The Tablet August 2004). And in November 2003, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium asked Vatican offices to open the diaconate to women after consultation in his diocese found 86% in support of women deacons(National Catholic Reporter 11/28/03)
  • In 1991, the National Federation of Priests’ Councils in the United States issued a public statement asking for discussion of a married priesthood and the ordination of women.


The steadily worsening priest shortage in _______(your) diocese requires us to look at other options for preserving our Catholic Eucharistic heritage. (get statistics for your diocese). Presently 27% of U.S. parishes do not have their own priest. Since 1965, the United States, has suffered a net loss of 13,000 priests while the number of Catholics has increased by 17.8 million. According to 2001 Vatican statistics nearly half (105, 530 of 218,196) of the world’ parishes do not have a resident priest. Since Pope John Paul II took office, the number of priests worldwide declined by 4% while Catholics increased by 40%.


We want to return to the early Church custom of having both a celibate and a married priesthood. St. Peter was married. St. Paul was celibate and the early church flourished. Since celibacy is a gift from the Holy Spirit, it will not disappear. It is a distortion of the charism of celibacy to demand it of priests who are not called to it. Both married and celibate priests were common until the 12 th century when celibacy became mandatory. Both the celibate priesthood and the married priesthood are gifts to the Church.


We want to return to the early Church custom of having women deacons. In Romans 16 Paul names Phoebe “deacon” (diakonos) of the church at Cenchrae,” not “deaconess” as it it often incorrectly translated. Diakonos is the same word Paul uses to describe himself in Corinthians (1 Cor 3:5, 2 Cor 6:4). The mistaken “deaconess” translation is most likely an anachronistic reading assigning a formal ministerial title of the fourth century (and its corresponding duties) to the more fluid situation of the first century in which deacons were both male and female.There is widespread epigraphical evidence from first century tombstones which have diakonos inscribed as a title for women church leaders. Early ordination rites for women deacons were identical to those used to ordain male deacons to major orders. Vatican offices are trying to say that early female “deaconesses” were not the same as deacons. What goes unsaid, and apparently deliberately so, is that there were both male and female deacons in the first century Church. (Phyllis Zagano, Holy Saturday [Crossroad, 2000] and Presentation at FutureChurch July, 2003; John Wijngaards in The Tablet, August 14, 2004)


The Catholic Church is the only Christian Denomination in the U.S. that has a shortage of Clergy. Contrary to recent statements made by several Bishops, including U.S. Bishops’ Conference president Bishop Wilton Gregory, only the Catholic Church is experiencing a clergy shortage. Gregory has said that a married priesthood will not help the Catholic priest shortage because the Protestant church, which allows a married clergy, also has a shortage. However, a Purdue University study by James D. Davidson reported in the December 1, 2003 issue of America magazine found that since 1981 all Protestant denominations registered an increase in clergy of 3 to 35 %. Only the Catholic Church registered a hefty 22% decrease.


Catholicism’s ministerial crisis cannot be solved without expanding women’s roles Presently women/lay ministers are the "glue" helping to hold the Church together both in the U.S. and worldwide. Worldwide, there are 783,000 women religious serving the church’s 1.07 billion Catholics compared to 405,000 priests. Add the nuns to the 2.9 million lay catechists, missionaries, and members of secular institutes (at least half of whom in all categories are likely to be women), and it becomes clear that Catholicism’s ministerial crisis cannot be solved without expanding women’s roles. Most women ministers in the U.S. (conservatively, an estimated 82% of 65,000 chaplains and lay pastoral ministers) already have qualifications (and more) to be ordained deacons. As deacons they can preach, baptize and witness marriages. This constitutes a huge new pool of ministers who could be immediately available to meet the growing sacramental needs of an expanding church.


We already have married priests and women deacons in the Catholic Church The eastern rites of Catholicism permit priests to marry. In the U.S. there are over 100 former Lutheran and Episcopal ministers serving as married priests after converting to Catholicism. Presently the Armenian Church has at least three women deacons. Both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II signed documents recognizing the apostolic succession and validity of Armenian Catholic sacraments. (Zagano, Phyllis: Presentation at FutureChurch July, 2003)


The laity have a right and an obligation to speak about optional celibacy and women’s roles that must be taken into consideration: By the authority vested in us through our baptism and confirmation, we have the duty to explore different ways to ensure the Church remains healthy. Canon 212 tells us we have the right and obligation to make our views known on matters which concern the good of the Church. Church teaching tells us we have the right to receive “the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the Word of God and the sacraments.” (Lumen Gentium, 37).


Relationship to Sex Abuse Scandal: Sexual abuse is about power over someone who is weaker than oneself. The scandal in the Catholic church is not that children were sexually abused by priests. As the bishops were quick to point out, in every profession – from high school coaches to psychiatrists – there are some who abuse the trust people place in them. The real scandal was that the Church leaders covered up the information that priests were abusing children so completely, and so quietly, that criminals went unpunished and were allowed to repeatedly victimize children. A number of Church observers believe the priest shortage was a factor in the “cover up.” Bishops were so desperate to keep parishes staffed that they were willing to overlook the potential danger to children. Victims and their families were encouraged to remain silent. These issues – the abuse of power and silencing – lie at the core of many of the ills within the Church. The January 26 2004 report from the National Lay Review Board (which was appointed by U.S. Bishops to monitor the sex abuse crisis), said it would be beneficial to have “greater examination by the Church of the role of, extent of compliance with, and consequences of celibacy...given the ramifications with respect to many aspects of Church life. It is a subject that demands further study.”