Future of Priestly Ministry
Optional Celibacy
Priest Shortage at a Glance



FACT: There is an acute worldwide shortage of priests.

  • According to Vatican statistics, between 1975 and 2008 the world's Catholics increased by 64% from 709.6 million to 1.166 billion, but the number of priests increased by only 1% from 404,783 to 409,166. (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University)

  • In 2008, nearly 49,631 of the world’s 218,865 parishes did not have a resident priest. (CARA)

  • According to a 2008 Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate study, half of the 19,302 active diocesan priests in the U.S. plan to retire by 2019.  We are ordaiining about 380 new diocesan priests each year.  In just eight years, we will have only 13,500 active diocesan priests to serve our 18,000 parishes, presuming ordinations remain constant, as they have over a decade.

What can we do?

Optional Celibacy Project - return to the practice of priesthood that welcomes both married and celibate men

Women Deacons Project - recognize the ministry and leadership of women

A Million Voices Project - encourage dialogue about lay leadership and the ministry of women

Save Our Parish Community Project - keep vibrant parish communities alive with sacramental life to serve the growing Catholic population

Here are projections of the net loss of priests in your diocese by the year 2005 as found in Richard Schoenherr and Lawrence Young's book, Full Pews and Empty Altars (University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).

(Individual projections for smaller dioceses may fluctuate dramatically because "According to the 'law of large numbers,' a strong trend becomes evident only after observing larger and large numbers of relevant events....Thus, recording thousands upon thousands of transition events in many dioceses over many years has revealed the national trends in the demographic transition of the clergy," p. 76, Full Pews and Empty Altars. )

These projections were recently extended to 2015 by Professor Lawrence Young, who compared his study projections for 1995 with the actual numbers reported in the 1995 Official Catholic Directory. He found a less than one percent difference. By the year 2015 Young predicts a loss of more than 16,000 priests in the U.S., a decline of nearly 46%.

Aside from the net loss of priests, our priest population is aging, so that by the year 2005, U.S. priests will be older with almost half being 55 or above and only one in eight under 35. To compound the crisis, the total number of U.S. Catholics is expected to increase by 65% in the same period.

Currently 27% of U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest according to the 2000 study done by the US Bishops. An estimated 58,000 parishes and 112,000 mission stations worldwide are without a priest according to the 1997 Vatican Statistical Yearbook.

View the statistics.