Future of Priestly Ministry
Priest Shortage

Priest Shortage at a Glance (Learn more about how you can get involved today)

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CARA Statistics 2016

Type196519751985199520052016 
Diocesan priests

35,925

36,005

35,052

32,349

28,094

25,760

 
Religious priests

22,707

22,904

22,265

16,705

13,305

11,432

 
Total priests

56,632

58,909

57,317

49,052

41,399

37,192

 
Active priests (%)

94%

88%

84%

76%

70%

63%

 
Priestly ordinations

994

771

533

511

454

548

 
Graduate level seminarians

8,325

5,279

4,063

3,172

3,308

3,520

 
Permanent deacons

n.a.

898

7,204

10,932

14,574

18,173

 
Religious brothers

12,271

8,625

7,544

6,535

5,451

4,119

 
Religious sisters

179,954

135,225

115,386

90,809

68,634

47,170

 
Parishes

17,637

18,515

19,244

19,331

18,891

17,233

 
Without a resident priest

549

702

1,051

2,161

3,251

3,499

 
Lay professional ministers

   --

   --

   --

10,674

20,379

23,149

 
Lay ecclesial ministers

   --

   --

   --

21,946

30,632

39,651

 
Enrollment in LEC programs

   --

   -- 

   --

29,146

30,632

39,651

 
Canon 517.2 led parish

n.a.

n.a.

93

314

553

379

 
Catholic population

45.6m

48.7m

52.3m

57.4m

64.8m

67.7m

 

 

 

The number of priests in the U.S. has fallen by 7,424 since 2000 (-16%). The number of parishes without a resident priest pastor has increased by 653 to 3,496 (+23%).  

Although ordinations are up these remain insufficient to maintain the population of priests due to retirements and deaths (CARA).

See the most current statistics/charts from CARA

During the spring and summer every year the Vatican release’s the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE) and in the U.S., The Official Catholic Directory (OCD) is published.

CARA updated and expanded its Frequently Requested Church Statistics page.  

CARA compares the U.S. data in the 2014 OCD to the numbers released in 2000. 

  • Ordinations have increased by 12% since 2000 and the number of seminarians enrolled has increased by 5%. That being said, overall, the number of priests in the U.S. has fallen by 7,424 since 2000 (-16%). The number of parishes without a resident priest pastor has increased by 653 to 3,496 (+23%).   Although ordinations are up these remain insufficient to maintain the population of priests due to retirements and deaths.

  • The number of permanent deacons who have gone from 12,378 in 2000 to 17,464 in 2013 (+41%). Essentially the Church now has enough deacons to have about one in every parish.  The number of lay professional ministers (excluding vowed religious who serve in parish ministry) has also increased from 17,315 to 21,424 (+24%) or to about 1.2 per parish. Although the number of deacons and professional lay ministers are increasing there may be trouble ahead as there are fewer preparing to add themselves to these ranks. The number of permanent deacon candidates has fallen by 19% and the number of people enrolled in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs has dropped by 27% since 2000. 

  • The parish-affiliated Catholic population has grown by 11% and the self-identified Catholic population has grown by 7% since 2000. Self-identified Catholic population has added 5 million. A significant portion of this growth has come from foreign-born Catholic adults which have increased by 4.4 million.

  • The ratio of active diocesan priests to parishes has decreased from 1.2 to a precarious 1.0. Although more parishes are without a resident priest pastor the Church has decreased the number of parishes where pastoral care is entrusted to a deacon or lay person (Canon 517.2) from 447 in 2000 to 388 now (-13%). Essentially, in many dioceses, parishes are being closed rather than having these entrusted to a deacon or lay person.

  • CARA’s survey-based estimates of Mass attendance show a slight uptick from 22% attending weekly to 24%. With a growing Catholic population that means nationally the Church has seen the number of Catholics who go to church every week increase by more than 2.6 million since 2000 (+17%).

 
 

Records image courtesy of Tom Magliery.

CARA 2014 STATISTICS

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Leaders; Leaders in Formation
1965
1970
1975
1980
1985
1990
1995
2000
2005
2010
2014
Total priests
58,632
59,192
58,909
58,398
57,317
52,124
49,054
45,699
41,399
39,993
38,275
Diocesan priests
35,925
37,272
36,005
35,627
35,052
34,114
32,349
30,607
28,094
27,182
26,265
Religious priests
22,707
21,920
22,904
22,771
22,265
18,010
16,705
15,092
13,305
12,811
12,010
Priestly ordinations
994
805
771
593
533
595
511
442
454
459
494
Graduate-level seminarians
8,325
6,602
5,279
4,197
4,063
3,658
3,172
3,474
3,308
3,483
3,631
Permanent deacons
na 
na
898
4,093
7,204
9,356
10,932
12,378
14,574
16,649
17,464
Permanent deacon candidates
na
na
2,243
2,514
2,263
1,980
2,026
2,497
2,342
2,445
2,018
Religious sisters
179,954
160,931
135,225
126,517
115,386
102,504
90,809
79,814
68,634
57,544
49,883
Religious brothers
12,271
11,623
8,625
7,941
7,544
6,721
6,535
5,662
5,451
4,690
4,318
Lay professional ministers (lay persons; excluding vowed religious)
--
--
--
--
--
--
10,674
17,315
20,379
20,660
21,424
Lay Ecclesial Ministers in parish ministry (most recent survey-based estimates; including vowed religious and other lay persons)
--
--
--
--
--
21,569
29,146
--
30,632
37,929
--
Enrollment in Lay Ecclesial Ministry formation programs
--
--
--
--
10,500
--
21,800
31,168
16,037
17,935
22,791
Parishes and the Catholic Population
1965
1970
1975
1980
1985
1990
1995
2000
2005
2010
2014
Parishes
17,637
18,224
18,515
18,794
19,244
19,620
19,331
19,236
18,891
17,958
17,483
Parishes without a resident priest pastor
549
571
702
791
1,051
1,812
2,161
2,843
3,251
3,353
3,496
Canon 517.2 parishes where a bishop has entrusted the pastoral care of the parish to a deacon or some other person (e.g., a religious sister, religious brother, or other lay person)
na
na
na
na
93
249
314
447
553
469
388
Percentage of diocesan priests active in ministry
94%
90%
88%
85%
84%
80%
76%
74%
70%
68%
68%
Active diocesan priests per parish
2.0
1.8
1.7
1.6
1.5
1.4
1.2
1.2
1.0
1.0
1.0
Catholic population (The Official Catholic Directory; parish-connected Catholics)
46.3m
47.9m
48.7m
50.5m
52.3m
55.7m
57.4m
59.9m
64.8m
65.6m
66.6m
Catholic population (self-identified, survey-based estimate)
48.5m
51.0m
54.5m
56.8m
59.5m
62.4m
65.7m
71.7m
74.0m
74.6m
76.7m
Foreign-born adult Catholics (suvery-based estimate)
--
--
4.7m
4.1m
4.8m
5.6m
7.0m
10.9m
15.8m
13.2m
15.3m
            
 

 

WORLD DATA OVER TIME:
 
1970
1975
1980
1985
1990
1995
2000
2005
2010
2014
Total priests
419,728
404,783
413,600
403,480
403,173
404,750
405,178
406,411
412,236
414,313
Diocesan priests
270,924
259,331
257,409
253,319
257,696
262,418
265,781
269,762
277,009
279,561
Religious priests
148,804
145,452
156,191
150,161
145,477
142,332
139,397
136,649
135,227
134,752
Diocesan priestly ordinations
4,622
4,140
3,860
4,822
5,938
6,444
6,814
6,614
6,863
6,577
Graduate-level seminarians
--
24,183
33,731
43,476
51,603
54,154
55,968
58,538
58,140
56,924
Permanent deacons
309
2,686
7,654
12,541
17,525
22,390
27,824
33,391
39,564
42,104
Religious sisters
1,004,304
968,526
960,991
917,432
882,111
837,961
801,185
760,529
721,935
705,529
Religious brothers
79,408
70,388
73,090
65,208
62,526
59,515
55,057
54,708
54,665
55,314
Parishes
191,398
200,116
206,503
212,021
215,805
220,077
218,196
217,616
221,055
221,740
Parishes without a resident priest pastor
39,431
46,074
50,469
55,343
57,664
60,705
55,729
52,509
49,172
49,153
Canon 517.2 parishes where a bishop has entrusted the pastoral care of the parish to a deacon or some other person (e.g., a religious sister, religious brother, or other lay person)
na
na
na
1,635
3,786
3,278
3,373
3,122
3,819
3,485
Catholic population
653.6m
709.6m
783.7m
852.0m
928.5m
989.4m
1.045b
1.115b
1.196b
1.229b
Percent of world population
18%
17%
18%
18%
18%
17%
17%
17%
18%
17%
           
Note: The ASE, upon which the world data above is based, is released two years after the most current year measured. Thus, the ASE 2012, which was released in 2014, represents 2012 totals. All previous years in the world table above measure the actual year listed. For 2014, there are no more current world data sources available.