Catholic priests: Current data
IN a 2018 article published in The Priest magazine by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist and leading authority on the Catholic priesthood, some very informative data is presented. This material is most useful in having an accurate understanding regarding the current “state of affairs” in the Catholic Church. The article answers many questions, for example: Is it true that priests are leaving in large numbers?
One of the clear facts is that young priests are NOT actually leaving in large numbers; the best statistics assert that only between 10-12 percent actually leave. This is significant, considering that the rate of marriage failures is much higher.
It should be noted that young priests, as well as priests in general, are happy with their lives and ministries. To the survey question, “Overall, I am happy as a priest,” 92 percent agreed or strongly agreed. Sociologist Dean Hoge and Msgr. Rosetti have found that priestly happiness actually has been increasing in the past few decades. While the Church is not blind to existing problems and challenges, these recent psychological and sociological studies suggest that priesthood is, for the most part, a happy and rewarding life.
Why some priests leave. Msgr. Rossetti noted: “some priests do leave ministry, and it is important to know why.” Sociologist Dean Hoge has focused on “important lessons” to be learned from priests who resign.
Contrary to some ideas, Hoge said that it was NOT celibacy per se that led to their departure. Rather, “it was the individual’s personal difficulties in adapting and connecting.” “The majority that stayed made friends and built a satisfying personal life.” Survey data revealed that “the percentage of priests thinking of leaving is low and getting lower.”
Hoge also discovered that “happy and fulfilled priests rarely resign, even if they find themselves in love.” Rossetti provided data about priests who were thinking of leaving: “some of the highest correlations were a negative view of celibacy, depression, feeling lonely and unappreciated, and having a dysfunctional childhood.”
One additional factor to be recognized is known as “burnout,” a state of “chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment.” In short, such priests are at elevated risk for leaving the priesthood.
Additional statistics. In most parts of the world, satisfaction among priests is very high. Rossetti asserts: “Priests like being priests, and they like doing what priests do. The large majority is able to adjust to the demanding life of a priest and to thrive.” The Rossetti study includes among its findings the following statistics on the happiness of priests.
“92.4% are happy overall being a priest. 94.9% feel a joy that they consider a grace from God. 88.9% have good morale. 76.6% have a good relationship with their bishop. 87.6% have close friendships with fellow priests. 93% have close relationships with laypersons. 75.1% say celibacy has been a personal grace. 82.1% would choose to remain celibate if priests were allowed to marry.”
Rossetti asserts that: “because the majority of priests thrive in priestly life and ministry, we must conclude that the current system [of formation] is essentially sound…. What is unseen and of greatest importance is the mysterious movement of God’s grace. Ultimately, it is he who makes us whole, and it is God’s grace that makes our ministries life-giving for others and for ourselves.” Thus, we all remain grateful for Christ’s gift of the priesthood to the Church!