Steven H Propp
Richard Schoenherr (1935-1996) was professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; he also wrote Goodbye Father: The Celibate Male Priesthood and the Future of the Catholic Church.
He wrote in the Preface of this 1993 book, "The Roman Catholic Church faces a staggering loss of diocesan priests in the United States as it moves into the 21st century. There is little chance of reversing this trend in the lifetime of the current generation of churchgoers... Meanwhile the number of Catholics continues to swell. By the year 2005 there could be 2,200 parishioners for each priest in contrast with 1,100 per priest in 1966... The first aim of the book is to give the data a definitive voice. Precisely how bad is the decline? Will it be short-term? Are there regional differences?... Our second aim is to contribute to the theoretical understanding of the structure of formal organizations, particularly structural change that occurs in organizations in decline... A third aim is to alert sociologists of religion, church historians, theologians, and other religious scholars to one of the most pervasive changes in the Catholic ministry since the Reformation. The dramatic decline of the priest population raises questions about the future of the male celibate priesthood and its monopoly of control over access to the traditional Catholic means of salvation.... What is more essential to Roman Catholicism: male celibate exclusivity in the priesthood or the Mass and sacraments? These issues and many other ramifications of the priest shortage cry out for scholarly attention." (Pg. xvii-xviii)
He notes, "the U.S. clergy population is not only declining in size but also aging rapidly." (Pg. 85) He also observes that "Hispanics are greatly underrepresented in U.S. seminaries... The evidence... indicates that the pressure of proportionately larger Hispanic populations result in poorer recruitment results. This effect could be due to a tradition of how Hispanics relate to the priesthood... Or the impact may flow from the way the church relates to Hispanics, perhaps by not aggressively recruiting or retaining Hispanic seminarians or, more generally, by failing to adapt adequately to the special needs of this bicultural population." (Pg. 137-138) He adds, "Ordinations to the U.S. diocesan priesthood continue to fall... averaging a 23 percent drop per decade." (Pg. 148) He also says, "Higher levels of education in the general population tend to lower diocesan ordination rates." (Pg. 171)
He states bluntly, "the driving force behind the decline and aging of the U.S. Catholic clergy is fueled not only by dwindling ordinations but also by moderately high and persistent resignations." (Pg. 204) He adds, "The exodus of American priests began soon after the Second Vatican Council, peaked in the early 1970s, and then dropped in the early 1980s to a level only half as high as that recorded during the immediate postconciliar years." (Pg. 216) He notes, "Currently, for every 10 priests who leave the active ministry by resignation, sick leave, retirement, or death, only 6 are being replaced by ordination. Four of every 10 vacant positions are going unfilled in dioceses that rely on native clergy." (Pg. 288)
He also argues, "It is primarily because of two and a half decades of poor recruitment and retention that U.S. dioceses face a declining and aging priesthood population. While the aging process gains momentum, however, recruitments and preretirement deaths will increase in importance as components of decline. The growing impact of natural attrition was only beginning to be noticed in the 1980s. Its full force will be felt at the turn of the century." (Pg. 332)
Far more than a "dry" book of statistics, this fascinating the thought-provoking book will be "must reading" for anyone studying contemporary Catholicism.