The changing face of the priesthood

Catholic University sociologist Dean Hoge has just released his new study of recently ordained priests--the first since 1990--and the findings are telling.

  • Since 1990, the average age of priests ordained five to nine years has increased from 34.1 years to 42.6 for diocesan priests, and from 36.8 years to 44.2 for religious priests.
  • Just over half of the surveyed priests were already pastors at the time of the survey. In 1990, just 23 percent of recently ordained priests were pastors. In the new study, more than 75 percent of pastors took their position within five years of ordination, and more than one-third were already running more than one parish.
  • One-sixth of diocesan priests and one-quarter of religious priests were born outside the United States. Half of those priests were born in Vietnam, Mexico, or the Philippines.
  • In 1990, half the priests had been in a college seminary program. Today, just 30 percent of priests entered seminary as a college student.
  • The top three Web sites recently ordained priests list as most helpful are: 1. the official Vatican site, 2. the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops site, and 3. EWTN.
  • In both 1990 and today, America was cited by new priests as the most influential periodical. The 1990 group listed the next four in order as: the National Catholic Reporter, the Priest, Origins, and Church. Today, the next four are the Priest, the National Catholic Register, First Things, and Origins.
  • In 1990, 18 percent of newly ordained priests said Rahner's work had the most influence on their priesthood, and John Paul II came in seventh. Today, John Paul II's writings are more influential, cited by 21 percent of those surveyed, and Rahner was named by just 3 percent.
  • In 1990, 63 percent of diocesan priests surveyed agreed that their ordination conferred a "new status...essentially different from the laity." Today, 89 percent of diocesan priests agreed.
  • Across both the 1990 and 2005 groups, religious priests identified with the servant-leader model more than their diocesan counterparts, who tend to adhere to a "cultic model," in which the priest is "a man set apart" from the faith community.
  • In 1990, one-third of recently ordained diocesan priests had at least one graduate degree (vs. 55 percent of religious priests). Today, just 21 percent of diocesan priests and 34 percent of religious priests surveyed had earned a graduate degree after ordination.

Much, much more in Jerry Filteau's summary.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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