18 Reasons for the Continuous Decline in Priesthood Vocations

SharePinEmailAt one time, entering the Priesthood was the noblest of all professions for Catholic men, delivering great pride to the family and Parish. But today, the number of men becoming Priests is in a state of perpetual decline. A mere 458 men were ordained as Priests in America in 2023, a staggering decrease from the…

At one time, entering the Priesthood was the noblest of all professions for Catholic men, delivering great pride to the family and Parish. But today, the number of men becoming Priests is in a state of perpetual decline. A mere 458 men were ordained as Priests in America in 2023, a staggering decrease from the 994 men ordained in 1963’s America. But why are the number of new Priests continuously declining across the nation? Here are 18 reasons why.

Secular Nation

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Religion overall is in decline in America as more people lead secular lives. Today, around 30% of adults in America identify as having no religion. This includes atheists and agnostics, referred to as “nones” during Pew Research Studies. A decline in religion will then impact the number of men who choose to be ordained into the Priesthood. 

Changing Cultures

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There is less emphasis on religion and committing yourself to religion. Instead, we are told to live our lives to the fullest, to do what we want, and to enjoy personal freedoms. This means that even religious individuals may not want to give their lives to the Church.

Reduced Mass Attendance

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As a result of cultural changes and the COVID-19 pandemic aftermath, many Americans now choose to pray in the safety of their own homes, shunning busy weekly Mass services. This means fewer people will consider religious vocations of any type.

Smaller Families

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Over the centuries, many families had many children. In particular, Catholic families were known for having up to ten children, sometimes more! Big families mean there is a higher possibility that at least one of those children will follow a religious vocation, but smaller families reduce this chance.

Abuse Scandals

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Recent abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church mean that entering the Priesthood is a less attractive prospect. Understandably, young men do not want to be associated with such scandals concerning the U.S.’s biggest religious denominations.

Declining Trust

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There have been allegations of cover-ups inside the Church concerning scandals and abuse accusations. Such hypocrisy and lack of empathy for the victims of these scandals results in a loss of trust overall between individuals and the Church.

Insufficient Religious Education

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America has a definite separation between the Church and the state. This means that public schools cannot promote any type of religion, providing insufficient religious education for the majority of children and young adults. This reduces the importance of religion in the lives of many individuals.

Financial Pressures

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With the cost of living rising each day, everyone is under pressure financially to gain the highest salary possible. Newly ordained Catholic Priests in America usually expect a salary of around $20,000, a third of the $60,000 average salary in America. Whilst wealthier Parishes might pay more experienced Priests much more, a low salary of $20,000 is too low for most people to live on today.

Celibacy Demands

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Entering the Priesthood requires significant discipline including taking the vow of celibacy. Today, many people live their lives with sexual freedom, rejecting the restrictions that previous generations lived with. Some men may think the demands of celibacy are a step too far and reject entering the Priesthood.

Wanting a Family

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Less men may commit to live in the Priesthood if they desire a family. Men take a much more active role in parenting in the 21st century than they did decades ago so may decline the chance to become an ordained Priest as a result.

Commitment Fears

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Becoming an ordained Priest is a significant commitment. You are giving your life to Jesus Christ and committing to do God’s work, selflessly putting your Parishioners and others before yourself. Fear of this commitment is a common complaint.

Poor Recruitment Campaigns

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In some instances, there are very poor recruitment campaigns to attract Priests to the profession. Potential Priests need to be aware of the prospects and opportunities available to them so strategies must be in place to increase  awareness.

Lack of Freedom

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Becoming a Priest means a significant lack of freedom, adhering to the teachings of the Church and complying with the Vatican’s policies and guidelines. This could decrease the amount of new Priests ordained in the Church who want to have more autonomy and think for themselves.

Political Confusions

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Some Americans cannot separate religion and politics and refuse to believe that a Catholic Priest can also be a Democrat. This may repel potential Priests from joining the Priesthood if they disagree with some Republican policies.

Changing Priorities

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For many Americans, religion is no longer one of their main priorities. Instead, they might view climate change, diversity, and LGBTQ+ issues as prevalent in the 21st century. As a result, fewer devout Catholics in America will mean fewer Priests.


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As homosexuality is now accepted in society, there is no need for some men to cover up their sexuality. Historically, some homosexual men might have become Priests to suppress and ignore their sexuality but today that is much less common. Homosexual men are more comfortable being themselves. Additionally, being an active homosexual is not compatible with the teachings of Christianity and so they should not become Priests.

Poor Role Models

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Some Priests are more closed off from their Parishioners than in previous decades. This is a direct result of the stringent safeguarding requirement enacted today in response to the abuse scandals. This means that some Parishes do not visibly see their Priests as often as they should, reducing the positive role models that might influence young men to become Priests.

Eroding Traditions

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Some strict Catholics think traditions are being eroded in the Church. In the 21st century, some religions are changing their customs and some teachings to become more malleable to ideological religions. A key example is some denominations of Christianity that support same-sex marriage including the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Potential Priests may fear a similar fate for the Catholic Church and decline their vocation in the Priesthood.

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