More damned statistics – This time of priests who leave the priesthood (and some who return)

Still catching up with reading from last month, there is this astounding essay from “La Civilta Cattolica” entitled “Priests who desert, priests who come back” (translated on Sandro Magister’s site) on the statistics of priests throughout the world who have left the priesthood over the last 40 years or so. According to Magister, the article was apparently commissioned by Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State.

It makes riviting reading (for those of us who like statistics). For instance:

On the basis of indications sent to the Vatican from the dioceses, from 1964 to 2004, 69,063 priests left the ministry. From 1970 to 2004, 11,213 priests have returned to the ministry. This means that there cannot be more than 57,000 married priests [who have left the priesthood]. Probably there are many fewer, because over forty years a number of them have died. So the figures cited by the press and by the associations of married priests, speaking of 80,000-100,000 ex-priests, are unfounded.

Now, 57,000 are still a lot in anyone’s book. But I guess it is better to have the right figures than imagined estimates. And all the right figures are given in detail in what follows. One very interesting statistic is this:

Of the 1,076 priests who leave the ministry each year, 554 ask for a dispensation from the obligations imposed by the priestly state: celibacy, and the recitation of the breviary.

So about half of those who left the priesthood are still sufficiently attached to the Church to want to have their situation regularised. Why did they leave?

The reasons for abandoning the priestly ministry, or at least the ones that are given, are highly varied. Most requests for dispensation are due to situations of emotional instability, together with other factors that ultimately make the situation of many priests almost irreversible, but there are also cases of crises of faith, conflicts with superiors or difficulties with the magisterium, depression, and serious limitations of character.

Or compare the numbers of those who requested dispensation from the obligations of ministry before and after 1964:

From 1914 to 1962, 810 requests for dispensations were submitted, of which 315 were approved and 495 rejected. From 1964 to 1988, the requests received totaled 44,890, of which 39,149 were granted and 5,741 denied, for a total of 39,464 dispensations granted and 6,236 rejected out of 45,700 requests received by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.

Something obviously went serious wrong in the 1960’s… I wonder what?

Finally, I was intrigued by the statistics of convert Anglican married clergy who have been ordained as Catholic priests:

On average there are seven or eight of these each year. There were 12 in 2004, 9 in 2005, and 13 in 2006.

So few? One hears of hundreds of converts “swimming the Tiber”, and has the impression that these “hundreds” have been ordained. They are obviously rather very very rare compared to overall numbers. Marco reckons that in fact many Anglican clergy take the plunge actually swim back again when they find that the Catholic Church is not the paradise they imagined it to be.

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