No, the number of ordinations is not plummeting!

From essayist Roland Hureaux:

It is common to hear that the number of priests in France (as in the rest of Europe) is plummeting.

This observation hides an equally fundamental fact: the maintenance of the number of vocations – and therefore of ordinations – since 1975, with ups and downs of course, but a flow of entries into orders which is 100 to 150 per year. , with a few recent peaks: 179 in 2014. Excluding annual fluctuations, the slope would even be slightly upward since 1980. This year, there are 126.

This maintenance of the flow is not besides a news since the situation is the same for 45 years, although nobody speaks about it: in and out of the Church, the laments declinists have more success.

Those who know nothing about statistics and demography, and there are many of them, confuse the constant “flow” of arrivals with the evolution of the number of priests (annoyingly called “stock” by statisticians), in continuous decline since the number of annual ordinations was after the war about 500 and that therefore for almost two generations, the outgoing were about 500 and the incoming 100-150 per year. This deficit will disappear quite quickly, within five years, when the priests retiring or dying will come from the less numerous classes of the years 1975 and following.

Immediately after the Second World War, there was a significant number of new priests: 1028 in 1951 (which corresponds to the exit from the seminaries of all those who had been unable to enter during the war), 595 in 1960, 285 in 1970, then the fall precipitates from 1970 to 1975 (161) to lead to a stabilization which still persists today at the level that we have indicated.

These figures are debated. It’s hard to say what they include. The diocesan priests of course, but also a whole series of communities that have appeared recently: Emmanuel, the Community of Saint-Martin, the Institute of Christ the King and others. Should we also include the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X (about ten per year out of thirty who practice an “extraordinary rite”)? It seems to us that it is: even if some consider their spirituality misguided, their seminarians want to be priests according to the definition of the Church of all time and therefore bear witness, too, to the spiritual fruitfulness of the Church of France; the division of the Church is another matter. Should we include ordained religious (monks in particular)? Certainly the Christian people will not see them very much, but they are true priests, available in particular for the administration of the sacraments. Same question for the missionaries, who have become, it is true, very rare. A new category: young foreign priests ordained in France to serve abroad, however, should not be counted.

For reasons to be determined, properly diocesan priests are on the decline, especially in the last two years, but not in all dioceses. This decline rather reflects a transfer to other forms of priesthood than an absolute decline. Why are diocesan seminaries less attractive? That remains to be seen.

It will be said that 100-150 new priests per year is much less than under the Third and even the Fourth Republic. But this figure is not negligible: it is approximately that of the enarques recruited annually. The current flow which over a career of 40 years on average (except for fewer departures) corresponds to a population of 5-6000 French priests, allows the Church to be properly supervised.

Knowing whether the brutal fall of 1970-75 has something to do with the Second Vatican Council or May 68 – or simply the evolution of mores – is beyond our competence. The same period saw a significant number of defections: 2,500 from 1960 to 1980, which shows that many old-style vocations, the effect of sociological pressure, were not very solid.

The evolution of the figures also testifies to an important sociological change. The recruitment of peasants and petty bourgeois in the provinces has completely dried up. Hence the serious shortage of certain rural dioceses. There remains only a bourgeois or aristocratic (generally minor nobility), urban recruitment, which existed before 1975 but which has not dried up and which is maintained by the existence of large families in the circles concerned. 28% of new priests come from Paris and Versailles. The same environment provides most of the promotions of the School of Saint-Cyr and therefore the backbone, deemed excellent internationally, of our armies. Finally, let’s not forget about 20% of seminarians without precise sociological roots, who may come from dechristianized backgrounds and who persist year after year: effect of grace! No doubt the Church of France has changed its face. It no longer has the means for a close supervision of the populations, which, moreover, it provided only in certain regions, difficult in any case in the big cities. But the effectiveness of a priest varying much more than from 1 to 10, if these priests are saints, the fall of 1975 does not prevent a certain spiritual vitality from being maintained in our country.

No, the number of ordinations is not plummeting! – The Beige Lounge