Priest Ordination In South Korea. Photo: Archdiocese of Seoul

This Is the Vocational Decline in Europe in 2023

If this trend is confirmed, the number of ordinations of diocesan priests will have decreased by 50% in two decades — an unheard of fact.

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 23.08.2023).- The downward trend in the clergy and in vocations in Europe continues downward. There were 88 ordinations in France in 2023, compared with 122 ordained men in 2022. In Germany, 33 new diocesan priests were ordained in 2022. Diocesan resident priests in Switzerland have been cut in half over the last 70 years. In Spain, there were only 97 priestly Ordinations in 2022. 

The Episcopal Conference of France published the figures and admits the decrease. “It forms part of a continuous downward trend in vocations in the Church, witnessed for 20 years, which many sociologists of religions have documented. “ 

Some one hundred diocesan priests were ordained every year between 2000 and 2010. In 2022, only 52 were ordained, in addition to 36 men religious. The sum of 88 new priests in France is an unprecedented decrease. 

As early as 1961, the National Vocations Center’s Review reported the most serious crisis in 150 years, as the number of ordinations of diocesan priests, between 1951 and 1960, was reduced in France from 1,028 to 595 ordinations a year. 

Le Figaro reported the comments of Jean-Marie Guénois, its expert on Vatican topics: “Recently, important Seminaries have closed in Lille and Bordeaux. Seven years of formation are needed to mature a vocation, with a rate of loss of one out of every two candidates. The Paris diocese has also begun to tremble: in September 2022 only four candidates presented themselves for the first Seminary year. And only five priests will be ordained this June 24 in the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. There were 10 in 2022 and 12 in 2021.”

Priest Ordination

Jean-Marie Guénois notes another fact: “This vocations crisis isn’t only French but European. It’s very notable in Poland and Italy, which has  begun to worry the Vatican. North America isn’t spared and neither is Latin America. If this trend is confirmed, the number of ordinations of diocesan priests will have decreased by 50% in two decades. An unheard of fact, although we have to wait to confirm the sustainability. However, it’s very probable, given that the entries to Seminaries are increasingly rare.”

On June 24, Switzerland’s Pastoral Sociology Institute pointed out to “Since 1950, the number of resident diocesan priests in Switzerland has been reduced by half. It has decreased by a quarter since the change of the century; however, the differences between the dioceses are notable. The decline was particularly marked in the dioceses of Saint Gallen, Basel, Sion and Lausanne-Geneva-Fribourg, whereas it was less notorious in the dioceses of Chur and Lugano, especially during the last two decades. In 1950, the Swiss dioceses had 2,986 priests. In 2022 they are 1,294.”

In The New Daily Compass issue of June 16, 2023, Luisella Scrosari commented on the practice of activities proper to priests, which at present are exercised by the laity, such as preaching, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, which substitutes the Mass, Baptisms, the celebration of marriages. The laity’s action compensates for the lack of priests in Switzerland, but it doesn’t resolve the lack of ordained ministers. 

The Vera Fides Association reaffirms the situation: “The most affected dioceses by this phenomenon are Basel, Chur and Saint Gallen. The first has even been taken as a model by the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany, where petitions are being debated at present, that have already been implemented for ten years in the diocese of Basel. All this causes a huge loss of faith in this diocese and many people have left the Church. Almost half of Basel’s parishes no longer have Sunday Mass, but a Celebration of the Word with the distribution of Communion.” 

In Germany, the number of diocesan priests ordained every year also shows a clear downward trend. In 2022, there were 33 new priests in the whole of Germany, according to the German Episcopal Conference’s Report, not counting the ordination of men religious. 

Ten dioceses, of the 27 that exist in Germany, had no Ordinations. The Archdiocese of Cologne and the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart had the greatest number of ordinations: each one had four new priests.

The Synodal Way undertaken by the German Church isn’t regarded as a good way to recover priestly vocations as advertised, as a Church without an increase of priests reflects serious decadence.

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Rafael Llanes

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