BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
HOW many priests are there in the United States? The most recent Official Catholic Directory, which gets its figures from Church sources, says there are 59,192 priests in the country; but according to reports Fr. Eugene Schallert, a Jesuit sociologist, has challenged these statistics.
After completing a six-year study of the priesthood, he said he believed that the number of active American clerics was .only 52,000 — and that the number could be as low as 44,000.
Most researchers in the United States, Fr. Schallert said, question the validity of the Directory's figures, because they did not correlate with other findings. His own study, covering the period from January 1965 to December 1970, was based on reports received by the Centre for Psychological Research from various dioceses across the country.
These reports involved about 24 per cent of the diocesan clergy, and slightly more than 50 per cent of Religious Order priests in the U.S,A. Moreover, they were representative because they came from all types of community, urban and rural, large dioceses and small.
From this large statistical sampling the Centre for Psychological Research used the Official Catholic Directory's figures as a starting point from which to calculate the number of priests in the country. According to the study, a total of 9,400 priests were ordained between 1965 and 1970, and during this period 8,500 priests died and 3.650 left the active ministry. Fr. Schallert added, however, that the figure of 3,650 included only those who formally requested that they be laicised. It was estimated that, in addition, at least one priest leaves without permission for every one who asks for a dispensation.
Even the Vatican, known to be conservative on such matters, accepted this estimate, Fr. Schallert said. The number was thus reduced by another 3,650.
From the starting point of 58.000 priests listed by the Directory for 1965, the study added 9,400 new ordinations, to increase the total to 67,400. Deaths (8,550); departures known (3,650) and calculated departures (3,650) reduced this total to 51,550 in 1970.
But Fr. Schallert said that this figure was a very conser
vative one, and that the number of priests in the U.S.A. might be as low as 44,000. For there were three other factors to be taken into consideration.
It was thought, for example —by Vatican and many American exports—that it was more realistic to estimate that for every priest who left the ministry with permission, two left without it.
Then, 3 large number of priests "on leave" during the six-year study period continued to be listed in the active ranks, though it could be shown that only about 10 per cent of them would return to the active ministry. Most of them should be subtracted from the total.
• Finally, it could be shown by the study that, for all reasons, 2.33 priests left the ministry for every one ordained. This must further have reduced the total since the study was completed.