The Ongoing Decline in Priestly Vocations

Emotions ran high on the part of hundreds of Catholic parishioners who gathered recently at a meeting to learn why the archdiocese would be cutting the number of parishes in Baltimore and nearby suburbs from 61 to 21. Such meetings have become more frequent in dioceses throughout the United States and will continue to do so.

Even though most churches scheduled to be closed are financially solvent, the main reason behind the consolidations and closures is the shortage of priests. The importation of foreign priests; the ordination of married former Episcopal priests; and the acceptance of homosexual candidates for the priesthood from the U.S. and abroad, have not resulted in enough priests to staff some 16,000 dwindling parishes.

If Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo recently called for the Vatican to remove Bishop Michael Fisher, it is primarily because they are deeply upset with the closure of so many of their churches, some of which have been converted into mosques. Insofar as church closures and the consolidation of dioceses are attributed principally to the growing shortage of clergy, it would be worth identifying the following eight major causes behind the growing problem.

Increase in Homosexual Seminarians, Priests, and Bishops

One of the most controversial causes for the priest shortage is the growing percentage of homosexuals in seminaries, the presbyterate, and the episcopacy. A 2012 psychological study of “actively ministering or retired priests” in the U.S. revealed that only 26.9% of the priests identified themselves as heterosexuals; 67.3% self-identified as gay/homosexual; and 5.8% reported that they were bisexual. This study, viewed in relation to previous studies, shows how the percentage of gay clergy has risen considerably over the past decades.

In a growing number of dioceses such as the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Patterson, priests that bishops tap to serve as Vocations Directors themselves have track records of either allegedly being homosexuals who abused seminarians under their supervision or using the application process to groom applicants and pipeline fellow gays into seminaries.  Prospective applicants and their families are scandalized when they learn that their diocese’s Vocations Director may be “preying on” rather than “praying for” vocations.

Bishops, particularly those with a homosexual orientation, need to examine the impact their recruitment of homosexual candidates has had on the recruitment and retention of heterosexual seminarians and priests.  Recent studies confirm many of the conclusions drawn over two decades ago by Father Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector and author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood.  Cozzens believed the priesthood was becoming a “gay profession.” He showed how many heterosexual seminarians and priests were being sexually propositioned; silenced by heterophobic bishops and pastors who did not want to be outed; and passed over for promotions while gay priests were climbing the ladder in exchange for covering up or even sexually indulging their bishops.

The “Normalization” of Homosexual Behavior

A seminary study published in April 2021 by Avner Senor and Rohit Ticku revealed pitfalls bishops face when they rely upon homosexual candidates to inflate the number of priestly vocations in their dioceses. The researchers found that states that began legalizing same-sex marriages saw a drop in Catholic seminary enrollment by approximately 15 percent, a plunge not seen in states that had not yet implemented such legislation.  The study attributes this outcome in part to how an overwhelming majority of clerics has historically used the Catholic priesthood as a cover for closeted homosexual lifestyles.

Father Richard P. McBrien, quoted in the 2021 study, wrote in 1987 that “… in a society where homosexuality continues to be stigmatized, the celibate priesthood can offer an esteemed and rewarding profession which … excites neither curiosity nor suspicion.” Increased societal acceptance of homosexual behavior has since opened new doors for homosexuals to pursue their lifestyles apart from the priesthood. While the priesthood is on track to maintain its reputation as a “gay profession” owing to the percentage of homosexual bishops, priests, and seminarians who continue to far outpace the percentage of heterosexuals, dioceses who depend upon homosexuals to fill parishes and chancery offices may see continued declines in the number of both heterosexual and homosexual seminarians being ordained.

Sexual Abuse Crisis 

The sexual abuse crisis, particularly in the United States, Ireland, and Germany, has not only had a negative impact on Sunday Mass attendance, but it has also seriously damaged the image of priests. When a young man or woman appears in public wearing a Marine Corps dress blue uniform, he or she often does so with a great sense of personal pride.  Unfortunately, the abuse perpetrated by 10%-25% percent of priests and covered up by many bishops has robbed priests today of any pride they might have in wearing their Roman collars in public and being identified as Catholic priests.  Independent investigations are also showing that new seminarians and priests are increasingly more likely to share a rectory with a pastor who, despite being accused of sexual misconduct, has been left in active ministry.

Orthodox Churches and Catholic Eastern Rite Eparchies that allow their priests to marry have not been plagued with sex abuse lawsuits, over 80 percent of which have involved the homosexual predation of young men and post-pubescent boys.  Interestingly, because Eastern Rite Catholic bishops in the United States until recently were forced to require celibacy of their clergy in keeping with the papal decrees Ea Semper (1907) and Cum Data Fuerit (1929), they have had to deal with the same incidence of sex abuse as their Roman Catholic counterparts, unlike Eastern Rite Eparchies in countries that did not prohibit Eastern Rite priests from marrying.

Compromised and Scandalous Church Leadership

Candidates who discern a priestly vocation for genuine reasons rather than as a place to “stay in the closet” are increasingly becoming scandalized by a disconnect between what Christ preached and what some Church leaders are teaching.  Heterosexual applicants who cannot see themselves blessing homosexual couples in accord with Fiducia Supplicans or who do not share the majority of U.S. bishops’ allegiance to pro-abortion politicians are led to believe that the priesthood today may actually not be the best way to be an “alter Christus.” This observation has led some seminarians to quip, “If Jesus were to apply to a seminary today, would He be accepted?”

If some dioceses like Altoona-Johnstown do not have even one seminarian in formation today, might it be because devout, properly motivated young men may not want to dedicate their lives to an institution they perceive to be ethically compromised and lacking in moral credibility?

Surge in the Number of “Canceled” Seminarians and Priests

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of seminarians and priests who experienced retaliation by their bishops either because they were sexually abused or because they spoke out against sexual abuse. This trend has been on the rise in numerous places like the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome where multiple seminarians confirm in sworn statements that they were sexually harassed and later ousted by predatory NAC superiors who feared exposure; Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, New York, where current Vocations Director, Father George Sears, reportedly serially sexually assaulted and later dismissed a seminarian after he filed a criminal police report against him; and recently closed Christ the King Seminary near Buffalo, New York, where former seminarian Matthew Bojanowski resigned after he was reprised against for reporting sexual harassment by his spiritual director, and former dean of seminarians Stephen Parisi resigned after experiencing a climate of ‘continual cover-up of sex abuse” fostered by accused predator rector, Father Joseph Gatto.  These institutions join a growing list of over 40 seminaries and dioceses where sexual misconduct and retaliation have driven out truly talented and devout seminarians.

Bishops’ endorsed propaganda outlets like Catholic News Agency (CNA) enable the hemorrhage of straight seminarians by publishing inflated statistics about scandal-rocked seminaries.  For instance, while CNA claimed following the exposure of sex abuse on the part of NAC leadership that the number of seminarians and graduate priests at the Rome seminary was “more than 200,” evidence shows that enrollment has actually plunged to less than 90 seminarians from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  The truth is that CNA is misrepresenting the NAC’s spiraling enrollment by a more than 60% margin, a nosedive which continues to this day.

Whistleblower priests whose vocations were ended because they spoke the truth about sexual cover-ups include Washington Father Michael Briese; Richmond Father Mark White; Chicago Father Paul Kalchik; La Crosse Father James Altman; Buffalo Father Ryszard Biernat; San Antonio Father Clay Hunt; Gaylord Father Matthew Cowan; and countless others.  Seeing the bishop’s “zero tolerance” for abuse victims, many heterosexual seminarians have abandoned their interest in the priesthood knowing that they too will likely be ousted, defamed, silenced, and even evicted from their rectories by the significant numbers of gays among the clergy who vindictively keep their sex lives covered up.

Decline in Participation at Mass

Another cause for the decrease in seminarians and priests is the decline in Mass attendance that has occurred over the past three decades. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, nearly 75 percent of U.S. Catholics attended Mass each week.

The percentage of US Catholics attending Mass today is considerably lower than it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the number of ordinations to the priesthood was higher than at any other period in the history of the US. A 2023 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) revealed that the percentage of US Catholics who attend Mass weekly has fallen to 17%. The country reporting the highest percentage of Catholic Mass attendance is Nigeria at 94%.

While 112,832,144 Americans said they were Catholic at one point in their life, only 73,224,000 now self-identify as Catholic. That 39,608,144 decrease represents a 35.1% loss making former Catholics the second largest religious group in the United States – three times larger than the largest U.S. Protestant denomination – the Southern Baptist Convention whose membership in 2022 was recorded around 13.2 million.

As many young people today are growing up in homes where they do not attend Mass on Sundays, it follows that they may not think of becoming priests and celebrating the Eucharist.

Lack of Priest Encouragement

A seventh cause for the priest shortage is the lack of encouragement from priests themselves. Today, most priests do not have parochial vicars to help them when they are older. More frequently today they find themselves “home alone” pastoring large congregations or even multiple parishes. It is no wonder that more and more priests are seeking to retire in their 60s rather than dropping dead before they reach the mandatory retirement ages of 70 or 75.  Given the problems of stress, loneliness, and physical exhaustion that priests face today, it is not surprising that some priests are reluctant to encourage young men to enter the priesthood.

While some older heterosexually oriented priests may be hesitant to recruit young men to a vocation that is becoming overrun by their heterophobic gay counterparts, closeted homosexual priests often enjoy the company of other homosexual priests and are more inclined to encourage other gay men to become priests especially if they find themselves physically and/or emotionally attracted to them.

Ecclesiastically Mandated Celibacy

One of the most discussed causes for the priest shortage is the obligation of celibacy, a sacrifice not mandated by Christ; a discipline implemented in the early 12th century; and a practice not deemed absolutely necessary by most laity and clergy.

The late Dean Hoge of the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America conducted an extensive study in which he concluded there would be a fourfold increase in seminary applications if celibacy were no longer required.

Just as Church leaders hid the large numbers of gay priests who were dying of AIDS, so too do they intentionally fail to inform the laity that at any one time, no more than 45% to 50% of priests practice celibacy. When Cardinal Jose Sanchez, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy responsible for overseeing matters regarding priests and deacons, was asked about the high celibacy failure rate, he said, “I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures.

Church leaders have gone out of their way to conceal the amount of gay sex that has been reported in seminaries, dioceses, and orders. Instead of disciplining homosexual priests who are reported for harassing, drugging, and raping both heterosexually and homosexually oriented seminarians,  their crimes are often covered up while the victims are often dismissed or suspended as happened in the case of Father Ryszard Biernat of the Buffalo Diocese, Karl Discher and Wieslaw Walawender of the Baltimore Archdiocese, Timothy Passow of the Brooklyn Oratory, Joshua Metcalf of the Eparchy of Stamford, and countless others.

When the church ran out of nuns to staff its parochial schools in the United States, it had the choice of closing the schools or hiring qualified lay teachers. Likewise, the church must decide to either consolidate dioceses and churches or staff them with qualified alternatives to celibate men – most of whom studies show do not even practice celibacy today. In light of the current “graying and gaying” of the priesthood owing in part to heterosexually oriented priests being required to forgo having a wife and children while gay priests are reported to engage in orgies and are even being buried together, one should expect a continued decline in Catholic clergy; more parish closures; and dioceses being consolidated as is happening today in Ireland and other countries with shrinking Catholic populations.

Gene Thomas Gomulka is a sexual abuse victims’ advocate, investigative reporter, and screenwriter. A former Navy (O6) Captain/Chaplain, seminary instructor, and diocesan respect life director, Gomulka was ordained a priest for the Altoona-Johnstown diocese and later made a Prelate of Honor (Monsignor) by St. John Paul II.  Follow Gene Gomulka on YouTube or email him at