Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Verónica Giménez Béliveau, Professor, Religion and Society , University of Buenos Aires

Priests are Catholicism’s greatest figures: shepherds who manage believers’ relationship with the divine.

But, as Pope Francis recently acknolwedged[1], their numbers are dwindling. In fact, the number of priests worldwide has been dropping since the 1930s.

In Argentina, a predominantly Catholic country, the Church lost 23 percent of its priests and nuns[2] from 1960 to 2013. France[3] and Spain[4] have also seen a dramatic reduction in clergy. Across Europe, the number of priests declined almost 4 percent[5] between 2012 and 2015 alone.

Why is the church “hemorrhaging” priests, to use Pope Francis’s words? I study Catholic history[6], so I have long considered this question.

Why are there fewer priests?

The demands of the job are a killer combination in today’s world.

Between strict restrictions on sexuality and the loss of priests’ social status, there are ever fewer seminary students. Consequently, fewer men become priests, particularly in remote parts of the world. In the Amazon region[7], there is one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.

Responding to this challenge, Pope Francis in 2017 suggested that the Church might allow married men to be ordained[8]. Many Church officials[9] believe the requirement of celibacy is the main reason fewer men are joining the priesthood.

The pope’s statements are not aimed at undoing an historic pillar of the sacred institution of the priesthood[10].

Rather, Pope Francis has simply suggested that the Church consider some exceptions. Among other changes, the pontiff has indicated that married Catholic men could assume certain church duties in far-flung regions, invoking the figure of the “viri probati” – or men of unquestionable faith, virtue and obedience.

Why the Catholic church is 'hemorrhaging' priests The decline in the number of new priests is particularly acute in remote areas of the world. Remo Casilli/Reuters

More men of the cloth

In other words, the pope has suggested filling the gaps in the priesthood with something markedly similar to an existing institution, the diaconate[11].

Also known as “deacons,” these men complete a two- to four-year course and are ordained to assist priests and bishops. They can baptize, marry, preach and administer the Eucharist, but they cannot take confession.

Though the concept is as old as Christianity itself – the Church traces it to the apostles[12] – the diaconate has garnered renewed interest in recent years as priests have become scarce.

Invite women into the ministry

Deacons don’t have to remain chaste. However, like the priesthood, this ministry does not allow women.

So, in August 2016, at the request of the Synod of Bishops, the highest Catholic decision-making body, Pope Francis established a commission to study female deacons[13]. Ordained female deacons supporting an all-male ministry would not entirely fulfill progressive Catholics’ demands to allow women in the priesthood[14], but it has calmed some anxiety and indicated a potential path forward.

It might also ease some of the priesthood’s staffing shortages.


  1. ^ as Pope Francis recently acknolwedged (
  2. ^ 23 percent of its priests and nuns (
  3. ^ France (
  4. ^ Spain (
  5. ^ declined almost 4 percent (
  6. ^ Catholic history (
  7. ^ In the Amazon region (
  8. ^ allow married men to be ordained (
  9. ^ Church officials (
  10. ^ sacred institution of the priesthood (
  11. ^ diaconate (
  12. ^ traces it to the apostles (
  13. ^ a commission to study female deacons (
  14. ^ allow women in the priesthood (

Authors: Verónica Giménez Béliveau, Professor, Religion and Society , University of Buenos Aires

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Business News

Marketing Impact of Having Online Product Reviews

Whether they are searching online for a service or a specific product, in many cases customers tend to look for online product reviews. They often want to make a comparison to other products or simply...



HOW TO PREPARE FOR RETIREMENT: Finding and Living Your “It”

The name of my Woburn, MA financial services firm is Summit Financial Partners for a very good reason – because the clients I work with have either reached their retirement summit (i.e. they’re ready ...

How to build a distinctive Brand Voice

Nearly four decades ago, I made a presentation that captured considerable attention in the marketing community. The subject was ‘Brand Voice.’ The concept is widely used today by branding profess...


AdRoll, the growth platform for ambitious commerce businesses, has today announced an exciting new phase in the evolution of the AdRoll brand for its 37,000 customers worldwide. Recognising its uniq...

Global Shop Solutions Customer Load King Goes Live with Manufacturing Factory of the Future

THE WOODLANDS, TX, February 22, 2018 – After nearly 9 months of preparation, Load King, a world leader in store fixture manufacturing, has successfully finished their manufacturing factory of the fu...