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The Incredible Shrinking Church

by James W. Bannister, B.A., LL.B.

The idea that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics” has variously been attributed to Mark Twain, Benjamin Disraeli, H.L. Mencken and other notable writers and thinkers. But this often-quoted phrase is wrong! Statistics do not of themselves lie. They are neutral. The lies and damned lies come from those who interpret the statistics.

Statistics very often speak for themselves. We do not need someone to interpret them for us. We can understand their meaning for ourselves because we know such things as norms: we know what the numbers should be, and common sense tells us when the numbers don’t make sense.

Take your body temperature, for example. You know that 98.6°F (37°C) is normal. If the thermometer reads 101°, you know there’s something wrong. If someone says, “Don’t worry about it,” you get a second opinion. Why? Because you know the doctor is, at the very least, misinterpreting the statistics. And if your temperature keeps going up, you know there’s something seriously wrong.

Now let’s consider the latest statistics, from the 2006 edition of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, on the number of priests in the American Church. The numbers don't look good. In just one year, from 2005 to 2006, the Church lost 403 diocesan priests and 642 religious priests, a total of 1045 priests gone forever. And this is the net loss, taking into account the 431 priests who were ordained last year. (Compare that number with the 994 who were ordained in 1965!) So in 2006 a total of 1476 priests either died or left the priesthood. We also lost 270 religious brothers.

Here is a table which shows the decline in numbers of priests and brothers since Vatican II.

Category 1965 2005 2006
Diocesan Priests 35,925 28,702 28,299
Religious Priests 22,707 14,137 13,495
Total: 58,632 42,839 41,794
Priestly Ordinations 994 454 431

There is only one way to interpret these statistics. We see a Church in decline! The number of people who identify themselves as Catholics is increasing, thanks in large part to immigration from south of the border. But the only increases we see in the Annuarium are in the number of parishes without a priest — 3405 in 2006 compared with 3251 the year before — and the number of lay “permanent deacons”, now nearing 16,000, who the New Church is counting on to somehow fill in for the missing priests.

Vatican II was supposed to be “the pastoral council”, which would result in a healthier and stronger Church for the “new age”. In fact the changes wrought by Vatican II are slowly but surely destroying the priestly Church.

With the number of priests declining at a rate of 2% per annum, and “permanent deacons” increasing at 8%, it is inevitable that more and more parishes will be run by deacons and lay ministers. Where then will we get the graces of the sacraments, especially Holy Mass, which can only be validly administered by a priest?

Let us pray for priests, for many priests, for many holy priests! And let us pray and work for a return to the Traditional Catholic Faith, to the days when the numbers of priests and religious were not decreasing but steadily increasing.