Young conservative clergy a cause for concern

priests divided over Pope

A new survey of US priests has found that they are pessimistic on their views of the church.

The survey found that younger clergy tend to be more conservative than their elders on many issues.

“We find strong empirical confirmation of the nearly ubiquitous perception that younger priests are more orthodox in their beliefs than older priests,” the authors state in the abstract.

“Additionally, we find a significant turn toward pessimism regarding the current state and trajectory of the Church.”

The 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP) was released this week by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University.

The survey features responses from 1,036 priests who answered 54 questions. The results were compared to answers of several surveys going back to 1970.

Some questions were drawn from the 2002 LA Times survey of Catholic priests. The authors also looked at Andrew Greeley’s 1970 survey, and consulted other studies in related fields such as moral psychology.

For example, among priests ordained in the 1970s, 56% said that abortion is “always a sin”, while 69.7% agreed in the 2002 LA Times survey. This figure has risen to 89.5% of priests ordained in 2010.

Respondents were asked the degree to which they agree or disagree with this statement: “The sole path to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ.”

The percentage of priests who strongly agree or strongly disagree with the statement about the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ correlates with their political self-identification as conservative or liberal.

Eighty-two percent of priests who self-identify as “very conservative” politically agreed strongly with the statement. In contrast, only 19% of those who self-identify as “very liberal” do so.

Similarly, 39% of “very liberal” priests disagreed strongly with the statement, while next to zero of “very conservative” priests disagreed with it.

The survey highlighted that priests are divided over the performance of Pope Francis. There was a strong correlation between political beliefs and their perception of the Holy Father.

Overall, 53.4% strongly approve of the job Pope Francis is doing, and another 22.8% approve “somewhat.” But the authors state:

“Among priests who describe their politics as “very conservative”, 68.9% disapprove of Pope Francis, whether “somewhat” or “strongly”.

However, not a single priest in the dataset who describes himself as liberal on politics disapproves of the job Pope Francis is doing”.

The report indicated an increased pessimism about the state of the church among the clergy, with 51.3% saying it is “not so good,” a sentiment shared by only 33.9% of clergy in the 2002 survey.

Additionally, 47.7% indicate they think the church’s situation is getting worse, compared to only 28.3% who thought that in 2002. Only 16.1% of clergy today think the state of the church is getting better. The years of clergy sex abuse scandals may have taken their toll on those responding to the survey.

Other parts of the study are reassuring with 62% of clergy reporting they are very satisfied with life, although it is down 10 points from the 2002 LA Times survey. Additionally, 91.6% say they are “very unlikely” to resign from the priesthood, a number that has risen from the 2002 survey.


National Catholic Reporter

America Magazine


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