Who is being ordained this year, both in the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and in the Diocesan cathedrals in the United States?
To study the numbers and trends in the United States Catholic Church as a whole is an exercise in keeping an eye on one end of a see-saw. Some developments seem positive. For instance, an increase of 34% in the number of priestly ordinations in 2018, compared to its lowest point in 2000 (when examining the numbers of ordinations per active U.S. parish).
Other news confirms the creeping secularism and loss of faith in the United States. 51 million American are professed Catholics. This number has been fairly steady in the past 45 years, but when compared to the population as a whole, the number is less optimistic. Further, data from the Pew Center collected between 2014 and 2017 shows a 39% attendance at weekly Mass. That’s down 10 full points from a decade earlier – and little more than half of what the percentage was in 1955.
Data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research center at Georgetown University that has conducted studies about the Catholic Church since 1964, proposes a drastically less optimistic number of weekly practicing Catholics in the year 2018 at 21.1%.
How Many Priests for How Many Faithful in the Dioceses?
That the steady practice of the Faith in America is declining does not surprise faithful Catholics. What may be more of a shocking realization is the frighteningly low number of ordinations for a flock that obviously, desperately, needs guidance.
In 2019, cathedrals throughout the United States will see the ordination of 481 men.
To see the impact of the ordinations in any given year, it may be most appropriate to compare the number of faithful (using the number of faithful who attend Mass weekly) per new ordinand.
The 481 new priests will be ministering to the 14.9 million who report weekly Mass attendance, or 1 new priest per 30,997 regularly-practicing Catholics. If we use the Pew Center’s 39% finding, which was more generous, we see the number jump to over 40,000 faithful per new ordinand.
How Can the Society of Saint Pius X Help the Church?
We turn to the numbers within the U.S. District of the SSPX. Some mechanisms must be utilized here as well, since the numbers of faithful who attend Mass at SSPX priories and mission chapels are not exact. Unlike in the dioceses, where parishioners attend their local church and belong to a parish, the SSPX chapels are more in the missionary spirit, with less hard and fast numbers.
However, in 2018, the U.S. District polled the priors of the chapels, who performed counts at Sunday Mass over several months. The District House reports numbers just shy of 25,000 faithful. Given that this is a Sunday Mass count, it would correspond to the 14.9 million number referenced above in the United States as a whole.
What then is the story of the ordinands in the U.S. District of the SSPX this year? St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Virginia has announced that five men will be anointed in June. All of these men are in their mid-20s, except one ordinand in his late 40s. This is a younger group than the 481 ordinands from the diocesan seminaries, who are in their mid-30s on average.
And each new ordinands “responsibility,” as it were? In the U.S. District this year, these numbers mean one new ordinand for every 5,000 faithful.
This is a daunting way of looking at one’s vocation, to be sure. But it is less daunting when compared to the ratio of 1 new priest for every 30,997 faithful in the dioceses of the United States.
The numbers show that something is working in the SSPX. The SSPX can be counted on to carry on the work of the restoration of Catholic society in the United States, and worldwide.