Changing Age Distribution and Theological Attitudes of Catholic Priests, 1970 to 1985

Hoge, Dean R.; Joseph J. Shields; and Mary Jeanne Verdieck. "Changing Age Distribution and Theological Attitudes of Catholic Priests, 1970 to 1985." Sociological Analysis 49, no. 3 (Fall 1988): 264-80.

The data upon which this study is based was supplied by 796 priests working in 28 dioceses in 1985, and was compared with projections drawn from the 1970 data. The researchers found that earlier projections over-estimated the aging of the American priesthood. More interesting are changes in theological position relative to age. The 1970 data found that the youngest and oldest priests were on many issues living in very different theological worlds, with older priests holding generally conservative views and younger priests embracing liberal or modern assumptions. The earlier study projected that these younger priests would grow more conservative with age, but the new study found that expectation unfulfilled. "Modern" young priests of the 1970s have held fast to the ideas and visions of their youth, while seminarians in the 1980s are often much more theologically conservative than their older colleagues. Finally, it was found that the overall level of priestly morale had risen significantly since 1970, and fewer priests were contemplating resignation in 1985 than 15 years earlier. While the much discussed decline in vocations which began in the 1960s continues, there is a concomitant drop in resignations, and the priests serving the church in the mid-1980s were more satisfied than their colleagues of the 1970s.