But study shows ordination classes still not keeping pace with Catholic population
[can't let the pew-sitters get too hopeful, eh?]
WASHINGTON — This year's new crop of Roman Catholic priests in the United States averages 35 years of age and includes a large number of foreign-born priests and men who entered the seminary with college degrees, a study shows.
The survey, closely watched because of the country's well-documented priest shortage, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Researchers gathered information from 282 seminarians, or about 60 percent of the 475 candidates for the priesthood in 2007.
Although final numbers will not be available until next spring, a rise in ordinations is possible.
This year's projected class would be an increase over 431 ordinations in 2006, according to Georgetown researchers.
Even so, ordination classes remain smaller than in decades past.
[Since the start of, say, Vatican II?]
The total number of priests serving in the United States has declined 29 percent in the past 40 years, while the Catholic population has grown 40 percent. [self-declared cultural Catholics or the ones who sit in the pews every Sunday?]
Among the characteristics of the 2007 class:
•: One in three candidates for the priesthood was born outside the United States, with the largest numbers coming from Vietnam, Mexico, Poland and the Philippines.
•: Seven in 10 report their primary race as white or European-American. Asian priests are overrepresented when compared with the U.S. Asian population. The survey found that Hispanic priests are underrepresented.
•: The average age of 35 is approximately the same as in 1998, the first year for which data are available.
•: More than six in 10 completed college, and one in five had attained a graduate degree in fields such as law, medicine and education.
The surveyed seminarians included 221 men studying to serve for dioceses and 60 studying to join religious orders.
One respondent did not indicate an affiliation.