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New data highlights the decline in Italian vocations


Philippe Lissac | GODONG

J-P Mauro - published on 11/16/21

Italy has more foreign-born priests than ever while native vocations continue to dwindle.

The number of Italian born priests, both diocesan and religious, has been steadily declining in the last 30 years. New data from 2020, provided by the Italian bishops’ conference’s Central Institute for the Support of Clergy, cited the number of foreign-born priests serving Italy at 8.3%. 

According to CNA, an uptick in foreign-born priests has been compounded by a drastic decline in the total number of priests in Italy. The data shows that since 1990, Italy has seen a 16.5% decrease in clergy members, of which 11% disappeared in the last decade. In those same three decades, the number of foreign priests rose tenfold, from 204 to 2,631.

One factor at work is the rising mortality rate. Italy has one of the oldest populations in the world, which is reflected in its clergy. Reports cite fewer than 600 Italian priests below the age of 30, which is a massive 60% drop from where it was in 2000. Of the 1,804 diocesan seminarians currently studying in Italy, only 43.3% are aged between 26 and 35 years old. 

Making matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic was responsible for an uptick in clerical deaths in 2020. CNA reports 958 priests died in Italy last year, an increase from 742 priests who died in 2019. This has contributed to the priest shortage that is currently seeing each pastor tend to an average of 1.7 parishes. At the moment there is one pastor in Italy for every 4,160 Catholics.

Speaking with Crux, Father Michele Gianola, undersecretary of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI) and director of CEI’s National Office for the Pastoral Care of Vocations, cautioned against alarm. He noted that while the numbers seem discouraging, there will need to be a closer examination of the data. He said: 

“Vocations are generated by the mother Church; at times, this generative capacity is forgotten or neglected,” he said, adding, “A Church that does not generate its pastors, that is not fruitful in lay vocations, marriages, and consecrated life, is a Church in trouble.”

Read the full report at Crux.

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