A new survey released this month suggests a more “pessimistic” view of the Catholic Church among U.S. priests today as compared to 2002, as well as an increasing perception of “more theologically conser-vative or orthodox” young priests as compared to their older counterparts.
A Nov. 1 report summarized findings from the 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP), which comprised 54 questions posed to 1,036 Catholic priests in the United States.
“If the major story of the SACP had to be summarized briefly it would be noticeable conservative shifts among U.S. priests over the last two decades coupled with a turn toward pessimism about the current state and trajectory of the Catholic Church in America,” write the report’s three resear-chers.
When asked about politics, the priests surveyed were significantly more likely to describe themselves as “conservative” as compared to respondents in 2002, the researchers say. In addition, the percentage of priest respondents overall who view younger priests as “much more conservative” than older priests increased from 29% in 2002 to 44% in the new survey.
To track changes in answers over time, the survey reused questions from a 2002 poll of Catholic priests conducted by the Los Angeles Times, and also a few questions from a survey of priests from 1970.
The priests were contacted in late 2020 via two unconnected email lists, one provided by the Official Catholic Directory and one provided by an unidentified “Catholic NGO.” Despite the small sample size, the authors say the results they garnered from the two email lists are “reassuringly similar,” both to each other, and to the 2002 results.
The researchers analyzed the data they collected, classifying each priest by his self-described political persuasion. They also classified the priests into “cohorts” based on their ordination year.
Brad Vermurlen, the survey’s co-author and a sociologist with the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in an article announcing the study that researchers observed a “relatively conservative cohort of priests ordained prior to 1960” followed by “more permissive or liberal men ordained to the priesthood in the 1960s and 70s.”