Switzerland: Diocesan Priests on an Inexorable Decline?

February 03, 2012
eglise_vide_2The Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology just published a study entitled: Diocesan Priests in Switzerland: Prognoses, Interpretations, Perspectives (ed. SPI).  In answer to an ever more insistent worry – the evolution of the number of diocesan priests – the Institute proposed “a prognosis and statistical projections for 2029” for the six Swiss dioceses.  “Unquestionably, since the last few decades, fewer and fewer men are ordained priests in our latitudes and the number of priests has obviously dropped,” explains Roger Husistein, one of the Institute’s scientific collaborators. The work presents first of all the evolution of ordinations in Switzerland over the past few decades, and that of religious practice, in parallel with the statistics in other countries, and it offers numbers for the future.  It then goes on to present an interpretation of the situation by several representatives of the Swiss Catholic Church. Since 1970, the number of diocesan priests incardinated in the Swiss bishoprics has diminished by more than half.  In 2029, according to Arnd Bünker’s and Roger Husistein’s analysis, there will most likely be 37% fewer priests than today, that is, 50% fewer than in 1991.  Over the last ten years, there have been 143 ordinations and over 500 deaths: in other words, one priest is ordained when three die.  At the end of the year 2009, the pyramid of the priests’ ages revealed an average age of 65 years.  The dioceses of Sion, Coire and Lugano are remarkable for their important number of relatively young priests.  Nonetheless, if the curve continues, there will only remain 36 priests under the age of 65 in the Valais in 2029. This dizzying decline in vocations cannot be “a phenomenon born of a single cause,” claims Roger Husistein.  “The changes in society are reflected in a strong decline of religious practice, in a growing religious illiteracy, and in a secularization of society which causes the normative authority of the Churches to fade,” he continues, pointing out that “another characteristic of the crumbling of the ecclesiastical milieu is the tendency towards the elimination of denominations in the great Churches of Switzerland.  In the ecumenical movement, since Vatican II, what is emphasized is the common Christian trunk.”  According to the Valaisian newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, the study also shows that Vatican II emphasized the episcopal ministry and gave the layman a place that turned the priest “into a sort of vagabond.” Among the analyses presented in the study realized by the Swiss Institute of Pastoral Sociology, that of Bishop Martin Werlen, Father Abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Einsiedeln, shows that the responsibility for the faithful’s desertion lies above all on the shoulders of the leaders of the Church, incapable of looking reality in the face and confronting their own deficiencies. (sources: spi/letemps/nouvelliste – DICI#249, Feb 3, 2012) You can also read : Switzerland: The Swiss bishops face reduced revenue for the Catholic Church Switzerland: Priests Have Diminished by Half since 1970 Switzerland: Between 25,000 and 30,000 “leave” the Catholic church in 2010