Dialogue 08


Maciej Bielawski reports from Verona, Italy on a recent study of the state of the priesthood in Poland conducted by Prof. Józef Baniak.*

There are 35,000 Catholic priests in Poland. From his research Prof. Baniak learned that fully1/3 (perhaps 50 percent) of Catholic priests abandoned the priesthood during the last 50 years. It is impossible to establish the exact numbers because of the secrecy of the church’s system.

The numbers of candidates and priests increased during the pontificate of JPII. But there is a paradox: on the one hand the number of candidates for priesthood (religious and diocesan) increased, on the other hand a greater number of priests and seminarians are leaving or being expelled. Actually only 46 to 54 percent of candidates are ordained.

Seminarians frequently have girlfriends and “are not able to control their sexual instinct.” This is an open secret that is apparent to the superiors of the seminaries who refuse to talk about it openly. Of course, “official” reports of bishops paint quite a different picture of the vocation situation.

 Most frequently priests who are leaving the priesthood do so after 5 to 10 years after ordination. Generally the reason given is because of a “woman” and the desire for family life. A large number of those who leave have led a double life and become tired of it or are pressured by a woman companion. Some priests are leaving after serving many years in parishes. It is not unusual for a priest to have several children with different women.

Baniak found that 30 percent of priests and seminarians in Poland are homosexually oriented. This is the same percentage that I have found in my studies of clergy in the United States. I have estimated that at any one time half of that percent here are sexually active. He does not estimate how many there are sexually active.

Baniak based his conclusions on interview responses of 764 of 984 diocesan and religious priests who answered his survey.

According to him the main reasons for leaving the priesthood are:


obligatory celibacy


depression caused by solitude, low self-esteem and problems with alcohol


desire to have a family—only 17.5 percent did not think about leaving the priesthood because of this desire


all listed a strong crisis of their own identity and the problems with sexual abstinence


30 percent are leaving the priesthood because of the conflict with superiors (obedience)

Dean Hoge of Catholic University has headed the most substantial sociological studies of the priesthood in the United States. Many of his observations about US priests echo Baniak’s observations, especially problems with loneliness and celibacy. (Cf. Hoge, The First Five Years of Priesthood, 2002) But he, along with other US Catholic scholars is loath to explore the problems of sexual behavior. For good reasons. Sex is a difficult subject matter to study under the best circumstances. Also, since the church labels any and all sex outside a valid marriage as sinful the territory becomes reserved for moral and biblical consideration. The bishops were forced into response by the sex abuse crisis to look at one area of sex by clergy because the behaviors were criminal. (Cf. The John Jay Report, 2004) Any other discussion of sexual activity like masturbation, sexual affairs with women or men, etc., by men who are marketed as celibate and sacred really becomes forbidden and suspect. But Baniak’s work joins a growing number of attempts to help the church face the reality of sex and celibacy—Sipe, 1990 about the US priesthood, Kotze about clergy in South Africa 1991, Rodriguez 1996 about the priests in Spain. The challenge to understand will not go away.

*(jozef.baniak@poczta.onet.pl), Uniwersity of A. Mickiewicz in Pozna´n author of books in which he analyzed the question of vocations to the priesthood and the fact of leaving it: Wierno´s´c powolaniu a kryzys tozsamo´sci kapla´nskiej. Studium socjologiczne na przykladzie Ko´sciola w Polsce, WT UAM, Pozna´n 2000, ss.350; Rezygnacja z kapla´nstwa i wybór zycia malze´nsko-rodzinnego przez ksiezy rzymsko-katolickich w Polsce. Studium socjologiczne, „Nomos", Kraków 2001, ss.355; odrebna ksiazke po´swiecilem wcze´sniej powolaniom kapla´nskim i zakonnym, zob. Dynamika powola´n kapla´nskich i zakonnych w Ko´sciele rzymskokatolickim w Polsce w latach 1900-1994, Studium socjograficzne, "Nomos", Kraków 1997, ss. 255.

Posted: 2007-02-22

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