It’s a terrible state in our Church today that 50%—yes, fifty percent—of our parishes report rates of church attendance below the median.
It’s also true by definition that fifty percent fall below the median because the median of any data set is the exact middle, meaning that I could have said anything and it would have been true! Fifty percent of our children fall below the median reading level! Fifty percent of NFL teams fall below the median in ticket sales! Fifty percent of dogs fall below the median level of treats received in a day.
Now that last one is tragic…
My point in using this bizarre example is to show that statistics do not speak for themselves. Taken out of context, selectively presented, or intentionally deceptive—as in my attempt to confuse you with the word “median”—a bit of information may be factually correct and yet at the same time very misleading.
Such is the case with the priest shortage crisis. For years we have heard statistics telling us that the total number of priests is considerably lower than needed, that seminaries are emptier than they were in 1975, and that more parishes than ever are being run without a resident priest. And in themselves, these statistics are factually true. Thanks to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the Catholic Church can quickly and accurately quote any amount of precise numbers about the shape of the Church across time.
The problem is that these numbered are not often placed within their appropriate context meaning that they do not necessarily convey the correct meaning. Too often, as we see in politics and advertising, these numbers can be used incorrectly, in a misleading fashion, or simply reported incorrectly, giving the impression that something is better or worse than it seems. For years we have known that there is a crisis on our hands, and yet, for years many have perpetuated misleading or false statements about what that crisis actually is.
In this week’s video, found here for email subscribers, I try to dispel five myths about the priest shortage crisis, putting commonly held statistics and beliefs within their appropriate contexts.
It’s important to note my intention in making this video. I by no means am trying to mitigate the issue or gloss over its effects. Despite trying to break down these myths, I am not trying to say that there is no crisis. There definitely is. The issue, for me, is to make sure we truly understand what that issue is.
Thanks Casey for the excellent statistical explanation of vocations at this time. You certainly have cleared up the situation in my mind. We are so lucky to have men like you studying for the priesthood.
I shared this in a few Catholic groups on Facebook yesterday. One of the comments was, “Then how come we have such a shortage here where I am?” and the other was, “False narrative.” Since you touched on the differences between specific locations, I’m guessing that was a “Headline-only reader” — the person who reads the headline and disagrees with phantom strawmen. The other wants to blame everything wrong with the world on Vatican II. So no wonder these myths persist!