Young Catholic Priests In America Are More Conservative Than Older Generations, New Study Finds

By Kate Anderson

A recent study from the Austin Institute (AI), a research group at the University of Texas, showed newer generations of Catholic priests are more likely to be conservative than their older counterparts, despite the leadership of Pope Francis and the Vatican becoming more liberal in recent years.

The study was based on a similar survey from the Los Angeles Times in 2002 that found younger priests were noticeably more conservative and showed that as the age of the priests increased they were likely to identify with a more progressive approach. AI’s study found that among issues like abortion, younger priests still condemned the practice at a high rate in comparison to other issues.

Priests ordained after 2010 expressed concern regarding the direction Francis is taking the Catholic church.

“In the latest cohort of priests, ordained in 2010 or later, only 20.0 percent ‘approve strongly’ of Pope Francis and nearly half (49.8 percent) disapprove, whether ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly,’” the study pointed out. “Evidence from other survey items suggests this pattern is attributable to the relative conservatism of the recent cohorts.”

Pope Francis became the first Vatican pope to endorse same-sex civil unions in 2021 and in August, he selected then-Bishop Robert McElroy for the position of cardinal. McElroy has voiced support for same-sex marriage and female roles in the clergy, and has denounced Archbishop of the San Francisco Archdiocese Salvatore Cordileone for denying communion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her support of abortion.

AI’s survey concluded that there was a “notable conservative shift on ecclesial matters” in comparison to the Time’s survey in 2002.

“[P]riests in the more recent survey were, on average, less in favor of female deacons, less in favor of ordaining women as priests, and less favorable toward married priests compared to the 2002 Times sample,” the study stated. “Likewise, when asked about politics, priests in the recent samples were significantly more likely to describe themselves as conservative compared to 2002.”

Pope Francis speaks as he leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, October 14, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
Pope Francis speaks as he leads the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican, October 14, 2015.

Conservative priests were more likely to believe that Jesus was the sole way to salvation at 82% but only 19% of more progressive priests supported this view, according to the study. The average age of new priests that joined the clergy since 1992 is around 37, as opposed to the 1970s when new priests were on average 27.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Austin Institute did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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