Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Within the Catholic Church at the present time there is a great deal of unrest with regards the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy. The purpose of this thesis was to analyze the results of the various surveys of diocesan priests on the question of compulsory clerical celibacy. Although there have been many surveys, there was a need to analyze the data from these surveys. Through this analysis it was hoped that a factual basis for serious discussion of the issue of optional celibacy could be established.

In order to put the results from the surveys in true perspective a short history of compulsory clerical celibacy within the Catholic Church was added to the review of pertinent literature. The results from the surveys were then analyzed and put into Table form so that the salient points would be highlighted.

Five major conclusions were yielded from the data of these diocesan surveys:

1. Support for Episcopal Leadership. Priests who want optional celibacy desire that the Bishops of the country take the initiative to resolve this problem. Support for change is not an indication of current rebellion against episcopal leadership but rather of substantial dissatisfaction with official attitudes towards the celibacy problem.

2. More than 7,000 Priests want Optional Celibacy. The surveys conducted in fifty-two dioceses yielded 3,666 responses favoring optional celibacy. Since the surveys reached forty-six per cent of the diocesan priests in the United States, it seemed a reasonably conservative estimate that not less than 7,000 diocesan priests want the freedom to marry.

3. Assistant Pastors Lead Support for Change. More than half of the priests who want optional celibacy (2,052) are currently assistant pastors. In practically all dioceses, whether large or small, and in all parts of the country, assistants favor the right to marry in meaningful majorities.

4. Differences Between Regions: Size of Diocese is Key Factor. The surveys show that support for optional celibacy is weak in some geographical regions and strong in others. The explanation seemed to lie in the fact that the smaller the diocese the more favorable the attitude towards optional celibacy.

5. Celibacy is not a Closed Issue. The results of the surveys do not support the view that priests have understood the Encyclical, Sacerdotalis Coelibatus, as a final word on the subject.

The survey results reported give adequate proof that clerical celibacy is an urgent problem in the American Catholic Church. As such, it was recommended that a detailed report of each diocesan survey should be sent to the National Conference of Bishops, and also that a formal presentation of the data of the surveys be made at the next meeting of the National Conference of Bishops. Finally, it was recommended that an independent study should be conducted to determine the reasons why priests are leaving the ministry.


viii, 43 leaves ; 28 cm. Bibliography: leaves [39]-40.


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