Spanish seminaries continue to suffer a downward trend in enrollment. According to official data from the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, in the 2022-2023 academic year the total number of aspirants to the priesthood is fewer than a thousand for the first time in 21 years, since records were first kept on a national level.
Every March 19 on the solemnity of St. Joseph, the Catholic Church in Spain observes Seminary Day and the bishops’ conference provides data on seminary enrollment. In the current 2022-2023 academic year there are 974 candidates for the diocesan priesthood.
The number of young men entering the seminary has also fallen for the first time below 200, at 172, and ordinations were fewer than 100, at 97.
These are significant figures, although for years there has been a downward trend. There were close to 1,700 seminarians in the 2002-2003 academic year, when more than 350 men entered and almost 200 were ordained.
Already in the 2016-2017 academic year, the number of aspirants to the priesthood fell for the first time below 1,300, and in the 2018-2019 academic year there were only 1,203.
The bishops’ subcommittee for seminaries said that the drop in the number of 54 seminarians compared with the 2021-2022 academic year “is explained, among other things, by the new methodology in data collection and was the responsibility of the Office of Transparency of the Episcopal Conference.”
Other factors cited affecting the number of seminarians include “secularization and lack of commitment on the part of not a few young people, which are also reflected in other statistical data, such as the decreasing number of marriages, both civil and ecclesiastical.”
In addition, Spain has a very serious demographic problem with fewer and fewer children being born and the population aging more and more.
Despite the decrease in numbers, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference encouraged the faithful “to be grateful that a significant number of young people live committed to searching for the will of God, who invites us to embrace a beautiful vocation in his Church.”
Given the serious import of the data, the conference launched the Vocational Pastoral Service in September 2022, which reports to the General Secretariat and whose objective is “to create in our pilgrim Church in Spain a vocational culture that helps children, young people, and adults to consider their vocation.”
For five years the Spanish Bishops’ Conference has not offered data broken down by diocese.