"We need to dig further into the data, and get at those reasons, but I think this will be a wake up call for a lot of bishops," Berg told CNA. "It seems our newly ordained priests are landing in unexpectedly adverse environments in their respective dioceses. The report tells us in clear language that we need to do a much better job of accompanying and supporting our newly ordained priests in their first years of ministry."
While the study did not explicitly ask the priests about many personal problems, according to Berg a "low but consistent" percentage of recently ordained priests across dioceses experience a major crisis such as depression, alcohol dependency or other addiction, or entering a sexual relationship. Such a crisis might help lead them to abandon the priesthood.
"It was the desire to get at the causes of this phenomenon that occasioned the study," Berg told CNA.
The reports said that when new priests are asked their largest problems on a daily basis, they "express their greatest frustration with their diocese and fellow priests."
For 20% of respondents, differences among different age cohorts of priests are "very much" a problem, with another 26% indicating this was "somewhat" a problem. Another 20% named theological differences in the concept of the priesthood among fellow priests as a significant problem, with another 24% saying it was somewhat a problem. About 17% of respondents named feeling a lack of input into diocese-level decision-making processes to be a large problem.
A significant minority of respondents thought they had been assigned too many ministries and duties or were so busy they could not meet people's pastoral needs. Ministering at more than one parish was a problem for some. They said there was not as much fraternal support among priests as they would like, and the "loneliness of priestly life" was a problem. Some 30% of respondents thought that "unrealistic demands and expectations of lay people" were a problem, though about half as many said actual conflicts with parishioners or lay people were problematic.
Some 4% said living a life of celibacy or chastity was "very much" a problem, with about 14% saying this was "somewhat" a problem. About 2% said that "resolving any personal psycho-sexual issues" was very much a problem, and 9% said it was somewhat a problem.
Some 10% of respondents said that "differences among priests with different sexual orientations in your diocese" was very much a problem, while about 13% said this was somewhat a problem.
"Being expected to represent Church teachings you have difficulty with" was "very much" a problem for 2% or respondents, and "somewhat" a problem for about 5%.
About one percent said feeling comfortable ministering to women was very much a problem for them.
The new priests were asked whether they would choose the same path, knowing what they know now, and they were overwhelmingly positive. 80% of respondents said they would "definitely" enter the priesthood again. Another 16% said they "probably" would. One percent said they would definitely not enter the priesthood again if they had the choice, and 4% said they probably would not.
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The survey asked the new priests to consider their own future in the priesthood. A large majority, 76%, said they will definitely not leave the priesthood, and 18% said they probably will not. However, 5% expressed uncertainty about whether they would continue to exercise their priesthood.
Asked if they have ever thought about leaving the priesthood, about 40% cited "celibacy and the loneliness of the priestly life" as a reason they have considered leaving.
"The next most frequently cited reasons are frustration with their diocese, religious institute, bishop or superior and the disappointment they feel in regards to their current ministries," the report said.
Some 79% know someone who left active ministry or the priesthood within five years of ordination. The respondents hypothesized that the reasons for this were "disillusionment with the actual life of ministry, loneliness, meeting someone they would like to be their romantic partner or to marry, and their desire to look for a romantic partner."
Among all survey respondents, the priests tended to report being very satisfied in the respect they receive as members of the clergy from lay persons, their present financial situation, and their present living situation. They were least likely to report satisfaction in balancing work, personal and spiritual lives and in their training for administrative matters such as budgeting and managing staff.
The clergy sexual abuse scandals have "greatly" hindered the ministry of about 16% of respondents, while 64% said the scandals have "slightly" hindered their ministry.