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Student Loan Crisis Fueling Clergy Shortages


The student loan crisis has slowed down our economy and trapped young and old alike in vicious cycles of debt, but it may also be fueling the decline of institutional religion in America. The Atlantic has a mostly thoughtful and interesting piece profiling millennials who have decided to become Catholic priests or nuns, exploring their motivations and stories. But buried in the article is an arresting paragraph on one of the big obstacles preventing some millennials from signing up for seminary:

No matter how traditional their lives become, however, these millennials still have millennial problems. For example, aspiring priests, nuns, and religious brothers and sisters increasingly face one of the great worries of their generation: student loans. In a 2012 survey, a third of religious orders and institutes reported that at least some people who had seriously considered joining their ranks decided not to apply because of educational debt. A fifth of those organizations reported financial strain from the debt of current or prospective members, and most shockingly, 70 percent of the organizations reported that they had turned away serious applicants because of their student loans.

Given the close relationship between abundant clergy and the Church’s ability to fulfill its various missions to care for the poor and minister to people’s spiritual needs, the vocations crisis is one serious reason for the institutional decline of the Catholic Church. Insofar as student indebtedness is contributing to the vocations crisis, we can now add Christianity’s institutional vitality to the list of victims claimed by the skyrocketing cost of education. American religion is already confronted by a wide array of thorny challenges; the last thing it needs is the student loan costs reducing its ranks of qualified clergy.

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