How many priests and religious left after Vatican II and why?


Sources like journalist Matt Baglio and Cardinal Schonborn say that a lot of priests left the priesthood after Vatican II. Why did they leave?

Are there any statistics telling us what percentage of priests left?

Were they mostly younger priests or more longtime priests who left?

Are there statistics showing how many remained Catholic and how many did not?

And did Paul VI readily grant laicisations and dispensations from all three vows?

Did significant amounts leave and then return?

What about religious?


Many reasons. I would say that many thought that the perceived liberalization of VII would allow others to be more understanding of them leaving their vows and promises; some of these people frankly either didn’t understand what they were committing themselves to, or shouldn’t have been admitted in the first place. Some thought (and honestly, still do) that VII broke with 1900 years of Church teaching, and went to form their own groups based on the “true church”. Hell, you have to remember also this was during the 60s, when it was viewed as “cool” to not have any obligations or responsibility.

You can find statistics here:

Mixed bag. I would say it leaned toward younger, but I can’t find any statistics on that. Also too, remember that it’s not just priests that left, but other religious as well.

Not that I can find, but I seriously doubt there’s any way to get an accurate number on this, short of going through baptismal records of marriages done between 1964-present.

No. To do so would not only be imprudent, but highly disrespectful to the vows themselves, bordering on a perceived non-relevance.

No real way to substantiate this, other than perhaps firsthand accounts.

If you somehow manage to get dispensed from your vows (which, I’ve heard, is really rather hard to do for true religious, making public vows), only in the most extreme of cases would you be accepted back. Whether or not they left and returned to the Church, there’s really no way to keep track of this. We don’t exactly keep attendance at mass.


I run a group for former nuns (we have a former seminarian, too).

Droves of religious left after VatII. The experimentation came too quickly. Most had to make overnight changes, and this proved traumatic. First the habit, then community life, then the Mass, or vice versa.

One of the greatest detriments to the religious life was a nun getting on TV saying that because of VatII, the religious life was on par with marriage.

We were also into the birth control 60s that led to the abortion 70s.

I maintain a list of motherhouses now on the market.



This saddens me. Further proof they shouldn’t have tried fixing something that wasn’t broken. What a hard lesson it’s been.

I wish the FSSP could buy or be given those properties and open more seminaries… they’d be packed in no time.


Thank you for your reply. Would you agree too that the ones who left tended to be the younger ones? (I’d guess that the older ones would not longer be alive so they wouldn’t have been able to join your group.)

What’s the problem with the notion that religious life is on par with marriage? As far as I know, that’s always been the stance and it didn’t change with the Council.

Regarding birth control, could you clarify for us, how and why did that affect the former priests and religious? I can understand it affecting laypeople, but it shouldn’t affect those who are celibate, so what does it matter to them (except that they have to defend the stance to their flock)?

Regarding the changes to the habit, isn’t it still a perfectly valid option to use the old style? I know some Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Community, all of the same Order, and they don’t dress alike. Some dress in mufti, some wear more modern religious garb, and at least one still wears the traditional kind. It’s valid now, and I presume it was always valid. In any case, how did the habit – which I think is rather trivial – affect religious life except in terms of ambiance?

What changes to community life affected them? What did the Council do with regard to this?

Did the changes to the Mass compel them to leave Catholicism entirely? I don’t see how it would get one to leave religious life or the priesthood only for them to remain lay Catholics, because they’d still have to attend the same Mass anyway.

I wonder if Orders completely collapsed because all of their members left after the Council, and of those, were any the really ancient ones founded by saints?


I will start at the bottom of your post, and work my way up.

The Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor are one example of a group that left in droves because their superior was one of several who signed the birth control petition. Those left behind merged with other Dominican congregations to form the Dominican Sisters of Hope.

Those orders founded by saints have suffered just like any others. The way the changes were to be implemented can be found on the St. Cecilia Dominican website.

The answers were varied regarding the Mass. Most of them left because their superiors turned downright diabolical when some stated their preference not to change. One was asked if she wanted to retain her religious name or return to her baptismal name. When she said she wanted to retain her religious name, the superior became very vindictive, and made life very unbearable until she left.

Older sisters who chose to retain the habit have written a famous priest, telling him how their rights have been violated by these ‘liberal’ sisters. This is one thing that led to the Apostolic Visitation. I have also fielded complaints about the direction some of the ‘plain clothes’ sisters went, and how much it looked like the discerner’s former way of life outside the church.

Some of the former religious are “traddies”–they attend the EFM. Some didn’t have a problem with the changes in the Mass. I don’t think any of them left the church, just the religious life.

As one sister who stayed in her order said, “The Council told us to go shopping.” There was also a sister who had been charged with assisting with the change, but didn’t have the document in hand as to HOW they were to change. This contributed to the radical experimentation.

The religious life had always been seen as a higher calling than marriage. There was no incentive to enter after the changes. Social worker as lay person wearing mufti, or celibate vowed social worker in mufti with more time to pray. What’s the difference?

Most modern constitutions state that the sisters are to wear “attire appropriate to the ministry.” This could be mufti, or it could be the habit. I know some congregations put their foot down on novitiate sisters wearing the veil. Entire congregations split due to philosophical differences, especially where the habit was concerned. The Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker are one example. They split off from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.

“Sister Smile” – her name escapes me right now – said birth control “just makes sense.” More than one congregation got into trouble with the Vatican for promoting birth control. They were the nuns who were out in the streets, working with the women who didn’t seem to have an ounce of self-restraint.

Then there are the nuns who support abortion.

I would suggest reading, “Sisters in Crisis” by Ann Carey. When the Apostolic Visitation was taking place, she opened a yahoo group for the older nuns who were being victimized for working with the Visitators.



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