South Korea

South Korean Church records decline in priestly vocation

The number of newly ordained priests dropped to 87 in 2023 from 131 in 2011, a result of low birthrate, indifference to religion

UCA News reporter

Updated: February 21, 2023 12:59 PM GMT

Archbishop Peter Chung Soon-taick ordains 23 new priests at Myeongdong Cathedral in capital Seoul on Jan. 28, 2022. Korean Church data shows overall priestly vocation has declined by 35 percent over the past 12 years. (Photo: Seoul Archdiocese)

Church officials in South Korea have asked for research and education plans as Catholics in the country experience a drop in priestly ordinations amid decreasing birth rate and religiosity.

The number of newly ordained priests dropped to 87 in 2023 from 131 in 2011, a decrease of 35 percent, according to the Statistics of the Catholic Church in Korea

This year, the Jeonju Diocese had no priestly ordination as there was no candidate. The number of priests ordained in the diocese had dropped from six in 2011 to two in 2021.

The Diocese of Daejeon ordained three new priests this year, compared to 19 in 2011 and five in 2016, the data shows.

Although some dioceses saw a slight increase in priestly ordinations, the overall trend shows a decline.

Research and education plans for vocational development must be established at the parish level, and efforts such as strengthening the vocational manual and increasing the role of the vocational division of the parish must be followed, said Father John Chrysostom Lee Sang-yong, director of vocations in the Diocese of Suwon.

The priest said the most important thing is a change in consciousness among Catholics, requiring them to recognize that the development of vocations is the basic duty of all faithful.

Besides, the number of students at seminaries nationwide decreased by about 30 percent from 1,587 in 2011 to 1,137 in 2021.

During the same period, the number of students enrolled in seminaries decreased by 40 percent from 223 to 138.

The number of students admitted to Gwangju Catholic University Theological Seminary has dropped from 24 in 2013 to 13 in 2023.

The seminary trains students from the dioceses of Masan, Jeonju, Jeju, and the archdiocese of Gwangju.

Meanwhile, Daejeon Catholic University did not receive seminarians from the Diocese of Cheongju this year. In 2019, the Busan Catholic University Theological Seminary was closed due to the lack of applicants.

Father James Lee Sang-gyu, president of Daejeon Catholic University said that it was the first time that the Diocese of Cheongju did not send any student.

The priest also insisted that Catholic families should move forward to ensure their children follow the footsteps of Jesus to serve the church by becoming priests.

The vocational offices of Catholic dioceses carried out individual research on the decline of priestly vocations. Among the factors identified are low birth rate, increasing indifference to religion and faith, realism, and secularism. Increasing apathy at home toward religious education and prioritizing career success over faith are also identified as reasons for low priestly vocations.

The church data shows the number of Catholics in South Korea increased from 5,442,996 in 2013 to 5,938,045 in 2023.

However, due to the declining number of new priests, each priest needs to serve more Catholics. 

The average number of Catholics per parish priest rose from 1,174 in 2011 to 1,283 in 2021. 

South Korea recorded the lowest of 20,658 live births in October 2022, dropping by 0.4 percent in comparison to 20,749 births in October 2021, according to state-run Statistics Korea.

The agency reported the population of South Korea was 51.74 million in October 2021, a decrease of 0.2 percent (91,000 persons) from 2020.

In 2022, the elderly population aged 65 and above was 17.5 percent (9 million) of the total population, the agency's data showed. With a predicted rise of the elderly population to 25.5 percent by 2030, South Korea will become a superaged society like Japan and Italy.

About 50 percent of Koreans follow no religion and some 15 percent follow Buddhism, according to official data.

Catholic and Protestant Christians together make up about 30 percent of the population, making Christianity the most followed organized religion in the country.

This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea

Latest News
Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Lent is the season during which catechumens make their final preparations to be welcomed into the Church.
Each year during Lent, UCA News presents the stories of people who will join the Church in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The stories of how women and men who will be baptized came to believe in Christ are inspirations for all of us as we prepare to celebrate the Church's chief feast.
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
UCA News