“In one generation we have to close churches”

by Lorraine Williamson
churches could close in Spain

MADRID – The diagnosis for Spanish churches is worrying: “We are almost out of priests. If nothing changes, we will have to close dozens of churches in the next ten years, especially in depopulated Spain, but also in the bigger cities”. 

The Spanish church is facing the worst numbers in its history: aspirants to the priesthood fall below 1,000. Furthermore, a quarter of them study in centres of the ‘kikos’, the most conservative wing. 

For the first time since records have been kept, the number of seminarians has dropped below 1,000, meaning that only 974 men are studying in Spanish seminaries. Of these, at least a quarter belong to the ‘Redemptorist Mater seminaries, which are administered by the Neocatechumenal Way, better known as kikos. 

Opposed to the Pope’s reforms 

“We are without priests and what is worse, those who have been formed in recent years are absolutely unwilling, if not openly opposed to the reforms of the current pope,” complains the same bishop who is investigating but wishes to remain anonymous in the article from Eldiario.es. He concludes: “We are few and increasingly conservative. And there are still people who wonder why Francisco is not coming to Spain.” 

974 Priesthood Aspirants 

The only seminaries that remain stable despite the declining number of priests in the seminaries run by bishops are the 15 ceded by the Spanish Church to the ‘kikos’. There are 974 aspirants to the priesthood. That is a very low number for a country that remains statistically predominantly Catholic. Nevertheless, the number of visitors to the mass does not reach 15% and is largely exceeded by the number of atheists and agnostics. 


Some 250 of them are trained in the Redemptorist Mater seminaries in the following areas;

  • Alcalá de Henares
  • Burgos
  • Cádiz
  • Murcia
  • Castellón
  • Córdoba
  • Granada
  • León
  • Lugo
  • Madrid
  • Orense
  • Oviedo
  • Pamplona
  • Seville
  • Vitoria

It is striking that almost all of these were founded by bishops who were closely related to the most conservative wing of the Spanish church. Many seminarians even transferred to Neocatechumenal formation centres. 

“They seek doctrinal purity, with the agreement of some bishops who see the existence of the Church in Spain today as a kind of cultural war in which certain values must be defended… As if we were heretics in diocesan seminaries,” another anonymous former says. 

Lack of Transparency of Episcopal Conference 

Moreover, there is criticism of the lack of transparency of the Conference of Bishops (CEE). Since the 2019-2020 academic year, it has stopped providing information about entry, exit or ordination by seminaries or dioceses. You have to go to the dioceses and write down the data one by one. In Madrid, one of the few dioceses to provide data, there are 84 diocesan seminarians compared to 38 Neocatechumenal. That’s almost a third. 

The Vatican is investigating the Spanish seminaries 

Pope Francis has commissioned an analysis by two Uruguayan bishops. They visited all the training centres in Spain in January and February. Despite this, the conference of bishops has not given the slightest information about the results. 

Secularisation is a problem 

The CEE tries to explain the reasons for the 40% drop in the last two decades from 1,699 to 974. And the main explanation is “the new data collection methodology, which first nominally came from the Transparency Bureau of the Episcopal Conference”. However, that agency gives only three totals: number, income, and ordinations. “We also have to take into account the secularisation that is also reflected in other statistics, such as the falling number of marriages – both civil and religious -“. 

Related post: Bishops in Spain raise more than 320 million through tax return box 

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