How the survey was done
From Oct. 15 through Oct. 21, 1999, The Kansas City Star mailed a survey to 3,013 priests randomly selected from a list in the 1999 edition of The Official Catholic Directory. Surveys were sent to priests in all 50 states and all but one diocese in the country.
The Star received responses from 801 priests through December 1999, a response rate of 27 percent.
Given the sample size, the poll's margin of error is 3.5 percentage points, meaning that if the same poll were conducted 100 times, 95 of those times the results would be no more than 3.5 percentage points higher or lower than the results of this poll.
It is important to note that because this survey was mailed and anonymity was assured, The Star cannot ensure that the priests responding are demographically and geographically representative of all Roman Catholic priests. The priests who chose to respond to the survey may be different from those who opted not to reply.
However, responses to questions about the type of priest and the priests' ages indicate that the results should be fairly representative.
According to The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, two-thirds (67 percent) of the nation's 46,352 priests are diocesan priests, with the remaining third being religious-order priests. By comparison, 63 percent of the priests responding to this survey are diocesan priests. The average age of diocesan priests is 59, while the average age of religious-order priests is 63, according to The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The Star's survey showed average ages of 58 for diocesan priests and 62 for religious-order priests.