US priests are ISTJ on the Meyers-Briggs?

Not sure what to make of this. A British psychological study finds that a new generation of US Catholics priests is mostly ISTJ – the “duty fulfiller” type. See report here, “U.S. priests are introverts, new British study finds.”

If you google “Jesus INFP” you’ll find that most think that’s what Jesus was in his earthly life. So that would mean our priests are introverts like Jesus but otherwise of a contrasting psychological profile.

Take it for what it’s worth.



  1. I have sometimes thought of a priestly vocation–I am 19–and I am INTJ. However, many would argue that the Meyers-Briggs tests are very flawed both in construction and in psychology.

  2. MB is a tool (DISC is the other tool professionals in the workplace typically favor). It’s not really about “identity” but about aspects of personality that tend to be forward or recede under normal vs stressful circumstances; it also is designed to show how we actually use all those different characteristics in different ways under different circumstances.

    Over the years, I’ve consistently tested as INFJ in the MB tool. While I test mildly Introvert, I am more strongly Introvert under stress, but I tend to be read as Extrovert by others in many contexts. I am off-the-charts N, but have strongly developed S that can obscure how N I really am. I am strongly F, but most people tend to think I am T unless they get to know me well. I am moderately J, but have not insignificant P tendencies.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #3:
      Thanks, KLS. The Myers-Briggs is constantly misused and misinterpreted. You hit the nail on the head – it is not about *identity*; rather, it can indicate how a specific individual usually acts in certain situations – this is influenced by the situation; by other individuals; by the context; the issue confronted; etc. Corporations today use the Myers-Briggs to educate, identify, and indicate how any individual acts in certain situations; with other types on projects, partnerships, departments, etc. Reality – folks’ MB scores change depending upon the situation (yes, there may be a predominant style but this also changes over time and in specific situations).
      For example, you could be an ENTJ on a committee with two others who are ENTJ when discussing a new project. Given that reality, your ENTJ may actually change to adapt and partner with the other two participants such that your MB score may be closer to an INSP in that specific situation.

      That being said and for whatever reason, my seminary classes during college in the early 1970s were predominantly INTJ (pity those who weren’t). Years later, can attest to the fact that few of these guys pastor or live as INTJs – their lives and experiences, relationships, families, parishes have moved them to other predominant styles.

      The Myers-Briggs is most unhelpful when used by folks to *label* others; to presume based upon one MB score how another may or may not act; etc. Found that the pigeon-holding during the use of MB in formation was more harmful than helpful. That being said, this psychologist’s findings would be of note and interesting to a formation faculty as an overall trend or pattern (nothing more). It could also be helpful for diocesan leaders when working with newly ordained.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #5:
        Right, Bill.

        That said, as an Introvert who finds our culture’s relentless affirmation of Extroversion Super Omnes to be pathological, as a practical matter anyone who is strongly Introverted should probably avoid any route that involves becoming a pastor of a Catholic parish in the US. I have seen too many men who are temperamentally unsuited to – and unable to modulate under the pressure of – the role. This dynamic seems to be increasing, FWIW, and when you get an area dominated by Introverts living alone and acting as lone rangers, you have a formula for nothing good, because everyone will avoid confrontation and even mutual awareness. It’s one reason I think we need to get rid of single parish rectories in many areas, and have priests reside communally by deanery/vicariate forane.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #7:
        Agreed – plus one. That is why it is good info for a formation faculty in terms of a trend.
        Agree also with getting rid of single priest rectories, etc. For example, STL archbishop requires every pastor to live in the rectory (many are alone) and this also applies to religous order priests who could have the option of living with nearby communities of their own order. Does that make much sense?

  3. I can fake a J if need be… and he shall remain nameless, the priest who once told me that he was dealing with his P-ness.

    Being able to tell people that I need to talk out my thinking has been very helpful at all sorts of meetings and projects over my whole work life.

  4. The other metric related to the MBTI, the Kiersey-Bates Temperament Sorter, goes far to help us understand a psychological dimension to the growing divide between younger clergy and their elders. The former, now mostly SJ “Guardians,” are on an opposite spectrum from the latter who are mostly NF “Idealists.” These sides of the temperament divide have the most difficulty appreciating each other. Of course, most of the people in the pews are with the Guardians — though I suspect few among the readers of this blog are such …. lol. INTJ

    1. @Rev Richard Middleton – comment #5:
      Good comment, but also a flag on the play.

      The references to other studies on generational differences in clergy are very helpful.

      But when you say that “of course” the people in the pews are with the guardians, I say, “Oh really?” Any data to support this? I would caution you from claiming that everyone agrees with you or disagrees with “the Pray Tell line.” Poll after poll shows that the Catholic people, including those who go to church, are all over the map but – however much you I like it – most of them disagree with official policies on many issues.


    1. For the record, I am INTP. Think of an IBM mainframe with legs.

      @claire bangasser – comment #7:

      So, all INFP people are thrilled and the others feel threatened.
      I wonder what women priests are… 🙂

      I have met the same range of temperamental diversity among the clergy regardless of gender. I doubt that any one personality is exclusive to a man or a woman. What I do admire about many women priests or pastors is their fortitude. Many have had to face bald misogyny and prejudice both before and after ordination. If anything, this suggests that many women clergy are more resilient to adversity than many of their male counterparts.

      The MBTI does not test for either fortitude or resiliency. These are more important attributes than a willingness to maintain the status quo.

  5. Thanks KLS and Bill for this interesting discussion.

    Even though I spent decades in the mental health system and in management, I have not only avoided taking this test, I have never even read or understood much about it.

    We social psychologists have a strong belief backed by much evidence that behavior is influenced far more by social situations than by personality. Actually as a manager I found it was far easier to change people’s behavior by changing their environment.

    I was impressed by Bill’s emphasis upon how the situation can alter one’s “personality.” While it is clear to me that I am an introvert rather than an extrovert, and intuitive rather than sensing, the “intuitive” really did not flourish until after I left academia for applied research and management in the public mental health system. In graduate school, I was a somewhat creative technician, but nevertheless a technician that ground out research in the mode of my mentors. I didn’t seem to have any ideas of my own. When I began to teach, I was a little creative in how I related to students but not very much about the content of my teaching. I felt my job was to tell people about the current state of the discipline.

    All that changed when I left academia. The well of ideas just opened up. Largely because my unique talents and position at the senior levels of organizations meant that I could help everyone at all levels of the organization, as well as in all the organizations that interfaced with my organization. It meant that I was able to constantly reinvent my position and role in the organization.

    Not being an extravert I never become a CEO. But when your advice gets accepted a very high percentage of the time not only by the CEO but all sorts of people within and outside the organization the only advantage of the CEO job would have been the extra money.

  6. I subscribe to the position that as we mature we move towards the opposite characteristic. I was once an off the charts extrovert but am enjoying more and more the developing introvert. Same with the other ones. What I have hated over the years is people who use this instrument to critically label other people.

  7. I agree with the comments here about dangers of labeling people and putting them in a box.

    Also, I wouldn’t say that there is a “right” type we want in our priests, or that it is a problem that a priest has a type opposite what Jesus allegedly was. We’d benefit from a wide variety of priests, including those with the strengths of the ISTJ “duty fulfillers.” It is interesting, though, which types become over-represented at various times. When church authorities are emphasizing obedience to authority, and when some young people are looking for stable points in a rapidly changing world, ISTJs are drawn to seminary. This all can’t be a coincidence.

    So it’s great to have ISTJs (though any individual is more than his or her letters and not all ISTJs are one thing). But it is a cause for concern if the Catholic clergy emphasize authority and obedience and rules and underemphasize the prophetic and innovative aspects of Jesus’ ministry.


  8. It’s interesting to go and read the actual paper on which this story is based. The survey was done in one diocese and had a low take up rate so that only 55 priests replied – so apparently it was voluntary (one might query whether this ISTJ type was more likely to do such a survey). Interestingly this type made up 27% of respondents so hardly qualifies as “mostly” in terms of making up current numbers of priests. Interestingly the article linked to hear puts up a highly negative interpretation of this types likely functioning as priests quoting Professor Francis to say this type “is indicative of a presbytery that does not really require or encourage cooperation with the laity.” In fact Francis makes none of the negative claims so assertively and when he mentions them consistently uses words such as “may” and suggests them as possible interpretations. For those interested in the original it is here
    You can rent it for free for 5 minutes!
    So not much worth in the secondary source linked above and a rather meaningless survey all things considered.

  9. Another fallacy is that identical/similar “types” will automatically get along well. It just means they will handle life’s situations in comparable ways. Send two introverts who are strangers out to dinner together, and it will be an uncomfortable experience.
    In a fascinating workshop at Notre Dame 10+ years ago, Pat Molloy had learned that when the Myers-Briggs center (in FL, I believer) last compiled data according to denominational lines, most RCs were ST diads in the center.
    I know that many people in the arts (including liturgical musicians) tend to have the “NF” diad in the center of their profile. NFs and STs will often need to work contrary to their instincts if they are to work on projects together. It’s helpful to me as an NF to know that the clergy I’m working with and – quite likely – many people in the congregation are STs. I’m statistically a minority, so I need to get out of myself/get over myself to be an effective servant. Jesus may have been an INFP, but if he truly acted as portrayed in the Gospels, he often acted like an ESTJ in public.
    (A classmate of mine in seminary put “INFP” on the little scroll over the corpus of the crucifix in his room.)

  10. Re: introverts, I highly recommend the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. She focuses on the physiological roots of introversion as well as cultural and social pressures put on introverts. I found it amazingly insightful and has helped me to understand why I react certain ways in certain situations.

    1. @Jonathan F. Sullivan – comment #20:
      I will triple “Amen!” the recommendation for this book. I found it particularly helpful/validating to acknowledge that there are times I need to take the tiny shred of extrovert I have in me and make that – temporarily! – into my persona. When I used to do this, I always felt inauthentic; but it’s merely putting an authentic facet of your personality into the spotlight, so to speak.

      (And I’m a “Gryffindor” as well as an introvert!)

  11. Meyers-Briggis? Who cares? The real question is are they Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin?

  12. I’m constantly told and test as an INFJ. I’ve thought about Catholic seminary and being a priest several times and I’ve seen patterns of this, hence the Ni in me. But, I’m surprised by this and it would worry me being in seminary or entering and they find that I’m an INFJ, which is less than 1% of the US population . I’m sure they would find it inconsistent and odd because everyone is ISTJ and not many are INFJ’s. I found another survey showing a lot of priests, like this one, are ISTJ’s and ISFJ’s/ESFJ’s. So, I’m pretty sure any MBTI type could, but most show signs of being consistent in testing and that’s probably why ISTJ’s are most common. They are the third most common type in the US population and INFJ’s are the sixteenth. Anyways, interesting study and thank you for sharing this. Peace.

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