|THE CHURCH’S NUMERICAL STRENGTH CONTINUES TO GROW|
1. The Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae was recently published with Church statistics for 1998.
The publication provides a quantitative overview of the Catholic Church according to the different continents and countries. Here we will focus on the aspects that indicate the most important trends.
2. The worldwide increase in the number of baptized Catholics from 1996 to 1997 continued in 1998. It is interesting to note that the increase in 1998 is slightly higher than in 1997 (respectively 1.29% and 1.02%), and is greater than the increase from 1997 to 1998 in the general population. Thus, the number of baptized Catholic faithful has risen by one tenth of one per cent: from 17.3 Catholics per 100 inhabitants in 1997 to 17.4 in 1998.
The distribution of the Catholic population varies widely from one geographic area of the world to another: the American continent is home to almost half the world's Catholics (28.4% of the total number of Catholics live in South America and 14% in Central and North America), while Europe accounts for 27.8% of the whole. Smaller numbers are found in Africa (11.5%), Asia (10.4%, almost all concentrated in the South-East) and Oceania (0.8%). The figures cited refer to 1998 and are essentially the same as the previous year's, while differing slightly from those of 1978. It is important to note the downward trend in the number of European Catholics and the upward trend in Africa and Asia.
3. From 1978 to 1998 the number of Bishops rose from 3,714 to 4,439, an increase of slightly less than 20%. However, the average linear increase varies considerably from one region to another. The percentage of growth is greatest in Africa (1.66%) and least in Europe (0.82%); other data: Oceania, 1.17%; Asia 0.94%; America 0.91%.
Africa has clearly had a high increase compared to other areas, particulary in relation to Europe. However, the distribution of Bishops throughout the world has remained basically the same: 37.7% of all prelates are to be found in America, followed by 32.9% in Europe, 13.9% in Asia, 12.9% in Africa and 2.6% in Oceania.
Bishops in 1978, 1988 and 1998: geographical distribution and numerical variations
4. The number of both diocesan and religious priests has fallen since 1978, although with considerable differences depending on the continent and the time period. In 1998 the total number of priests was 404,626; of these, 246,202 belonged to the diocesan clergy and 140,424 were religious.
From 1978 to 1998 the number of diocesan priests grew considerably in Africa; growth was less dynamic but still positive overall in Asia and America (on close inspection we can see the difference between the North, with downward trends more like those in Europe, and the Centre and the South, where the numbers are steadily rising). These trends contrast with the noticeable drop in Europe and the positive and negative variations in Oceania.
As for religious priests, who are steadily decreasing in Africa, America and Asia, and slightly increasing in Europe, we can see that, as the national Churches are consolidated, a certain number of these priests are returning to their places of origin.
5. However, although the number of priests (especially in Europe and North America) has fallen, there is a vigorous increase in the number of diocesan and religious permanent deacons, lay members of secular institutes, lay missionaries and catechists. Catechists, moreover, far outnumber the other categories. These trends thus show the difference in choices among pastoral workers, as well as the overall variations in the respective categories. Although the available data does not give us a precise idea of the magnitude of the shifts between the various categories, it is interesting to note the percentages per continent of the individual categories in 1998. The following table shows by continent the number of pastoral workers per 1,000 in each category.
It would be interesting to be able to analyze the longitudinal variations in these categories, also in the light of the initial data briefly indicated here, which suggest that we are seeing a balancing and reproportioning of the various categories of pastoral worker: the decrease in some corresponds to an increase in others, with a compensatory movement indicating differing religious choices. Understanding the shifts from one category to another, which according to the table differs considerably from one continent to another, could open our eyes to a changing reality.
6. Lastly, we would like to point out the movement of the Church's young dynamic forces, i.e., candidates for the priesthood and, even more interestingly, novices in male and female religious institutes. The picture appears particularly satisfying regarding seminarians in the African and American Churches (especially in Latin America), whereas in Europe the situation is at a standstill in the West but gaining momentum in the East (Poland is the exception: a vigorous period of growth from 1978 to 1988 has been followed by a marked decline). The longitudinal trend in the number of novices—where women continue to outnumber men—show rapid, widespread growth in Africa and a marked decrease in Europe, paralleling the data for priesthood candidates. The Americas fall somewhere in between, since the decline in North America is offset by a prevailing growth in South America, while Asia shows no clearly defined pattern.
Diocesan and religious priests in 1978, 1988 and 1998 by continent: numerical variations
Pastoral workers in the Catholic world as of 31 December 1998
Major seminarians (diocesan and religious) per continent as of 31 December from 1978 to 1998
Novices in religious institutes
Weekly Edition in English
3 May 2000, page 6/7
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Cathedral Foundation
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