More Catholics in the world, and fewer priests

(RNS) A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

“Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released Monday (June 1) by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world.

It wraps the United States, Mexico and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.

The focus is on “the three most important indicators of ‘vitality’ for the Catholic Church … the number of Catholics, the number of parishes, and the number of priests.”

Among the key findings:

The global Catholic population has grown by 57 percent since 1980.

It’s up from 7.83 million in 1980 to 1.2 billion. However, this growth varies steeply by region.

Europeans are rapidly shedding the continent’s historic Catholic identity while the Global South, particularly Africa and Asia, booms with Catholics.

Europe saw only a 6 percent increase — from 271 million to more than 289 million. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Africa was up 238 percent, from 58.6 million in 1980 to 198 million in 2012.

But that growth is primarily due to a higher birth rate, “not to conversion or evangelization,” observed the Rev. Thomas Reese, a social scientist and columnist for the National Catholic Reporter who has seen the report.

When that birth rate levels off with economic development, Reese wondered, then what? “Some like to say the Global South is the future of the church but I’m not convinced,” said Reese.

More people than ever before are receiving the core sacraments of Catholicism including baptism, First Communion, confirmation, and marriage in the church.

But the growth in absolute numbers disguises more telling numbers. Continue reading


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