Growth of the Catholic Church

I found the following info interesting. I have cut and pasted portions below and edited it to hit the high points. For the complete post click on the link….

From the Blog: Intentional Disciples

The estimate for new Catholics every 24 hours is  28,000.

There is a similar trajectory for the US Catholics: (

1790: 30,000

1830: 600,000

1850: 1,750,000 (nearly 1 million of which were Irish immigrants who flooded what had been an essentially Francophone church)

1965: 46,500,00

The number of priests had also grown accordingly

1820: 150 priests in the country
1850 1,081
1880 6,000
1900 11,987 (Then came the really big leap in the 20th century)
1945 38,451

1965 58,632 (Note the staggering 20+k increase in 20 years.

1975 58,909 (the actual high water mark)

The number of priests didn’t plummet immediately after the Council. Nearly 1,000 men were ordained in 1965 and 771 ten years later.

In 1965, the priest/Catholic ratio in the US was about

1:777. (Here I’m using the figures from CARA)

To grasp the significance of our US experience, it helps to compare our situation to the situation in global Catholicism around the same time:

In 1970: The global priest/Catholic ratio was

1:1,557, 20.6% of the parishes in the world were without a priest-pastor, and priests made up 0.064% of the Catholic population.

Clearly, the American situation was not the norm even in 1965.

Today, as we all know, the number of priests in the US has dropped significantly. In 2008 the ration was similar to the Global  Priest/Catholic ratio in 1965. It took 40 years for the US ratio to decrease to the global norm of 1965.

2008: 1: 1,580 priest/lay ratio

40,580 priests for a population of 64.1 million Catholics ()

But we should also notice that the global situation has shown a similar trend:

2005: 1:2,744 The Global ratio of priest/Catholic

BFHU: So the US is still doing better statistically than the global average, if her numbers are correct.

406,411 priests for a global population of 1,115 million. That’s . 24.1% of all parishes in the world (52,509 parishes) are without a resident priest-pastor. If you divide the 2005 Catholic population by the total number of parishes (217,616 – aren’t these numbers astounding?), you get a theoretical average of 5,124 Catholics per parish

The really surprising good news (that I’ve almost never heard talked about) is that the numbers of graduate level seminarians really grew during Pope John Paul Ii’s pontificate: from a low of 33,731 in 1980 to 58,538 in 2005. A 73.6% increase! (Again, this is from CARA)

And the number of diocesan priests ordained between 1980 and 2005 grew almost as fast! (from 3,860 in 1980 to 6,614 in 2005 for a 71.3% rise)

And finally, the overall priestly numbers in the world have begun to budge: from a low in 1990 of 403,173 to 406,411 in 2005. The large increase in seminarians would seem to indicate that this rise will continue.

The Catholic Church – indeed, no Christian body on the planet or in history – has ever experienced the weight of these kinds of numbers before. No Catholic dioceses were responsible for millions of Catholics before the 20th century.

Which is why I am hearing diocesan leaders frankly admit that they hope that most lapsed Catholics don’t return home, Because the parish and diocesan structures can barely deal with the numbers who are already practicing. If the 60% who aren’t practicing were to return, we couldn’t even provide the basic sacraments for that many, much less catechesis, sacramental prep, RCIA, and the other sorts of supports that we now consider normative. Not as we are structured no

To have the same proportion of priests in the world today as Americans enjoyed in 1965, we would need 1.4 million priests. A 350% increase.


2 Responses

  1. Hopefully more young men will hear the call to become priests. Regardless of dioceses’ abilities to provide the sacraments to large numbers of Catholics, we should still pray that they will return to the Church.

  2. I totally agree. It a flood back to the church would probably be gradual enough to keep up. Either way we could cope with it.

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