From Zenit: About 17% of the World is Roman Catholic

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Catholics still make up almost a fifth of the world's population, a ratio that has stayed steady with the start of the new millennium.

This is one of the many statistics found in the Vatican Publishing House's new edition of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, comprising information on the main aspects of Catholic Church in various countries for the period 2000-2006.

Over these seven years, Catholic presence in the world has remained stable at around 17.3% of the total population.

In Europe, despite the fact that 25% of all Catholics live there, the growth in the number of faithful was less than 1%. In the Americas and in Oceania, numbers grew, respectively, by 8.4% and 7.6%. In Asia the number remained more or less stable with respect to population growth, whereas in Africa the number of Catholics increased from 130 million in 2000 to 158.3 million in 2006.

The number of bishops in the world went up from 4,541 in 2000 to 4,898 in 2006.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

23 Comments
Posted May 28, 2008 at 10:24 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

While specific figures are certainly disputable, such as the actual number of Roman Catholics in the U.S. or Europe, the broad trends are what’s striking.  I never take RC figures at face value, any more than I do the estimates of the Anglican Communion Office, which claims a ridiculous 80 million Anglicans in the world today (which means counting all the over 20 million completely lapsed members of the C of E as Anglican, which I think is stupid and pointless).  Likewise, it’s well known that the RCs continue to count as Catholic anyone who has EVER been baptized as an RC, even if they haven’t been to Mass in years and have in fact joined some Protestant church.  So the claim to represent 17% of the world’s population is much, much too high, given their inflated numbers.

But at the same time, the seeming stability of the number of Catholics in the U.S. is deceptive.  There is an incredible amount of turnover going on under the surface.  There has been a huge attrition rate among Anglos, but a huge influx of Mexican immigrants, and the two have roughly balanced each other out.  But it leads to a very different Catholic Church in America, as the new Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegal) are generally poorer, less educated, more devout, and more conservative than the Anglos they replace.

But with Lambeth 2008 coming up, I found the number of RC bishops especially striking.  Some 880 Anglican bishops were invited to Lambeth.  Some pastor very big dioceses (as in East Africa), but many western bishops oversee very small ones.  OTOH, Roman Catholic dioceses are not only much larger on the whole, but much more consistent in size (as in almost everything else, Rome is much more centralized and consistent than we Anglicans are).  And how many RC bishops are there around the world in comparison with our paltry 880 bishops?  Answer: almost 4,900.  And that’s just in 2006 figures.  It’s probably higher in 2008.

I just spent three months in Chicago.  Now granted, the Archdiocese of Chicago is unusually large, even by RC standards.  But Cardinal George pversees a monster archdiocese of some 2.5 million people (on the rolls), which of course is larger than the entire claimed membership of TEC.

But by their own estimates, Catholics acknowledge that perhaps 10% of the American population is made up of lapsed Catholics.  That is, while the RCs claim about a quarter of the total population, they admit that roughly 10%, or a whopping 30 MILLION people, aren’t actively living as Catholics.  That is one HUGE mission field!

David Handy+

May 28, 11:44 am | [comment link]
2. TridentineVirginian wrote:

#1-
“But it leads to a very different Catholic Church in America, as the new Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegal) are generally poorer, less educated, more devout, and more conservative than the Anglos they replace.”
To which this Catholic says - thank the Lord. I think they will be a leaven in the American church.

“That is, while the RCs claim about a quarter of the total population, they admit that roughly 10%, or a whopping 30 MILLION people, aren’t actively living as Catholics.  That is one HUGE mission field!”
There are sadly a lot of them out there. This is the fruit the Church has reaped for what it sowed in the 60s and 70s.

May 28, 11:53 am | [comment link]
3. Irenaeus wrote:

I hope someone compare ECUSA’s members-to-bishops ratio with that of the RCC. (This will require ascertaining what the RCC figure of 4,898 bishops involves: e.g., all consecrated bishops, all active consecrated bishops, or only active diocesan bishops?) Looks like ECUSA’s ratio might be 10-20 times as high as the RCC’s.

May 28, 12:30 pm | [comment link]
4. TWilson wrote:

#3 Irenaeus - I ran these numbers a while back for the US. Just counting diocesan bishops and using 2006 numbers, TEC had 20,719 members per bishop; RCC had 356,186. Including assisting bishops, coadjutors, suffragans, etc, TEC had 14,503 members per bishop, while 187,772. In either case (and you could do more modeling, adjust for ASA, etc), TEC has greater than 10X the “bishop-density” as the RCC.

May 28, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
5. azusa wrote:

Yes, Tec’s bishops certainly are ten times denser.

May 28, 2:32 pm | [comment link]
6. Words Matter wrote:

The Catholic diocese of Fort Worth has 400,000 members and one bishop; Dallas has 800,000 members and one bishop. Houston has about a million Catholics and 2 bishops. And so one.  You may notice those 3 dioceses together total in claimed membership the claimed membership of TEC.  We have a parish in Fort Worth with an ASA about the same as the Episcopal diocese of Fort Worth.  The point is that the scale is just much different and I’m not sure that comparisons are all that helpful. It’s probably true that about half of the registered membership is “active”, given an ASA of 30-40% (which is generally the case in most churches).  Our diocesan website has parish by parish ASA, and sometime I’ll sit down and do the math.

I’m also not sure how the Catholic numbers are counted. I know that I have never “un-registered” from a parish when I moved and I get envelopes from my present and immediate past parishes.  One parish told me that if they don’t hear from me in 6 months (generally by a trackable financial contribution) they will knock me off the parish registry.

Allow me to add my “amen” to #2’s “amen”.  The Catholic Church in the U.S. has had far too much money for far too long. Far more than “Spirit of Vatican II” hype about lay power, the current financial problems will bond the whole community and more fully unite laity and clergy.

May 28, 2:39 pm | [comment link]
7. TWilson wrote:

#6 - When I see comparisons like that, my business strategy instincts kick in and all I can do is think of words like overhead reduction, parish consolidation, diocesan rationalization… If you’re in an average-density Episcopal diocese (~20,000 members; likely 8,000 ASA) supporting a $1,000,000 diocesan load just for bishop and operating staff (communications, finance, admin), that’s $125 per attendee per year. If I drop a $20 in the plate each week, the first six Sundays of the year I am paying for the bishop and his staff. In dioceses where the ASA is lower and/or weekly donations lower, the problem gets worse. So while the Episcopal ratio will never reach RCC levels, I suggest there’s a lot of consolidation that can take place that keeps money closer to congregations, reduces overhead (money and time) at the parish level, etc.

May 28, 3:13 pm | [comment link]
8. Ed the Roman wrote:

I hate to say this, but if you look at illegitimacy, the Hispanics aren’t as conservative as all that.

May 28, 3:17 pm | [comment link]
9. phil swain wrote:

Your headline is incorrect.  The Zenit article refers to the Catholic Church not the “Roman” Catholic Church.

May 28, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
10. C. Wingate wrote:

That’s really the thing: in the USA, at least, Catholics are hugely short on clergy. Let’s look at those Ft. Worth numbers again: 90 parishes, 400,000 members, one bishop. The ECUSA diocese, which covers about the same territory, has two bishops, 55 parishes, 18,000 members. The big difference? The Catholic parishes are almost 14 times larger, on the average. There are 3500 Catholics per priest! At that level, you have to think that personal contact with the priest—even just shaking hands after mass—is impossible for most parishioners.

May 28, 4:19 pm | [comment link]
11. Jody+ wrote:

Phil (#9),

Surely if one were to count all members of the Catholic Church one would find we made up more than 17% of the world’s population.  There are, after all, around 300,000,000 Eastern Orthodox and who knows how many Oriental Christians? (I know, I know, some are still sure unsure of the rapprochement between the Oriental and Orthodox churches).  And even if there are only 45-50 million active Anglicans, that’s a significant chunk.  That would have to be at least, what… 19 or 20% all together?  So, to only be 17% the article must have been referring to the Roman Catholic Church. wink

May 28, 4:20 pm | [comment link]
12. Irenaeus wrote:

Following up on the comments about the ratio of members to bishops, I believe that the proliferation of dioceses and diocesan staffs—-even as ECUSA was shrinking—-tended to have a deadening effect and facilitated revisionist takeover.

May 28, 5:34 pm | [comment link]
13. deaconmark wrote:

The scale on which some Roman diocese and parishes function is rather amazing.  Here in my Bay Area town (SanFran) there is a parish with over 3,000 families which includes a school.  They have 2 priests and 2 deacons.  It is not uncommon for them to have 5 funerals a week.  But, to me anyway, that scale feels very impersonal.  On a different note, i heard a priest speak recently who said that 85% of the Latino’s (i think he was speaking 1st and 2nd generation in US) are not churched.  Although they claim to be Roman, and will probably be baptized Roman, they have not other connection to the Church.  A rather amazing statistic if he was in fact correct.

May 28, 6:58 pm | [comment link]
14. Terry Tee wrote:

As a Roman Catholic, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on Episcopalian issues.  I have to say, however, that # 10 above (Wingate) is accurate in drawing attention to the difficulties of pastoring a parish large in numbers.  Here in central London we have an ASA in my parish of 1200 which means, realistically, twice that number attending at least monthly.  I fret at my inability to remember names, situations etc.  In palmier times we would have divided the parish.  An issue not mentioned so far, but pertinent to the figures given in the article, is the number of priests coming to Europe from the Third World.  India in particular has a huge number of vocations and not enough work for all of them.  But of course there are inculturation issues when they work over here.  Reverse mission has the same kind of problems as primary mission.

May 28, 6:58 pm | [comment link]
15. Sidney wrote:

With such a high bishop-to-parishioners ratio, how do Roman Catholics do confirmation?  I don’t see how a bishop can lay his hands on that many people.  Are most parishioners unconfirmed?

May 28, 7:39 pm | [comment link]
16. Charles wrote:

15 - Catholic priests are allowed to confirm with the permission of the bishop.  This happens quite often - in the US, at least.

May 28, 8:19 pm | [comment link]
17. TWilson wrote:

#15. Since confirmation only happens once, only a small fraction (less than 2%) of Roman Catholics are confirmed each year, probably around 2,000 - 2,500 per bishop. Averaging two ceremonies per week would mean an average size ceremony of 20-25 confirmands. When I was received at Truro by former Archbishop Carey, he laid hands on approximately 300 people in two ceremonies (some reaffirmations in there, to be sure). When my wife was confirmed by CANA bishop Bena, a few dozen souls were confirmed and his Spirit-led blow to the cheek left no doubt about whether hands had been laid. So it’s possible. #10’s point is right on, though.

May 28, 9:01 pm | [comment link]
18. Words Matter wrote:

Following along to #10 -

I reviewed the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth website parish by parish and the average Sunday attendance for the 90 parishes totals 102,169.  There are also 2 Eastern Rite parishes, one Ukrainian Catholic with ASA listed as 50-100 and one Maronite parish without an ASA given.  So this diocese has a dismal 25% of its claimed members in attendance on any given Sunday. We have 14 small parishes (< 100 ASA) in the rural areas, and a few really large parishes (3000+) in Fort Worth, Arlington, and the suburbs.  Two of those are Spanish and one Vietnamese. The monster parish is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton with 7986.

May 28, 11:19 pm | [comment link]
19. Clueless wrote:

Catholic priests are very busy, but they are spared a lot of the tedium of Episcopal priests.  We have the smallest parish in Joplin (about 2000 souls).  Our priest is very busy with baptisms, receptions etc.  The bishop shows up once a year for confirmation (which is not done on a Sunday) and which is done in conjuction with other area parishes.  (It is a long service).  Confirmation of adults is done by the priest (I was confirmed by my parish priest when I swam the Tiber).

I find that all the Catholic priests I have had have known most people who show up regularly.  (I think priests are selected for being able to recognize names and faces quickly; it is not one of my talents).


However, while the priest is certainly very busy with sacraments (confession, mass, extreme unction, funerals, weddings, baptisms) he doesn’t have to worry about administration.  Layfolk do all the fund raising, stewardship stuff, running of the parish school (we support a K-12 in conjunction with 2 other parishes) running of the Sunday school, food pantry, homeless outreach, college outreach, building and grounds maintanance, rectory upkeep including lawn cutting,  bible study, Spanish ministry etc.  Most of that is volunteer based, but there are some paid lay positions, including the parish administrator, whose main job is to make sure that Father does not need to worry about anything other than sacraments.

Thus, while there are more people to shepard, there is less busy work and hassle.  The priest knows they will get paid and do not seem as anxious about stewardship and finances as Episcopal priests.

May 29, 10:51 am | [comment link]
20. Clueless wrote:

Also, while it is a grief that Catholic priests are not allowed to marry and have children, the fact that they do not have to worry about their children’s upcoming chemistry test, or ACT preparation or boyfriends or difficulty with reading, socialization etc, not to mention their wife’s emotional, financial needs, also frees up a great deal of time that priests tend to spend on their church community instead.

May 29, 11:24 am | [comment link]
21. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Clueless (#19),

Well, as an outsider to the RC system I can only comment on how it appears to differ from my experience as an Episcopal priest.  Because Catholic parishes are so incredibly big and the number of priests so small and constantly shrinking, yes the priests are saved much of the tedium of committee meetings and rountine administrative decisions and so on.  But the flip side is that they are largely turned into sacramental machines and have little chance for significant pastoral contact with their large flocks.  The bottom line is that no one person can adequately PASTOR a couple thousand people.  Nor even two hundred really.

That’s why we have to recover the vision of Ephesians 4:11-12, where it’s the duty of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to “equip the saints for ministry” and thus build up the Body of Christ.  This multiplication of ministry is crucial.  It helps explain why the early church flourished so well, and why both the Roman Catholic and Anglican systems of church life are in trouble.

And if things are bad in terms of the clergy being spread thin in the U.S., it’s vastly worse in Latin America, where a priest may have to service 10,000+ parishioners.  They run around doing Mass everywhere, but never really get to know their people.  People are sacramentalized, but not catechized or evangelized or properly cared for.

Interestingly, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, one of the leaders in the country at putting nuns in charge of small parishes due to a shortage of priests, I’ve seen the positive results of thus multiplying the number of people involved in offering pastoral care.  The priests still come in and hear confessions, celebrate the sacraments and so on.  But the nuns actually run the parish and care for the people in these small churches.  And by every objective measure (attendance, giving, participation in programs etc.), these little churches are flourishing more than ever before.  I don’t think that says as much about women in ministry as it does about the value of offering a level of service previously unknown.

David Handy+

May 29, 11:29 am | [comment link]
22. Clueless wrote:

Hard to say.  I have actually found it easier to have a relationship with the 6 Catholic priests I have had (3 separate parishes in 3 separate cities, with 3 assistant priests as well as Rectors for the two larger parishes (up to 10,000).  The difference is if there is anything troubling me, I simply go to confession.  I found that if I had anything that troubled me in the Episcopal church it would take 2-4 weeks to get on my priest’s schedule.

As with TEC, the more ministries you are involved in, the more likely it is that you will have a relationship with your priest.  As to catechizing and evangelizing, we have lay people who do this.  We have weekly Bible study , small groups for “Why Catholic” (the diocesan evangilization program) and our Hispanic nuns run the Hispanic ministries which include catechesis and evangelization.

I don’t know that it is necessary for a priest to try to do everything.  I would rather that he counsel in confession, prepare the sick for operations or death, and prepare folks for weddings or baptisms.  I think it is very reasonable to have lay folk do evangelization.  At least it seems to work for us, we are growing pretty strongly.

May 29, 12:57 pm | [comment link]
23. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Clueless (#22),

Thanks for your testimony.  I’m sorry if my previous post came across as harshly critical.  I was trying to affirm the value of multiplying the number of people involved in ministry, which is something that needs to happen in all churches of whatever type.  But I was also suggesting that there is a problem when priests are turned into sacramental machines, who do little more than sacramental ministry (which of course includes the sacrament of reconciliation and the anointing of the sick).  That’s not just an RC problem.  Anglicanism in Africa struggles with it too.

For instance, my Anglican congregation in Richmond is affiliated with Uganda, specifically the Anglican Diocese of Luweero.  Luweero has 644 local congregations, many of which don’t even own a building but meet under a big shade tree somewhere.  But Bp. Evans Kisseka only has 52 priests to assist him in serving those over 600 churches.  Needless to say, they do a lot of traveling, and often the roads are poor and the clergy don’t own cars and have to get about on bikes.  As a result, lay catechists do most of the preaching and pastoring, while the ordained priests are reduced largely to being dispensers of sacraments.  Unfortunately, the whole system militates against effective pastoral care.

David Handy+

May 29, 1:12 pm | [comment link]
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