Religious Priests Down, Diocesan Priests Up

Vatican Reports Divergent Trends

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 17, 2005 ( Catholic diocesan priests are increasing in number, while religious priests are decreasing, reported the statistical office of the Church.

Analyzing the data published by the «Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2003,» the semi-official Vatican newspaper reported last week that overall, the number of priests has decreased over the past 25 years from 421,000 to 405,000, but since 1988 there has been a «very slight» tendency to recovery.

Looking at the data continent by continent, the numbers show that Africa and Asia have had the greatest rate of increase in the number of priests — 79% and 69%, respectively.

The situation is stationery in America, while Oceania has had a decrease of 12% and Europe of 19%.

Diocesan priests reached their lowest figure over the past 25 years in 1988, when they numbered 257,000. In 1978, they were 262,000, while in 2003 they increased to 268,000.

«Therefore, there is a slight but significant recovery,» underlines the Vatican newspaper in its report.

In 1978 religious priests (those who make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and belong to a religious order or congregation), numbered 158,000, while in 2003 they decreased to 137,000.

«The slight improvement in the global number of diocesan priests is due exclusively to the strong increase registered in Africa (where their number more than tripled between 1978 and 2003), in Asia (where they have doubled) and in America.»

«On the contrary, Oceania, and even more so Europe, have experienced a clear decrease» in the number of diocesan priests, added the Vatican newspaper.

Today there are 2,700 Catholics per priest, while in 1978 there were 1,800.

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