ROME, MAY 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Over a 23-year period the number of priests in the world decreased, while the number of seminarians increased.
This is the conclusion of a study by Father Vito Magno of the vocational review Rogate. The study compared the data of the Church’s Statistical Yearbook from 1978 with December 2001.
In 1978, the total of diocesan and religious priests was 420,000; at the end of 2001 their number had dropped to 405,067.
The decrease is due above all to the reduced number of religious-order priests, especially in Europe, North America and Oceania, in whose countries the average age of priests has also increased.
The decrease is in contrast to the increase in the number of priests in Africa, Asia and some Latin American countries.
The number of permanent deacons increased to 29,204 from 5,562. This ministry was re-established in the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council.
The decrease in the number of priests is in contrast to the increase in the number of seminarians, which has almost doubled. In 1978, there were 63,882 candidates to the priesthood, compared with 112,244 at the end of 2001.
Over the past quarter-century, particularly in Africa, the number of seminarians has multiplied by four and in Asia by five. In Europe, the number has increased to 25,908 at present from 23,915 in 1978.
The study revealed a more complicated situation in regard to women religious. In 1978, they numbered 990,768; now they total 792,317.
As opposed to the case of seminarians, there is no significant growth in the number of women entering novitiates. In this case also, the most notable decrease has been registered in Europe, North America and Oceania.