VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The drop in the number of priests in the West can overshadow the “boom” in vocations the Church is experiencing elsewhere in the world, says a Vatican official.
In fact, during John Paul II’s pontificate the number of major seminarians has virtually doubled, the secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, said when presenting to the press the Pope’s Holy Thursday Letter to Priests.
In 1978, when John Paul II was elected, there were 63,882 major seminarians in the world. In 2001 there were 112,982.
“Never in the history of the Church have we had so many seminarians studying philosophy and theology,” Archbishop Ternyak said.
“What is beautiful is that these vocations are more stable than they were 30 years ago,” he said. “The percentage of seminarians who gave up this path was 9.09% at the beginning of the pontificate; while at present this percentage has decreased to 6.93%.”
The Vatican official noted that “14% of present parishes — 216,736 at the end of 2001 — were created in the last 30 years. And the proportion of priests expressly dedicated to parish ministry has grown notably; 212,095 parishes are managed directly by a priest, while in 1978 there were only 200,295.”
In his Letter to Priests, the Pope refers to a shortage of priests in some parts of the world, because “the number of priests is dwindling without sufficient replacements from the younger generation.” But he adds: “In other places, thank God, we see a promising springtime of vocations.”
In his presentation, Archbishop Ternyak referred to the drop in priestly ranks in the West. “It is due to the progressive aging of the local population, to the worrying phenomenon of the decrease in births and, lastly, to the cultural phenomenon of the increase of secularism,” he said.<br>
“On the other hand, one can see growth in the number of the clergy, particularly in the younger continents, where procreation is still significant and where culture is less affected by the religious crisis,” the archbishop said.
According to data provided by Archbishop Ternyak, the crisis that broke out in the late 1960s affects, above all, Europe, the United States and Canada.
Europe in 1961 had 250,859 priests; in 2001 it had 206,761. North America, which had 71,725 priests in 1961, had 57,988 in 2001.
In contrast, Latin America in 1961 had 43,202 priests; four decades later it had 63,159.
In Africa the number of priests over the same period went from 16,541 to 27,988; and in Asia, the ranks rose from 25,535 to 44,446. The archbishop did not give data for Oceania.
In 1961, there were 404,082 priests worldwide, while in 2001 there were 405,067, he said.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the congregation, said that although the number of priests in the last 43 years has remained almost unaltered, the world population has almost doubled.
To put those numbers in context, he said, one must take into account the enormous improvement in the quality of life, allowing elderly priests to have greater pastoral capacity.