The Catholic Church, By the Numbers

Browsing through my feedreader earlier today, I happened across this fascinating web page from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “a national, non-profit, Georgetown University affiliated research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church.” Entitled “Frequently Requested Catholic Church Statistics,” it’s a compilation of particularly interesting statistics concerning the Catholic Church dating all the way back to the mid 60’s.

Broken down into “U.S.” and “Worldwide” categories, there is a great deal of interesting material there. The number of graduate-level seminarians, for example are on the rise in both the U.S. and worldwide, as are ordinations — which is good, because the number of priests (diocesan or religious) has been on the decline for some time now. In contrast, while the number of parishes without a resident priest pastor has been steadily increasing in the U.S., it has actually been decreasing elsewhere.

I wish I had a proper statician’s eye, because I know there must be a boatload of intriguing statistics I’m missing altogether. But I was particularly intrigued by this little chart from 2005:

If I’m reading that correctly, it would appear that our percentages are roughly what one would expect, given our Catholic population — perhaps a very slight bit above average — except for permanent deacons, where our 6% is providing much closer to 50% of the world’s permanent deacons. That’s quite something. Perhaps that’s one of the ways we’re dealing with the steady increase in the number of parishes without a resident priest?

Any other particularly intriguing numbers you folks see on here that I’m missing?


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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