Amid the bad news, there is some that is very good.
Yes, there is still a “vocations crisis” in the Church. The number of priests is down, and the number of parishes without a resident priest is up.
But there’s good news too, as revealed by a report on the website of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University based agency known as CARA.
The Catholic population in the United States, for example, has grown steadily since 1970, when it was 51 million. It now stands at 74.3 million. The number of students in Catholic colleges and universities has grown from 411,111 in 1970 to 764,448.
Meanwhile, the number of annulments of marriages initiated has fallen from 60,691 in 1984 to 22,631 in 2016.
And while the number of Catholic hospitals has fallen from 727 in 1970 to 545 in 2017, the number of patients served in those facilities has risen from 21.5 million to 90.6 million in roughly the same time period.
The value of services rendered by Catholic Charities has also expanded, from $361 million in 1974 to $3.124 billion in 2016, with the number of persons served by Catholic Charities rising to 8.371 million in 2016 from 2.452 million in 1979.
While the number of priests in the United States has dropped from 59,192 in 1970 to 37,181 today, globally the number has remained fairly stable. There were 419,728 priests worldwide in 1970, and that number has decreased by only fewer than 5,000, to 414,969 in 2016. In fact, in the same time period, the number of diocesan priests has risen from 270,924 to 281,831. Diocesan priestly ordinations have risen from 4,622 to 5,931, and the number of graduate-level seminarians is up to 56,072 worldwide, from a low of 24,183 in 1975, boding well for the near future.
Worldwide, the number of parishes has grown from 191,398 in 1970 to 222,514 in 2016, although those without a resident priest have gone up as well, to 47,036.
The numbers of Catholics has shot up, but so has the world’s population, so the Catholic population today—1.299 billion—represents about 18 percent, just as it did in 1970.