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Posted July 20, 2004

New Numbers on the Catholics,
priests, religious and deacons

from the Official Catholic Directory Worth Pondering

The U.S. Catholic population in 2004 was 67,259,768 -- an increase of some 850,000 over the 66,407,702 reported in 2003. Catholics continue to make up 23 percent of the total U.S. population. Included in these national figures are data from Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, and U.S. territories overseas such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam.

The number of priests declined from 44,487 last year to 44,212 this year. Of these, 14,729 were members of religious orders and 29,483 were diocesan.

Permanent deacons have increased from 14,106 last year to 14,693 this year.

The number of religious brothers was 5,504, or 64 fewer than last year. Religious sisters numbered 71,468, a decline of 3,212 from last year.

There are 19,431 parishes, down 53 from last year, and 2,910 missions, down 78 from last year. Missions usually offer limited services and are typically served by a priest of a neighboring parish.

These statistics alone raise crucial questions for the future:

Will we see a combined effort to increase vocations to the priesthood, sisterhood and brotherhood, while at the same time increasing vocations to lay ministry and the diaconate? Could we be experiencing a new equation in which the priesthood, religious life and lay leadership in this country will form a new and unified leadership in which leadership is shared more than dominated by one or other vocation? Are priests, religious and lay leaders being prepared for a new type of leadership that will respond to a growing Catholic population that is composed of native born Americans and those born and raised in other cultures?

Other Important Statistics That Reflect the Vitality of the Catholic Church

583 Catholic hospitals served nearly 84 million patients last year and 376 other Catholic health care centers served nearly 4.3 million patients. Nearly 21.3 million people were served by the nation's 2,969 Catholic social service centers.

-- The 232 colleges and universities enrolled 747,060 students, down about 2,500 from the previous year.

-- The 787 diocesan and parish high schools and 560 private high schools had a total of 680,323 students, down about 6,300 from the year before. There were 37 fewer diocesan and parish high schools than the year before, but eight more private schools.

-- Enrollment declines were sharper in elementary schools. There were 6,488 diocesan and parish grade schools, down 285 from the previous year, and they served 1,796,275 students -- a drop of almost 77,000 from the year before. Private grade schools dropped from 369 to 365 and 95,742 students, about 2,800 fewer than the previous year.

The number of students in religious education rose. At the high school level there were 771,730, about 4,000 more than the previous year. At the elementary level there were 3,612,510, almost 30,000 more than the year before.

Surprisingly, the numbers of teaching priests, brothers, sisters and scholastics -- Jesuits in training -- all increased in the 2004 report. In all four of those categories the numbers have been generally in decline for at least three decades.