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Vatican reports slight increase in priest numbers

Vatican officials sought this week to correct what they called the "false illusion" that there are fewer priests, saying numbers are up worldwide and fewer seminarians were abandoning their vocations.

The Congregation for the Clergy said the number of priests dropped significantly in North America and Europe between 1961 and 2001, but that decline was offset by an even larger increase in Asia, Africa and Central America during that period.

Vatican statistics showed that the number of priests worldwide in 2001 was 405,067, up from 404,082 in 1961.

However, the number of Catholic faithful has nearly doubled in that time to more than one billion, meaning the ratio of Catholics to priests has increased significantly.

Statistics show there were 2619 Catholics per priest in 2001, compared with 1800 per priest in 1978.

But Vatican officials stressed that their outlook was not as dim as some would believe, given that increased life expectancy enabled priests to tend to their flocks longer and a greater proportion of seminarians were being ordained.

"I think the crisis has turned into a new form, according to the culture, and we have all the hope for the better," said Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Pope John Paul II referred to the situation in his Holy Thursday letter to priests, urging them to be good role models for altar boys so they, too, may consider the priesthood.

Vatican: Number of Priests Up Slightly (The Guardian/Associated Press 6/4/04)

Pope Extols Altar Boys as "Garden" of Vocations (Zenit 6/4/04)
John Paul II Urges Prayers for Priestly Vocations (Zenit 6/4/04)
Overall, a Boom Time for Seminaries (Zenit 6/4/04)

8 Apr 2004