Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Catholic Population Trends

You may well have already seen links to the Population Reference Bureau's recent piece on Catholic demographic tends. There's some interesting data here, but in other ways the analysis is rather disappointing. To start by summing up their findings:

Diverging regional growth patterns for Catholic populations are mirrored in projections for many of these regions' individual countries, with Latin American and African countries leading the way. Indeed, the list of 25 countries projected to experience the greatest growth in their Catholic populations from 2004 to 2050 is dominated by Latin America/the Caribbean (with 13 countries) and Africa (with eight).
The 10 countries forecast to have the greatest numerical increases in their Catholic populations by 2050 include Congo, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Nigeria, Uganda, Colombia, Argentina, and Angola (see Table 2). These 10 countries are expected to account for slightly more than three-fifths of the projected world growth of 495.4 million Catholics between 2004 and 2050. Only one European country (France) appears in the top 25 in terms of growth, at 22nd for the 2004-2025 period.
Conversely, European nations dominate the list of countries projected to experience declines in their Catholic populations between now and 2050. Nearly 70 percent (25 of 34) of the countries projected to sustain losses in their Catholic populations between 2004 and 2050 are in Europe, as are all 10 of the countries expected to have the greatest numerical declines in their Catholic populations (see Table 2). Poland and Italy each are projected to have 5.3 million fewer Catholics in 2050 than in 2004.
However, the methodology for getting there is perhaps problematic:

Due to the absence of historical trend data across countries regarding the prevalence of Catholics in the populace, this analysis must assume that the percentage of the population that is Catholic in each region or country remains constant over the 2004-2050 period. To the extent that changes occur in the degree to which members of the population adhere to Catholicism, the true population figures for the three time periods could vary accordingly from those reported here.

In making these projections, I used population projections from PRB's 2004 World Population Data Sheet and statistics on present national and regional percentages of Catholics from the website The website contains Catholic population statistics down to the jurisdictional level (usually diocesan) from the Annuario Pontificio, the official yearly Vatican directory.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that not everyone is as interested as I am in the demographics of religion, but it seems to me like this leaves all the most interesting questions out: In what parts of the world are Catholics lapsing at the greatest rates? In what parts of the world are people converting to Catholicism at the greatest rates? Are Catholics reproducing at, above or below the rate of the rest of society?

My biggest bone to pick, however, is with the conclusion section:

The Catholic Church has several options in responding to the demographic shift of its flock away from Europe and toward the developing world. One option would be devoting greater energy to issues that affect the lives of Catholics in the developing world's issues including poverty, hunger, AIDS, inequitable access to health care, economic inequality, and war.

The Church might also take more aggressive measures to ensure that priests from the developing world attain positions of ecclesiastical power, including the papacy. In addition, the institution might increasingly have to rely on youth from the developing world to fill the ranks of priests and nuns. Finally, the Church also could adopt a laissez-faire approach about its demographic disjunctures. These potential routes are of course not mutually exclusive. But regardless of its next steps, the Catholic Church will face major challenges in balancing the needs of its growing developing-world population and those of its traditional but declining population from the developed world.

Now, I suppose it's natural for outsiders (which I assume from the tone Prof. Saenz effectively is) to mis-understand religion, but these are questions you would ask about a government or a service organization, not a religion. Indeed, I would posit that one of the reasons Catholicism (and Christianity in general) seems so much more compelling in the developing world is that those in the developing world are much more directly confronted with the reality that our lives on this earth are short and unpredictable. As the old saying goes: "In the face of death, a man remembers his God." The Church does not need to focus more on "poverty, hunger, AIDS, inequitable access to health care" to meet the needs of the developing world. Those tend, rather, to be the pet projects of the developed world. In the developing world, and wherever else reality makes itself once again known to modern man, the Church's message should be what it always has been: That Christ died that for our sins so that we might have eternal life.


Blue Cross of California said...

I agree we really need to work on providing health coverage for all as over 45 million lack coverage.

Nathan said...

Thank you for that final point; it is definitely very important. Social justice is a good thing, but so often it becomes a distraction from the heart of the gospel message and leaves the best-fed people with starving souls.

Anonymous said...

Where is "table 2" located as described??