John Allen's Word from Rome column last Friday was on the demographics of global Catholicism. The whole thing is definately worth reading, but here are a few selections:
The 67 million Catholics in the United States represent 6 percent of the global Catholic population of 1.1 billion. We are the fourth largest Catholic country in the world, after Brazil (144 million), Mexico (126 million), and the Philippines (70 million).
Despite impressions of a rocky relationship with the Vatican, much of the rest of the Catholic world believes the American church already gets too many strokes from Rome. For example, we have 6 percent of the population, but 12 percent of the bishops in the Catholic church and 14 percent of the priests. In fact, the United States has more priests by itself than the top three Catholic countries combined (41,000 in the U.S. to 37,000 in Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines)....
This context is important to keep in mind when American Catholics wonder why Rome seems to be slow to respond to our crises and needs. From the point of view of many in the Catholic church, America has been at the top of the heap for too long.
I can't help wondering if part of the seeming over-large number of American priests and bishops has to do with church attendence rates in the US and opposed to in Latin America. Although Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines have very large Catholic populations, their church attendance rates are also lower than that for US Catholics.
Africa: Africa in the 20th century went from a Catholic population of 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of 6,708 percent, the most rapid expansion of Catholicism in a single continent in 2,000 years of church history. Thirty-seven percent of all baptisms in Africa today are of adults, considered a reliable measure of evangelization success since it indicates a change in religious affiliation. The worldwide average, by way of contrast, is 13.2. Islam in Africa grew equally dramatically in the same period; today there are 414 million Muslims in Africa. These numbers will continue rising, since Africa has one of the world's most dramatic rates of population growth. Along with the rapid expansion in Catholic population has come an explosion in African bishops, priests, brothers, sisters, and deacons. There are today more than 600 African bishops and almost 30,000 priests, and Africa and Asia each number approximately 30,000 seminarians. In 2004, roughly 20 priests were ordained for all of England and Wales, while Nigeria alone ordained more than 200.
For comparison, in the US only 7.3% of baptisms are of adults. And that's including the fact that African Catholics have a much higher fertility rate than US Catholics. If African Catholics are having twice as many children as US Catholics (a conservative estimate) and the percentage of adult vs. infant baptisms is nearly five time higher in Africa than in the US, that means that the number of adult converts in Africa considered in relation to the size of the extant Catholic population is ten times that in the US.
Traditional Sexual Morality: Catholics in the developing world tend to hold traditional views on matters of the family and sexual morality -- homosexuality, gender, and so on. As the South comes of age, the Catholic church will be proportionately less likely to tolerate liberal positions on these questions. For a point of comparison, consider the debate within the Anglican Communion after the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the United States. Anglicans worldwide number 76 million, but that includes 26 million in the Church of England, only 1.2 million of whom are regular communicants. Meanwhile, there are 17.5 million Anglicans in Nigeria and 8 million in Uganda, and in both places the vast majority is active. More than half the global membership of the Anglican Communion is today non-Western. Episcopalians in the States are only 2.4 million. The African bishops have declared that they are not in "full communion" with the Episcopalians, and some predict a formal schism.
Consider this comment, made just two weeks at a Sant'Egidio conference in Lyon, France, by Bishop Sunday Mbang, chairperson of the World Methodist Council: "I and many African Christians are always at a loss to comprehend the whole issue of human sexuality. What really informed the idea of same-sex marriage among Christians? What is the authority for this rather depraved new way of life? Then there is the issue of this same people, who have voluntarily excluded themselves from procreation, a gift given to all men and women by God, adopting other people's children. What moral right have they to do so? Why should people who do not desire to have children go after other people's children?"
Some suggest that as Africa develops economically, more relativized secular attitudes on sexual morality will take hold there as they have in much of the West. Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, told me some time ago that he finds this a patronizing Western conceit, as if to say, "Once the Africans get out of their huts and get some education, they'll think like us." He predicts that if anything, as Africa's self-confidence and development levels grow, it will become bolder about asserting its moral vision on the global stage.
It definately seems to me like Africa will be one of the powerhouses for the Church in the decades to come. Although Africa and Latin America may seem to have equally large chunks of the Catholic Church, overall church attendance in Africa is 82% as compared to 35% in Latin America.