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KENEDY Jul-16-2004 (870 words) xxxn

Number of U.S. Catholics, deacons up; priests, religious down

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New figures show the U.S. Catholic population continues to grow. The number of deacons serving them is on the rise, but the numbers of priests and religious brothers and sisters are down. The long-term slide in church marriages continues.

The 2004 edition of the Official Catholic Directory showed some drop in the number of U.S. Catholic colleges, high schools and elementary schools and in the number of students attending them, but slight increases in the number of elementary and high school youths served by parish-based religious education programs.

A Catholic News Service analysis of diocesan clergy figures showed nearly three out of every 10 diocesan priests in the country are now classified as retired, sick or on leave.

Known in church circles as the Kenedy Directory for its publisher's imprint, the 2,300-page directory is an annual publication that provides detailed information about diocesan offices and Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, religious houses and personnel in each U.S. diocese. It has statistical data on church life ranging from the number of baptisms and first Communions in the past year to the number of parishes, schools and hospitals and the number of patients treated in Catholic health facilities.

The directory is published from offices in New Providence, N.J.

The U.S. Catholic population at the start of 2004, according to the directory, 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.

The directory's national figures include 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 slightly from 44,487 last year to 44,212 this year. Of these, 14,729 were members of religious orders and 29,483 were diocesan.

The directory reported an increase in the number of permanent deacons, 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.

The directory reported that there were 544 new ordinations to the priesthood in the past year -- up from 449 the previous year -- but the new figure was inflated by an erroneous recording of 61 ordinations in the Diocese of Lake Charles, La. That is the total number of diocesan priests there, and just this June Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Lake Charles wrote a pastoral letter on the impact of the vocations shortage, saying the diocese has not ordained a new priest in the past two years.

The directory listed 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.

The nation's 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.

In Catholic education:

-- 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.

Despite the overall 3.2 percent enrollment decline in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, the number of Catholic school teachers rose 5.2 percent. The 2003 directory reported 171,814 teachers but the 2004 figure was 180,881, an increase of more than 9,000.

Lay teachers, who number nearly 170,000, or 91 percent of the teaching force, accounted for more than 8,000 of the additional teachers reported in the 2004 directory.

Surprisingly, however, 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.

There were 196 more priests in teaching (from 1,596 to 1,792), 174 more brothers (from 1,021 to1,195), 482 more sisters (from 7,389 to 7,871) and 24 more scholastics (from 33 to 57).

During 1993 there were 985,141 infant baptisms, down about 20,000; 896,670 first Communions, down about 1,000; 645,426 confirmations, up about 8,000; and 232,060 marriages, down almost 10,000.

- - -

Editor's Note: The Official Catholic Directory costs $325 per copy. Clergy discounts are available. Information is available by calling: (800) 473-7020, from the United States or Canada. From other countries, the number to call is: (908) 673-1000.

END


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