|Lay Apostles: A "Novelty of God" for Our Time|
|Written by Sherry|
|Saturday, 01 January 2011 10:30|
What the Vatican calls the "Workforce for the Church's Apostolate" grew tremendously between 1978 and 2008. The "force" grew from 1.6 million to 4.386 million (174%) while the Catholic population grew 55% in the same time period from 752.5 million to 1,165.7 million.
Ten years ago, I would tell groups that bishops and priests made up .04% or 4/100th of 1% of the entire Catholic population. In 2011, I have to say that bishops and priests only comprise .0355% of all Catholics. In 20 years, that figure will probably to fall under .03% of the Catholic population.
It isn't because the number of priests and seminarians aren't growing. Although the number of the ordained (bishops, priests, deacons) grew from 413,169 to 451,371 during these 30 years, this increase was dwarfed by the demand created by relentless growth of the human race and the Catholic population. The immense number of the baptized has called forth a major new "workforce" for the apostolate: the laity.
In 1978, the clergy made up 26% of the 1.6 million member "workforce" recognized by the Vatican. The largest group was religious women (nearly 60%) and lay people only constituted 10.8%.
In 30 years, clergy and religious have diminished from nearly 90% of the Church's acknowledged "workforce" to less than 30% and the lay "workforce" has grown 700%. (The graph below shows the figures for 2005 which are almost identical to those of 2008.)
When, in 1749, the Vatican quietly changed its 500 year old insistence that women religious had to be enclosed, the stage was set for a transformation of the Church's life. The emergency of the French Revolution and the need to resurrect the Church’s life in France in the early 19th century was the catalyst. By the late 19th century, the number of women religious outnumbered priests and male religious for the first time in history and utterly transformed the Catholic landscape.
In Ireland, for instance, there were only 120 women religious in 1800. If you think of the total number of priests and sisters together as the Catholic "workforce", sisters only made up 6% of the total at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1851, women religious made up 38% of the combined body of priests/nuns. And by 1901, women religious were 70%. In the US, there were 4 sisters for every priest by 1900.