U.S. Catholic Population on Rise : But Directory Notes Continuing Decline in Priests, Nuns

United Press International

The nation’s Roman Catholic population grew by nearly 370,000 people last year to 52,654,908--or 21.9% of the U.S. population, the new edition of the Official Catholic Directory said Tuesday.

But the directory, published by P.J. Kennedy & Sons, also reported a continuing decline in the number of priests and nuns and other ordained religious personnel--a decline that has been the source of growing concern among the church hierarchy.

The report said the church now is divided into 34 archdioceses, with a Catholic population totaling 23,663,635 and 150 dioceses with a Catholic population of 28,9912,273, a total increase of 368,865.

Last year’s publication of the directory created a considerable stir in church circles when it reported a small decrease in church membership for the first time in five years.

Directory officials at the time said the decrease was apparently due to changes in reporting methods in some dioceses, and the new directory’s figures showing growth seem to bear that out.


Los Angeles remains the largest archdiocese in the United States with a Catholic population of 2,650,000, followed by Chicago, with 2,362,162 Catholics.

Other major archdioceses include: Boston, 918,715, New York, 1,808,879, Detroit, 1,466,106, Philadelphia, 1353,004, and Newark, 1,338,500.

Brooklyn continues as the largest diocese, according to the directory, with a Catholic population of 1,414,889, followed by Rockville Centre (N.Y.), with 1,320,167.

The directory also reported an increase of two in the church’s hierarchy, bringing the number of cardinals, archbishops and bishops to 396.

But the report also said there was an overall decrease of 134 in the number of men in the priesthood, bringing the total number of priests to 57,183 contrasted with 58,847 a decade ago and 59,193 in 1966, when the priesthood was at its fullest.

According to the directory, the decline in the priesthood was a result of a decrease of 237 religious order priests measured against an increase of 103 diocesan or secular priests.

Candidates for the priesthood also declined, dropping 588 from a year ago to a total of 10,440.

The number of nuns and sisters also continued its precipitous decline, dropping by 1,843 to a total of 113,658. That contrasts with 130,995 in 1976 and 181,421 in 1966.

The report also showed the number of ordained brothers at 7,429, a decrease of 115.

Also underlining the personnel shortage in the church, the directory reported 18,130 parishes with resident pastors, a decrease of 63 and 1,183 parishes without resident clergy, an increase of 132, for a total of 19,313 Catholic parishes.

The directory also reported 9,834 educational institutions--97 fewer than in 1985.