falls by 7,000
By a Correspondent A decline in the Catholic population of England and Wales and further falls in the numbers of Catholic baptisms, marriages and conversions are recorded by the 1975 Catholic Directory, published last Friday.
But the annual total or ordinations to the secular
priesthood seems to have levelled out around the 100 mark — a 25 per cent drop on the total of 10 years ago— despite a further decrease in the number of senior seminarians, from 642 last year to 596 this.
The estimated Catholic population of England and Wales is now given as 4,156,038, which is 4,269 more than the 4,15L769 total recorded in the 1974 directory but 6,904 less than the corrected 1974 total printed in the 1975 edition.
The 1975 figure in its turn is not up to date, since two dioceses (Clifton and Liverpool) arc supplying data one year behind the rest, while in any case all these figures represent merely an estimate.
For what it is worth. however. six dioceses out of 19 record a drop in their estimated Catholic population.
Ordinations to the secular priesthood in England and Wales amounted to 101 in 1974 — the same as the uncorrected figure for 1973. (Two ordinations after the directory had gone to press brought the final total up to 103.) To maintain this level of or dinations with a six-year seminary course the number of senior seminarians needs to remain at or above the 600 mark. This year it dropped slightly below it, to 596 from 642 in 1974.
But part of this drop is made up by an unexplained drop in the Southwark total from 73 to 47 — a drop for which no explanation is at present available. No doubt one year's figures included, and the other's excluded, both those on thc point of ordination and the new intake of students.
With deaths among the secular clergy averaging 78 a year, the Church should therefore have little problem maintaining its priestly man power, even allowing for an inevitable handful of priests leaving the ministry. (It is generally agreed that the years of any large-scale exodus arc over.) But dioceses arc apparently now beginning to find difficulty in recruiting priests direct from Ireland, which may affect the vocations situation over the next decade.
The total number of secular clergy did in fact increase, from 4,965 to 4,980. But the number of priests belonging to religious orders dropped, from 2,558 in 1974 to 2,530 this year.
As in previous years, no figures are given for average Sunday Mass attendance or total Easter Communions (both figures which could offer a better idea of actual Catholic population than the estimates quoted), nor are the numbers given of priests who leave the ministry or who are incardinated into English and Welsh, dioceses from abroad or from religious orders.
Catholic Directory 1975, 21 Fleet Street, EC4, price £5.