While the total number of priests – in both diocesan and religious orders – around the world grew from 412,236 to 413,418 last year, the number of the pontiff’s own order, the Jesuits or Society of Jesus, has almost halved since 1973 dropping from 30,860 to 17,287.
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope and incorporated the order’s symbol, IHS, in his official coat of arms while he chose the papal name Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi.
Since he was elected in March the pontiff has made few references to his Jesuit background but said that clergy who were “careerists” or “social climbers” were doing serious damage to the Catholic Church.
Apart from a decline in the pope’s own order, there has also been notable falls in the Salesian, Cappuchin and Dominican religious orders in recent years.
The Clarissa order of nuns has dropped from 20,423 nuns in 1973 to 15,573 in 2012.
The Vatican’s media spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, himself a Jesuit, dismissed the figures as nothing new.
“This has been happening for 40 years,” he said. “We are fully aware of the situation and we in the Jesuits have reflected the cultural, social and spiritual reasons many times.
“These are well-known issues that have been the subject of reflection for decades. There has been a decrease for some time it didn’t begin two days ago.”
While religious orders have been particularly hard hit in the West, the Catholic Church has benefited from significant growth in the Third World.
The number of men joining a religious order increased by 44.9 per cent in Asia and 18.5 per cent in Africa in the past decade as the church continues to expand in the Third World but the increases were not enough to offset reductions elsewhere.
Although the Vatican said the number of candidates for the priesthood – both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders – grew overall from 118,990 at the end of 2010 to 120,616 at the end of 2011, this figure masks the decline in religious orders
- Pope tells nuns: Don’t be old maids (timesofmalta.com)