Changes in religious life since the 1970s in quantitative terms - situation in the CEE countries in the context of global transformations

Martin Jewdokimow

Introduction

The aim of this chapter1 is to analyse changes in the number of women religious,2 religious priests and religious brothers since the 1970s in Roman Catholic religious orders. The chapter focuses on changes in the perspective of both entire continents and selected countries, primarily in Europe. The detailed analysis of these areas provides a necessary context in which the trends in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) may be interpreted. I will seek to address the following questions: To what extent do trends in CEE countries mirror global and European ones? Having moved away from Communism, do CEE countries have something in common with regard to Catholic religious life?

The following analysis is based primarily on statistical data from the Annuarium Statistician Ecclesiae, the Vatican statistical yearbook published only in paper format and supplemented by data acquired from other available sources. The institutional provenance of these data represents both their strengths and their limits. The data cover all countries and allow for comparison in temporal and spatial perspectives. The categories that organise, differentiate and define them represent a legitimate understanding of the phenomenon. Yet, on the other hand, they only allow for an investigation of institutionally approved and recognised forms of religious life. Hence, perhaps what the following analysis unveils is not the crisis of religious life but the crisis of institutionally approved and recognised forms. It may be that the spirit of religious life in the Catholic context has now been transformed into newer, contemporary movements, for example, Focolare. It is not my intention to address that question here, yet this general precariousness, which only very recently became a fresh idea (cf. Howard 2019), should be highlighted at the beginning of the chapter.

To return to the official data, they clearly demonstrate that since the 1970s, Catholic religious life has been shaped by downwards trends: between 1974 and 2017, the number of women religious fell from over 980,000 to 650,000; of religious brothers from 70,500 to 51,500 and of religious priests from almost 147,000 to over 133,000. This is the persistent reality emerging from data. However, in the broader perspective it is clear that this collapse came after spectacular growth in the 19th and 20th centuries as a reaction to the dissolution of monasteries in the 18th century, triggered by political processes linked to the Enlightenment. For instance, between 1770 and 1850 the number of male religious had dropped from 300,000 to 100,000 (Hostie 1983, after Finke and Wittberg 2000, p. 159). Yet, that revival was mostly fuelled by women. For instance, between 1800 and 1880, 400 new female religious communities consisting of 200,000 sisters were founded in France, whereas in America the number of women religious increased from more than 1,300 in 1850 to 40,000 in 1900 (Finke and Wittberg 2000, p. 160).

So, generally speaking (it is not the case in every European country but presently a general trend): in the 18th and early 19th centuries monasteries were closed; in the 19th and 20th centuries they were repopulated to a level never previously reached, and they are now disappearing. This picture is composed of many details which will be presented in the following pages.

Against this background, the changes in CEE countries appear to be quite similar, but it should be noted that: (1) There is no coherent data for the similar period for all CEE countries - data are available for the 1990s onwards; (2) Communist political attitudes towards the religious life varied between individual countries. For example, in Czechoslovakia it was almost annihilated, whereas in Poland, it was repressed. Generally, since the 1990s, we see countries with increases and decreases within the categories under scrutiny, which we will examine further in this chapter.

Global perspective

What are the proportions of various historically developed forms of religious life in a general perspective? In 2015, there were 225 different male institutes and 42 societies of apostolic life. The most common type of male institutes are religious orders, which have over 80,000 members of various status and over 10,500 houses worldwide. Clerical congregations have more houses - altogether over 13,000 - but have around 6,000 fewer members. Non-clerical congregations have over 3,300 houses and a total of 16,000 members, similar to the numbers of societies of apostolic life that comprise 2,800 houses and 17,000 members. Clerical religious congregations are the most diverse group, comprising 101 institutes, as compared to 84 orders. Among religious orders, mendicants have the most houses - over 7,200 - as well as most members of various status - over 46,500. Monastic orders, historically the oldest way of organising religious communal life, have over 900 houses and over 12,000 members; they are also the most diverse group, comprising as many as 44 institutes. The smallest group is that of canons regular, with over 2,300 members and almost 250 houses. In total, male institutes and societies of apostolic life include almost 190,000 men. In the same year, 2015, there were over 415,000 Catholic priests as compared to

124.000 associated with institutes and societies of apostolic life. Unfortunately, data from the Annuarium Statistician Ecclesiae (ASE) do not allow for analogous calculations in reference to women religious.

Data presented in Table 2.1 show that the post-dissolution revival of religious life concluded at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, at which point the number of women religious, religious priests and religious brothers began to fall.3 Closer analysis of this tendency makes it possible to conclude that this downturn does not affect all continents, or all countries in Europe. Nevertheless, this tendency is clear, especially in the context of the rising number of Catholics worldwide.

In the period between the 1970s and 2017, there was a continuous decline in the number of women religious, religious priests and religious brothers. In 1974, there were over 982,500 women religious, and in 2017, -34 per cent less (649,000). The number of religious brothers fell by 27 per cent. The smallest downturn affected religious priests -9.6 per cent (from almost

  • 147.000 to 133,000). It should be noted that in this period, world population increased by 87 per cent and the Catholic population by 82 per cent (between 1974 and 2015). Consequently, the downturn presented in terms of the number of women religious, religious priests and religious brothers per
  • 10.000 citizens and per 10,000 Catholics is even greater. In 1974, there was an average of 2.5 women religious per 10,000 around the world and in 2015 just below 1. Referring this change to the number of Catholics worldwide, the number of women religious per 10,000 Catholics dropped 14 per cent (1974) to more than 5 per cent (2015)4 (cf. Table 2.1).

By adopting a geographical perspective5 to examine this period, we may note that the downturn did not affect all continents in equal measure. As far as the number of women religious is concerned - one of the three key categories to experience the greatest decreases by percentage - although the general fall around the world amounted to 34 per cent (from 983,000 in 1974 to 649,000 in 2017), there was a rise in absolute values in South-East Asia, Africa, Central America (the Antilles), Central America (continent) by 123.4 per cent, 116.6 per cent, 45 per cent and 19.2 per cent, respectively.

Table 2.1 Change in the number of women religious, religious priests and religious brothers, 1974-2017

1974

2017

Change - absolute value (1974-2017)

Change -

percentage

(1974-2017)

Number of women religious

982,627

648,910

-333,717

-34%

Number of religious priests

146,887

132,772

-14,115

-9.6%

Number of religious brothers

70,587

51,535

-19,052

-27%

Source: Author’s calculations on the basis of ASE.

The greatest falls in number were recorded in North America (68.8 per cent), Europe (58 per cent) and Oceania (57.3 per cent) (see Table 2.2).

In the years 1974-2017, there was also a general fall in the category of men, greater among religious brothers than religious priests. The general fall in the number of religious priests amounted in the period 1974-2017 to 9.6 per cent (nearly 133,000), and in the number of religious brothers -27 per cent (to over 51,000). As in the case of women religious, the drop was not observed in all continents. The biggest rise occurred in South East Asia (by 141 per cent in terms of religious priests, to almost 28,000; and by 87.5 per cent in terms of religious brothers, to almost 12,000). The biggest fall was noted on continents with the greatest number of religious priests and religious brothers, that is, in North America (by 46.7 per cent in terms of religious priests, to 13,800, and by 58.1 per cent in terms of religious brothers, to 5,400) and in Europe (by 28.6 per cent to almost 51,000, and by 56.3 per cent to almost 15,000, respectively) (see Table 2.3).

One also needs to take into account that in North America and Europe there was a rise in the overall population, including that of Catholics (In Europe the proportion between the two populations did not change and amounts to almost 40 per cent, whereas in North America it rose slightly from 26 per cent to 26.4 per cent, between 1974 and 2015). After comparing the change in the number of religious priests and religious brothers, the number dropped from over a total of 1.5 religious priests and religious brothers (taken together) per 10,000 citizens in 1974 to almost 1 in 2015, and from almost four religious priests and religious brothers (taken together) in 1974 to almost 2.5 in 2015. In the area with the biggest rise in the number of religious priests and religious brothers - South East Asia - the total number

Table 2.2 Change in the number of women religious, 1974-2017

Number of women religious - continents

1974

2017

Change %

Africa

34,157

73,999

116.6%

North America

178.410

55,674

-68.8%

Central America (continent)

27,121

32,343

19.2%

Central America (the Antilles)

5,124

7.430

45%

South America

88,119

67,838

-23%

Americas - total

298,774

163,285

-45.3%

Asia - Middle East*

5,429

4,328

-20.3%

Asia - South East

75,491

168,619

123.4%

Asia - total

80,920

172,947

113.7%

Europe

551,752

231,413

-58%

Oceania

17,024

7,266

-57.3%

Total

982,627

648,910

-34%

Source: Author’s calculations on the basis of the ASE.

Note: ‘South-East Asia includes both the South-East and Far East.

Table 2.3 Change in the number of religious priests and religious brothers, 1974 2017

Comment/area

Category

1974

2017

Difference

N

%

Africa

Number of religious priests

11,477

13,941

2,464

11.5%

Number of religious brothers

5,441

8,789

3,338

61.4%

North America

Number of religious priests

25,863

13,790

-12 073

-46.7%

Number of religious brothers

12,871

5,391

-7480

-58.1%

Central

America

(continental)

Number of religious orders priests

3,981

5,309

1,328

33.4%

Number of religious brothers

1,400

2,062

662

47.3%

Central America (the Antilles)

Number of religious orders priests

1,606

1,518

-88

-5.5%

Number of religious brothers

670

974

304

45.4%

South America

Number of religious orders priests

18,021

16,457

-1,564

-8.7%

Number of religious brothers

6,322

5,988

-334

-5.3%

Americas - total

Number of religious priests

49,471

37,254

-12,217

-24.7%

Number of religious brothers

21,263

14,414

-6,848

-32.2%

Asia - Middle East

Number of religious priests

925

1.265

340

36.8%

Number of religious brothers

499

282

-217

-43.5%

Asia - South East

Number of religious priests

11,493

27,755

16,262

141.5%

Number of religious brothers

6,353

11,911

5,558

87.5%

Asia - total

Number of religious priests

12,418

29,020

16,602

133.7%

Number of religious brothers

6,852

12,193

5,341

77.9%

Europe

Number of religious priests

71,008

50,711

-20,297

-28.6%

Number of religious brothers

33,995

14,865

-19,130

-56.3%

Oceania

Number of religious priests

2,513

1.846

-667

-26.5%

Number of religious brothers

3,036

1.283

-1,753

-57.7%

Total

Number of religious priests

146,887

132,772

-14,155

-9.6%

Number of religious brothers

70,587

51,535

-19,052

-27%

Source: Author’s calculations on the basis of the ASE.

of religious priests and religious brothers per 10,000 citizens slightly rose (from 0.08 to 0.09), whereas their number per 10,000 slightly dropped from almost 3.4 to 2.8, which means that the number of Catholics rose more than the number of religious.

Geo-temporal analysis of changes in the number of women religious, religious priests and religious brothers demonstrates decreases in Europe, North and South Americas and Oceania, and rises in Asia, Africa and Central America. In 1974, most women religious were in Europe (552,000) and North America

(178.000) - places where biggest falls in number were noted, that is, to 231,000 and 55,500, respectively. In 2017, on the other hand, most women religious were within Europe (despite decreases in number) and in South East Asia (168,500). Whereas in 1974 more women religious were in Europe (552,000) than beyond it, and in 2017 there were more outside Europe than within (231,000).

As shown in Table 2.3, in 1974, most religious priests were in Europe

(71.000) and North America (26,000). However, falls in number were recorded on both continents: to 51,000 and 14,000, respectively. In 2017, most religious priests - despite falls - were still in Europe (51,000) and in Asia, due to a huge rise noted in the latter, to 29,000.

Data showing general drops in three categories (women religious, religious priests, religious brothers) do not allow us to draw a simple conclusion about a general crisis of religious life. Additionally, the situation in all the three categories studied is different. As far as women religious are concerned, progressive falls were noted in Europe, North America and Oceania, whereas in other continents, increases in that category have been observed, which led to the following situation: in 2017, there were more women religious outside Europe than within as opposed to the situation in 1974. Thus, two conclusions may be drawn: A crisis of female religious life has occurred in Europe and North and South Americas, whereas in continents other than Europe and North and South America, female religious life has been developing.

As far as religious priests and religious brothers are concerned, the following conclusions can be drawn: 1) Falls in number are evident in religious brothers more than in religious priests; 2) a crisis of male religious life has occurred primarily in Europe and North America, and - in relation to smaller populations - in Oceania, Central America (the Antilles) and South America. In relation to religious brothers, decreases were not observed in the following areas, on the scale of the continent (though it needs to be emphasised that these are small populations): Central America (the Antilles and continental) and South East Asia: unlike religious priests, the fall in number of religious brothers also occurred in South East Asia but within a very small population; 3) male religious life has developed mainly in Asia and to a lesser extent in Africa and Central America; 4) also, in the case of religious priests and religious brothers, it is possible to observe a process of ‘moving' religious life outside Europe and North America. However, in 1974 there were 71,000 religious priests in Europe and almost 76,000 beyond it; in 2017, there were 51,000 religious priests in Europe and 72,000 beyond it. If we count religious priests and religious brothers together, the process becomes clearer: in 1974, there were altogether 105,000 religious priests and religious brothers in Europe and 112,500 outside it, whereas in 2017, 65,500 in Europe and almost twice as many outside it - 119,000. Hence, perhaps instead of talking about the general crisis it might be better to discuss repositioning. Of course, this process is not without its challenges and results in different adaptation to the local contexts (Jonveaux 2019).

Further analyses focus on Europe, which provides the background for analysing the case of CEE countries. Close analysis of the situation in Europe also allows for nuance in general picture of the crisis of religious life in Europe, which emerges from global data. Thus, further analyses begin with selected European countries and then separately examine selected countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

 
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