A Jesuit Pope from the Americas south of the Equator. Not a single "Vatican expert" that I am aware of predicted this specific selection. Just as none of them predicted the outcome of the last two conclaves. I picked an Argentinian in my top three. Just not the right one! It was neat to watch the selection of Pope Francis with a Jesuit priest (my boss) here at Georgetown. Overwhelming.
So what is the Church like in Argentina? What are the roots of Pope Francis? I trust Pew's recent population estimate of 31 million Catholics (76.8% of the population) living in the country. The Church's own estimates put the Catholic total a bit higher. This is not uncommon in Latin America and is the reverse of a pattern we often see in North America or Europe, where Church estimates are often lower than what surveys indicate.
The figure below shows how Argentina's Catholic population has grown since 1970 (using the Church's estimate for population) as well as trends in the number of baptisms and marriages celebrated in the country. By the Vatican numbers, the Catholic population has grown 78% in the last 40 years (+47% by Pew's 2010 estimate). Baptisms have remained quite steady (this can fluctuate with fertility rates). In 2010, Argentina's infant baptisms were 71% of the total estimated births in the country that year.
the last decade, the number of marriages in the Church in Argentina has fallen significantly. This pattern is not uncommon elsewhere and is one
of the reasons you see many bishops emphasizing statements about
marriage. However, the decline in marriage is not mirrored in similar declines in affiliation or the propensity to baptize children.
Numerically Argentina has had enough priests to cover commitments in its parishes (...that is not to say this works in practice with different types of assignments and ages of the priests being important). The number of parishes has grown from 1,830 in 1970 to 2,754 in 2010. But there were also 11,264 Catholics per parish in 2010 (...using the Pew Catholic population estimate). The number of diocesan priests has grown steadily as religious priests have become fewer in number since the 1980s. There were 5,243 Catholics per priest in 2010.
As in many parts of Latin America the concept of "weekly Mass attendance" is quite different from what is understood in the United States. Often, one may not live near a Catholic parish (with only 2,754 of these with an area of 2.8 million square km a sense of the "neighborhood parish" is rare). Thus, it is not too surprising that only about 21% of self-identified adult Catholics say they go to Mass every week in the country. But it is also the case that in the 1980s and 1990s about 30% of adult Catholics said they did so.
If you are interested in analyses of global/regional changes among the Jesuits in recent years make sure to see a recent post by CARA Executive Director Thomas P. Gaunt, S.J.
Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.
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