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.


Key Catholic Trends in Mexico

Pope Francis is making a Lenten season trip to Mexico this week (Feb. 12-18). Since 2010, approximately 82% of adult residents in Mexico have self-identified their religious affiliation as Catholic in national surveys, on average. This is equivalent to a population of about 97 million self-identified Catholics of all ages as of 2013, the most recent year for which Vatican statistics about parishes, priests, and sacraments are available (the self-identified Catholic population is estimated to have been 99.8 million at mid-year 2015). The Catholic affiliation percentage has fallen from where it was in the 1980s. In that decade, approximately 88% of adults self-identified as such. However, Mexico’s total population has grown and even with this lower affiliation percentage there were 42 million more Catholics in Mexico in 2013 than in 1980 (63% growth).

The percentage of Mexican Catholics saying that they attend Mass every week has declined in surveys from an average of 58% in the 1980s to 44% in the 2010s. However, once again, a declining percentage does not mean that there are fewer weekly attenders in the pews. With population growth the number of weekly Mass attenders has grown from 36.7 million in 1980 to 42.7 million in 2013 (16% growth). Given the number of parishes in Mexico in 2013 and the self-reported Mass attendance of survey respondents, we would estimate that there are 6,064 weekly attenders per parish.

Since 1980, Vatican statistics indicate that Mexican dioceses have added a net total of 3,072 parishes (77% growth). This additional infrastructure has made it possible to decrease the number of Catholics per parish slightly, even with population growth, from 15,932 in 1980 to 13,782 in 2013. These numbers are based on the size of the Catholic population as we see in national surveys rather than the Church’s own population estimates, which have been somewhat unreliable in Mexico.

It has been very uncommon for a parish to be entrusted to a non-priest in Mexico (i.e., Canon 517.2). Eighty-eight percent of parishes in 2013 were administered by a resident diocesan priest. More than 7% were administered by a resident religious priest, and 4% by a non-resident priest. Less than 1% were entrusted to any other type of person or are vacant.

Mexico has experienced growing numbers of clergy and vowed religious since 1980. The number of deacons present has increased from 34 to 894. The number of diocesan priests has increased by 82% from 7,030 in 1980 to 12,765 in 2013. The numbers of religious priests, brothers, and religious sisters have also all increased. In total, the workforce of the Church in terms of its clergy and vowed religious in Mexico has grown by 28% since 1980 and numbered 47,274 in 2013. This growth rate still lags behind the growth for the Catholic population which was 63% during this same period. However, Mexico is one of the few countries in the world where the workforce of the Church has consistently grown across all types of clergy and vowed religious.

Relative to its number of parishes, Mexican dioceses have large numbers of priests—nearly two diocesan priests per parish (1.8). Yet ratios of Catholics per parish remain high (13,782). More parish construction is likely needed in Mexican dioceses and there are a sufficient number of diocesan priests available for these parishes to still be administered by a resident priest pastor.

One of the reasons the Church in Mexico has had a growing number of diocesan priests is that it consistently ordains more men each year than it loses to mortality and defection.

As shown in the figure below, the number of centers of formation for priests has increased overall by 38% since 1980. In 2013, 36% of these centers were diocesan secondary school centers and 23% were diocesan philosophy and theology centers.

The numbers of men in formation in secondary school centers has declined as the number studying in philosophy or theology centers has increased. In 2013, a total of 6,544 men were in formation for the priesthood at a philosophy or theology center. In that same year, 389 men left these centers. This represents 5.9% of those enrolled and is slightly lower than the percentages leaving in years past.

The number of students enrolled in Catholic schools and institutions of higher learning has increased by 42% since 1980. Secondary schools and Catholic institutes of higher learning have grown, whereas there seems to be a more recent contraction, since 2000, in kindergarten and primary school enrollments. The largest growth has occurred among the number of students enrolled in Catholic institutes of higher learning. Just 54,469 were enrolled in 1980 compared to 229,738 in 2013. These shifts may be related to demographic changes noted at the end of this post.

There are more baptisms in Mexico than any other single country. However, the numbers of infant and child baptisms have declined since 1980 from more than 2 million a year to more than 1.6 million. However, the numbers being baptized age 7 or older is increasing. This may reflect a cultural change among Mexican Catholics or also represent structural barriers to baptisms of infants at an early age (e.g., no priest and/or parish available in rural areas). Numbers of First Communions have been stable and the numbers of Confirmations celebrated has been rising slightly in recent years.

As in many countries, fewer Catholics are choosing to marry and/or marry in the Church. The number of marriages celebrated in the Church in Mexico is down 31% since 1980—even as the population has grown.

The figure below shows changes in sacramental practice controlling for population growth. It shows the number of sacraments celebrated per 1,000 Catholics in a given year. From this perspective, the steepest decline is in baptisms. In 1980, 32 of these were celebrated for every 1,000 Catholics in Mexico. In 2013, just 18 were celebrated per 1,000 Catholics.

Does the decline baptisms represent Mexican Catholics leaving the faith in droves? No. According to World Bank data, in 1980, there were 33.8 births per 1,000 people in Mexico. In 2013, there were 18.4 births per 1,000 people. The shift in the crude rate for baptisms in Mexico simply mirrors changes in the crude birth rate. Similar patterns of declining fertility can be seen around the world resulting in fewer infant baptisms overall.

Ash Wednesday photo courtesy of Marko Vombergar/ALETEIA.

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