The Catholic Church has been increasingly turning to Africa and Asia to find priests to staff its parishes in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world because it's now struggling to find native priests in these areas, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
"A growing phenomenon within the Church is the use of African and Asian priests in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere where there are too few native priests to staff parishes," noted CARA in a report highlighted on the Center's blog 1964 Thursday.
The report explained that across the world the ratio of Catholics per priest has grown with the number of Catholics per priest increasing from 1,895 in 1980 to 2,965 in 2012.
The general shortage of priests says the report is also preventing the construction of new parishes in emerging Catholic communities.
"Globally, the Church had only 713 more priests, diocesan and religious combined, in 2012 than it did in 1980. The most serious decline was in Europe, which had a net loss of 56,830 priests during this period, representing a 23 percent decline in this population," said the report.
The Catholic Church is now in the process of retooling, explains the report, due to the variations in the growth of Catholicism in different regions of the world. While the global Catholic population has grown by 57 percent since 1980 to a total population of just over 1.2 billion, Europe's Catholic population grew by just 6 percent.
During this period, however, the number of Catholics in Africa grew by 238 percent while Asia saw an increase of 115 percent for the period. The Americas saw growth of just 56 percent over the period while Europe only registered a 6 percent increase. The report highlighted the differences in growth in some instances to variations in fertility rates over time.
"Strong growth in the number of Catholics in Africa relative to in Europe is more a phenomenon of differential fertility than immigration or evangelization. Latin America and the Caribbean have historically also had higher levels of fertility than Europe and North America, leading to strong growth in the number of Catholics in this region," said the report.
"The Church is undergoing a dramatic realignment due largely to these differential growth patterns. The parishes that served the Church for hundreds and hundreds of years are no longer closely aligned with the world's Catholic population and certainly not its most frequently mass attending populations. However, there is no giant crane that can pick up a parish from Europe and relocate it to Africa," explained the report.
"The process of realignment is slow given the autonomy of the Church's diocesan and parish structures. Bishops and pastors do not always have the most current information globally on the changes in their population. Nor does closing parishes in one diocese present a 'savings' to another diocese so that a new parish can be built. The Church does not function like a multinational corporation," it added.
"Given the prevailing trends for population, parishes, and priests, the Church is likely to continue to realign in the coming decades. In 2012, Europe was home to less than one in four Catholics (23 percent). Yet this region still has 55 percent of all Catholic parishes and 45 percent of all Catholic priests. It is likely that Europe faces a future of fewer priests and more parish closures while growth in priests and parishes is likely to continue in Asia and Africa," the report further noted.