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CURRENT ISSUE:  July 3, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 13 • Oakland, CA

More Catholics in Calif. by 2025,
Church studies how to serve them

California’s Catholic population is growing by more than 13 percent each year, and by 2025 Catholics will make up more than 36 percent of the state’s population --- up from 30 percent in 2005.

The forecast --- part of a lengthy demographic study conducted for the California Catholic Conference by Seattle researcher Joseph Claude Harris and issued this week --- also noted that Latino Catholics are driving the state’s Catholic population increase, accounting for 80 percent of the church’s anticipated growth in California.

Overall, Catholics represent nearly 60 percent of California’s projected population growth in the next 20 years, the forecast stated, adding that the growth presents mixed blessings for Catholic leaders: the prospect of increased membership is encouraging, but only insofar as the Church’s ability to serve its people (particularly through the sacraments).

And with the priest population declining statewide, only a handful of new parishes have been created over the previous 15 years, a trend that will continue. The forecast projections are that, by 2025, the average parish will serve more than 5,500 households, almost 50 percent more than in 2005.

“We are truly blessed that the Catholic Church in California is vibrant and growing, but our future should not happen by accident,” said Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire, president of the California Catholic Conference. “As pastors responsible for the spiritual well-being of our Catholic people, studies like this will help us do what we need to do to better serve the needs of burgeoning Catholic communities throughout the state.”

In terms of sheer numbers, the study paints a picture of vibrant and dynamic growth for the Catholic Church in California:
---The state’s total Catholic population will grow by 5.6 million in the next 20 years -- from 11.1 million in 2005 to 16.7 million in 2025. The increase includes 3.5 million from a natural increase (births in excess of deaths) and 2.1 million as a result of migration from other states and countries. California’s total population is expected to increase from 36.6 million people in 2005 to 45.9 million in 2025.
---By 2025, 4.3 million new Catholics will be baptized, more than 3.1 million children will celebrate their First Holy Communion, and the average parish will have expanded by over 1,800 families.
---A major factor driving the growth of the Church in California is the growth in California’s Hispanic population, an estimated 60 percent of whom are Catholic. The four dioceses in Southern California alone will contribute 25 percent of the projected national growth in Catholic Church membership over the next 20 years.

The study noted that Catholic parishes in the United States will add 17.4 million additional members over the next 20 years, but that growth will happen “unevenly,” with four out of five new Catholics living in the South, Southwest, Mountain and Pacific states.

“This disproportionate growth will place extraordinary pressures on some dioceses in the region to open new parishes while the number of active diocesan priests continues to decline,” said Harris, citing the Diocese of San Bernardino as an example of an area facing huge growth issues.

“Parishes in an area like San Bernardino already have, on average, 4,600 registered households,” he said. “The Diocese of San Bernardino will need to open five new parishes a year over the next 20 years to merely maintain the present average parish size.”

About 80 percent of the anticipated nationwide growth in the number of Catholics can be attributed to a rapid increase in the Hispanic population particularly in California, Arizona and Texas. A rapid growth in the Hispanic population will be a key issue confronting Church leadership in southern, mountain and Pacific Coast states.

Harris noted that after studying population and Church membership trends in California, four key trends emerge.
• The Latino population is growing much faster than the non-Latino population. The annual average growth rate for Latinos is 15 percent while non-Latinos are increasing at an annual rate of only 2 percent. As a result, the number of Latinos will grow from 36 percent of the total California population in 2005 to 45 percent by 2025.
• The Catholic population in California is also growing faster than the non-Catholic group. The annual average growth rate for Catholics is 13 percent; the number of non-Catholics is increasing at an annual rate of 4 percent. By 2025 one American Catholic in five will live in California.
• The number of active diocesan priests is declining at a rate of 22 priests per year. This pattern suggests that the foundation of new parishes to accommodate congregations that have increasing membership will be more difficult in the future. Given a continuation of the present pattern where the number of parishes remains stable, the average parish will increase from 3,721 households in 2005 to 5,561 households by 2025.
• Finally, “Catholic religious practices remain strong,” Harris asserted. The research report provided an estimate, for example, of how many infant baptisms might be expected from the number of births in the total population. There were 594,000 births in California in 1990.

“Since Catholics represented 24.5 percent of the total population, we initially expected 145,373 infant baptisms,” said Harris. “The data further showed that the Catholic baptismal rate was 13 percent higher than the population birth rate.

"The initial estimate of expected baptisms was adjusted by 13 percent to reflect the impact of Catholic baptisms, producing an estimate of 164,270 infant baptisms if all Catholic parents represented in the proportion of 24.5 percent brought their children for infant baptism. The same close relationship held true, Harris added, for an expected-to-actual comparison for Catholic funerals.

Copies of the complete study are available in English at www.cacatholic.org.

A teaching moment
Bishop Allen Vigneron speaks about Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical during a special meeting of the board of directors and leadership team of Catholic Charities of the East Bay. The encyclical focuses on love and Catholic charity in the world.


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