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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

How Many Catholics in the World?

I keep reading this thing about over a billion Catholics in the world and rising. Now I don't really do numbers but I did begin to wonder who produces this figure and succeeds in getting everyone to accept it. It makes the Pope look like a really big Boss,up there with the guys who run China.

The figure comes from the Vatican which publishes an Annuario Pontifico which everyone (including the CIA) seems to accept as Gospel.

They do it like this: they add up all the Baptisms in the last year and add them to the running total of Baptisms from previous years. Presumably, they take away those among the previous baptised who die. That must be trickier. Who tells the Church that a baptised Catholic has died if that person doesn't get processed (last rites, funeral) through the Church?

A  small number of baptised Catholics get excommunicated each year for holding progressive political views and a small number ask for their names to be removed from the books. My guess is that uncounted Deaths add many more than these subtract

But basically it's Baptism which gives us this One Billion figure. There is a small problem that the figures don't always add up and I will mention that first.

For example, if I go to Catholic_Church_by_country at Wikipedia, I get over 8 million Catholics in the UK - over 14% of the population. But if I click to go through to Roman_Catholicism_in_the_United_Kingdom, the figure changes to a bit over 5 million (nearly 9% of the population). In both cases, the figures appear to be from Church sources; they just disagree by over 50% ....

OK, so the Church authorities aren't very good at arithmetic. But  that's not the Big Issue.

The real trouble with counting by Baptisms is that it makes me an Anglican. I was baptised in 1947, the year of my birth, and I haven't de-registered. If you asked me how I feel about the Church of England, on a day when I was feeling benign I would probably suggest that it be dis-established and its worldly assets seized and sold off to reduce the deficit and the debt.

The world is full of lapsed Catholics and worse. The world is full of people who hate the Church for ruining their lives or who loathe the Vatican or have lost all faith in God. Never mind. As far as the Church is concerned, they are all part of that One Billion which gives the Vatican its special status at the United Nations and its  Nuncios all over the world.

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