The now clearly fragmented nature of the global Catholic world means that there are some very diverse situations regarding vocations to consecrated celibacy, both for diocesan clergy and for those in religious life. Asia and Africa have slow but steady growth, while vocations continue to decline in the northern hemisphere and, in an almost similar way, in Latin America. Bishops, as well as superiors of religious orders, are writing letters to raise awareness of the issue. Everywhere there is talk of making greater efforts to promote vocations. But is the problem really one of communication? We will try to offer some elements of an answer to this question, driven by the conviction that the situation calls for an in-depth analysis of social and ecclesial realities.
We will do so by paying particular attention to the case of the Society of Jesus. After all, it may perhaps represent a significant model, being widely involved throughout the world and the largest Catholic male religious Order. That said, it is also the Order that has experienced the steepest decline since 1965, as Jesuit numbers have fallen from 36,038 that year (the highest number in their history) to 14,893 in 2020. Other Orders or Congregations enjoy a better vocational situation. The Discalced Carmelites, for example, had the same number of religious in 2019 as in 1965, namely, 4,000.
The Catholic Church depends heavily on its consecrated ministers and also on its men and women religious who, in recent centuries, have contributed so powerfully to the development of the Catholic mission and its enterprises throughout the world. How can we understand the decline in vocations, at least in the lands of ancient Catholic tradition? It seems that a combination of factors, both ecclesial and sociological, must be taken into consideration.