There are approximately 1 billion Catholics across the globe and they make up 17 percent of the total population. Catholics dominate South and Central America, constitute a significant portion of Europe’s population and reside in large numbers in North America and Africa.
Church demographic data* over the past three decades show that:
- The Catholic proportion of the total population continues to decline in South America (from 91 percent in 1976 to 87 percent in 2000) and recently began to decrease in Central America (from 87 percent in 1994 to 85 percent in 2000);
- North America’s Catholic population has remained at about 25 percent;
- The Catholic population in Africa has increased substantially (from 12 percent to 16 percent).
While there are Catholics who wholly agree with and abide by the policies set forth by the church, there are many more who question its dictates as they relate to their personal lives and the role played by the church in public policy. Whatever paths Catholics choose to follow, it is evident that Catholics are not monolithic in their views, and more often than not disagree with the positions of the church on issues pertaining to family life and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
It is critical that those who develop public policy and those who serve Catholics as health care and social service providers are aware of these views. Such awareness will continue to move the church, along with the national and international communities, toward a greater understanding of its people.