Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful at the end of the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on Sunday.
updated 2/6/2008 3:45:43 PM ET 2008-02-06T20:45:43

The number of men and women belonging to Roman Catholic religious orders worldwide has continued to decline but there has been an increase in priests assigned to dioceses, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The total of men and women in Catholic religious orders in 2006 stood at 945,210, which is 7,230 fewer than the previous year, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. He said an article Monday in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had overstated the decrease.

The Vatican's statistics office said the total number of priests worldwide stood at 405,000, with an increase of 600 diocesan clerics.

The overwhelming majority in religious orders, 753,400, are women.

'Churches appear to be dying'
The Vatican has long lamented a decrease in the number of priestly vocations in Europe and elsewhere in recent years, while the number of priests has increased in Africa and Asia.

The Osservatore Romano report did not give a reason for the recent figures.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech to Italian priests that the West was "a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there's no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself."

Mentioning Australia, Europe and the United States, the pontiff said in that speech that "one sees that the great churches appear to be dying."

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