Catholic orders disappearing

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The monastic and religious orders are the foot soldiers of the Catholic faith. They are one of the most enduring and influential movements in human history.

In Australia, and the western world generally, they are in serious decline.

Numbers have halved in the last 25 years. The median age is 73. The death rate vastly outstrips the number of new members.

Many of the 161 orders of nuns, brothers and priests will be extinct within 15 years - some have only two or three members - and they have closed or transferred more than 100 hospitals, schools or aged-care facilities.

Australia has 8422 members of Catholic religious orders - 5927 women, 1611 priests and 884 brothers - down from a peak of 19,413 in 1966. Only 8 per cent are under 50, while 74 per cent are over 65 and 27 per cent are over 80.

In the 12 years to 2009, the orders recruited 401 new members, of whom three-quarters were still there last year. But 2531 members died and 483 left in the same time.

I'd be interested to know how many of the new recruits came from the global South.

Some thoughts on why the decline and how some orders are bucking the trend.