Tuesday Q&A: How many consecrated virgins are there in the world today?

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Around the World

A September 2015 survey sent by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) to the 114 episcopal conferences around the world indicated that there are around 4,000 consecrated virgins in the Catholic Church, living in at least 78 countries. (It is worth noting that less than half— 42%— of the countries known to have consecrated virgins responded to the survey, so the actual numbers are likely higher.)

Incomplete Statistics

It is difficult to know exactly how many women are currently living as consecrated virgins around the world for a couple of reasons. First, many episcopal conferences have not kept track of the number of women consecrated since the revised Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity was promulgated in 1970, and the number of women consecrated each year has not been reported to the Vatican (unlike, for example, the number of men being ordained to the priesthood each year). Second, it is believed that there are consecrated virgins— or women living out a similar form of consecration— in countries where the Church is being persecuted (such as China), but because they cannot profess their faith openly, their numbers are unknown.

Geographic Distribution

The distribution of the approximately 4,000 consecrated virgins across continents is as follows:

  • Europe: 67%
  • North and South America: 27%
  • Africa: 4%
  • Asia: 1%
  • Oceania: < 1%

China is an exceptional case, not included in the totals for the continent of Asia, since the Church there operates “underground” and cannot report accurate numbers. It is estimated that there are about 1,100 women living a life of consecrated virginity (or a similar form of virginal consecration) in their local dioceses in China.

The survey also provided information regarding the total numbers of consecrated virgins in specific countries:

  • Over 1,200 consecrated virgins— about half of the total number in Europe and nearly a third of the total number worldwide— reside in Italy and France alone.
  • The United States is one of 7 other countries around the world that each have between 180 and 250 consecrated virgins.
  • 69 other countries have 80 or fewer consecrated virgins, and dozens of those countries have 10 or fewer.

The reasons for this geographic distribution, with the vast majority of consecrated virgins living in Europe (and disproportionately high numbers in Italy and France), are believed to be historical, sociological, and demographic:

  • Historical: Christianity has had deep roots in Western Europe for 2,000 years, while other parts of the world were evangelized more recently, relatively speaking.
  • Sociological: Traditional social structures in some African and Asian countries do not encourage women to pursue lifestyles of social and financial independence.
  • Demographic: There appears to be a direct correlation between the number of vocations to the Order of Virgins and the local Catholic population (i.e., there are more vocations where the Catholic population is greater).

In the United States

There are currently 245 consecrated virgins residing in the United States, living in over 100 dioceses throughout the country. For current numbers of consecrated virgins in specific dioceses throughout the United States, you can visit the Web site of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins (consecratedvirgins.org).

Continuous Growth

As far as general statistics go, the CICLSAL survey found that there has been continuous growth in the Order of Virgins since 1970, the year that the revised Rite was promulgated. By 2020, if the number of consecrated virgins continues to grow at the current rate, there will be about 5,000 consecrated virgins worldwide, a 20% increase since the year 2015.

Have a question that you’d like to see answered in a Tuesday Q&A?
E-mail it to aconsecratedvirgin@gmail.com or comment on this post!
Image Source: The Catholic Company
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