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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 01:52 GMT
Catholic nuns and monks decline
Roman Catholic nuns at the Vatican (2 February 2008)
Women form the majority of the "members of the consecrated life"
The Vatican has reported a further dramatic fall in the number of Roman Catholic monks and nuns worldwide.

Newly published statistics showed that the number of men and women belonging to religious orders fell by 10% to just under a million between 2005 and 2006.

During the pontificate of the late Pope John Paul II, the number of Catholic nuns worldwide declined by a quarter.

The downward trend accelerated despite a steady increase in the membership of the Catholic Church to more than 1.1bn.

However, correspondents say even this failed to keep pace with the overall increase in world population.

Dramatic fall

On the back page of its official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican published on Monday new statistics revealing that between 2005 and 2006 the number "members of the consecrated life" fell by just under 10%.

The number of members, predominantly women, some engaged only in constant prayer, others working as teachers, health workers and missionaries, fell 94,790 to 945,210.

Pope Benedict at the Vatican (2 February 2008)
The membership of the Roman Catholic Church has risen to 1.1bn

Of the total, 753,400 members were women, while 191,810 were men, including 136,171 priests and 532 permanent deacons.

The figures were published next to a report of Pope Benedict XVI's meeting with nuns, monks and priests from many countries gathered in St Peter's Basilica in Rome last weekend.

The BBC's David Willey in the Italian capital says the accelerating downward trend must have caused concern to the Pope.

The Roman Catholic Church has an aging and diminishing number of parish and diocesan clergy and this latest fall is quite dramatic, our correspondent says.

The number of Catholic nuns worldwide declined by about a quarter during the reign of Pope John Paul, and this further drop shows that new recruits are failing to replace those nuns who die, or decide to abandon their vows, he adds.

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