PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Diocese of Providence says Catholic churches across the state have experienced a steep decline in the number of parishioners in recent years.

Rhode Island is one of the most heavily Catholic states. WPRI-TV reports the diocese released statistics from 2000 to 2018 earlier this month online in the diocesan newspaper.

The newspaper states that the number of parishioners dropped by about 200,000, to roughly 321,000 in 2018. Fewer people chose to get married, attend Mass or have their children baptized in the church. Fewer students attended Catholic schools and fewer men became priests.

Rhode Island's population grew over that time period and the church faced sex-abuse scandals worldwide.

Bishop Thomas Tobin, who asked for the "pastoral profile," says other dioceses face declining numbers too and it presents daunting challenges.

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