Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests, permanent deacons and religious men all increased in 2012, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, this according to the recently published 2014 Statistical Yearbook of the Church.
By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population rose by 10.2 per cent, reaching 1.228 billion, up from 1.115 billion. During the same period, the world's population rose from 6.46 to 7.02 billion. The percentage of Catholics increased slightly, from 17.3 per cent to 17.5 per cent.
Asia played a major role in this rise. With a gain of 29 per cent (second only to that of Africa), Asian Catholics now represent about 11 per cent of the continent's population.
The dynamism of Asian Catholicism can be measured by its expanding clergy; this includes a rise in women religious whose numbers are dropping elsewhere.
Overall, world Catholicism is taking on more African and Asian traits. Europe, home to 23 per cent of the world's Catholic community in 2012, has the lowest growth, with the number of baptised believers up by just over 2 per cent. European Catholics' proportion remained stable at around 40 per cent, with the Americas home to 49 per cent of baptised Catholics in the world.
The number of bishops in the world also increased in the 2005-2012 period, going from 4,841 to 5,133, an increase of 292 bishops, or 6 per cent. On average, all continents showed a similar rate of increase.
The total number of priests in the world in 2012 was up by about 2 per cent, resulting from an increase of 3.6 per cent in the diocesan clergy and a drop of 1.4 per cent in the religious clergy.
In 2012, there were 414,313 priests in the world. Of these, 279,561 were in the diocesan clergy compared to 134,752 in the religious clergy. In 2005, the total number was 406,411, with 269,762 diocesan and 136,649 religious.
The highest increase was reported in Africa (+24 per cent) and Asia (+20 per cent), followed by the Americas (+1.6 per cent) and Oceania (+0.2 per cent). The number of European priests dropped instead (-6 per cent). The religious clergy decreased everywhere, except in Asia and Africa.
European priests are still the largest group (45 per cent), twice as many as in the Americas (186,489 vs 122,924). Asia's clergy represents 14.5 per cent of the total; Africa's is 9.7 per cent; and Oceania's stands at 1.1 per cent.
The proportion of priests in the Americas and Oceania to the rest of the world did not change between 2005 and 2012. However, Africa's clergy went from 8.0 per cent in 2005 to 9.7 per cent in 2012. In Asia, it went from 12.3 to 14.5 per cent. Conversely, the clergy in Europe fell from 48.8 to 45.0 per cent.
Among pastoral workers, permanent deacons saw the greatest changes. They rose from 33,391 in 2005 to 42,000 in 2012, a rise of more than 26 per cent. The jump was significant in Europe (from under 11,000 to almost 14,000) and in the Americas (from 21 722 to more than 27,000). Few deacons operate in Africa and Asia, which together account for just 1.5 per cent of the total.
In the period under review, professed religious who are not priests saw a slight increase, from 54,708 in 2005 to 55,314 in 2012. However, these figures conceal a sharp plunge in Europe (-10.2 per cent), Oceania (-7 per cent) and the Americas (-3.1 per cent), compared to a major rise in Asia (+27, 5 per cent) and Africa (+8.8 per cent). In 2012, the proportion of religious who are not priests in these last two continents exceed that in the Americas. Europe has the highest proportion (31.8 per cent), but one that has significantly dropped.
The number of women in religious orders stood at 702,529 in 2012, 38 per cent in Europe, followed by the Americas (more than 186,000) and Asia (almost 170,000). This represents a decline of 7.6 per cent over 2005, especially in Europe, the Americas and Oceania, with some significant (around 15 per cent) variations.
In Africa and Asia however, there was a big jump, 16.7 per cent and 10.5 per cent respectively. Professed women in Africa and Asia saw their proportion rise from 27.9 per cent to 33.9 per cent, as Europe and America saw their overall proportion decline from 70.8 to 64.9 per cent.
The number of seminarians also increased by 4.9 per cent, from 114,439 in 2005 to 120 051 in 2012. The greatest rise occurred in Asia where the number of seminarians in the period under review rose by 18 per cent. Africa followed with 17.6 per cent, then Oceania with 14.2 per cent. Europe and America saw a drop of 13.2 and 2.8 per cent respectively.
In 2012, out of 1,000 candidates for the priesthood worldwide, 299 were from the Americas, 296 from Asia, 231 from Africa, 166 from Europe and 8 from Oceania.