04/06/2017, 17.04
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The number of Catholic believers, bishops and lay missionaries is up, the number of priests and nuns is down

Catholics number 1,285 billion, 17.7 per cent of the world population. They represent 3.2 per cent of Asia’s population, 19.4 per cent of Africa’s, 26.4 per cent of Oceania’s, 39.9 per cent of Europe’s and 63.7 per cent of the Americas’. With 34,741, Asia has the largest number of seminarians.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The number of Catholics in the world is up (from 1.272 billion in 2014 to 1.285 billion in 2015) as is the number of bishops, deacons, lay missionaries and catechists. However, the number of priests, religious and seminarians is down, this according to the 2017 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2015 Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, now available in bookstores.

The number of baptised Catholics went from 1.272 billion in 2014 to 1.285 billion in 2015, an increase of 1 per cent. Overall, Catholics represent 17.7 per cent of the world’s population. More specifically, there are 3.2 Catholics per 100 people in Asia, 19.4 in Africa, 26.4 in Oceania, 39.9 in Europe and 63.7 in the Americas.

From a medium-term perspective for the 2010-2015 period, there has been sustained growth (7.4 per cent) with regional variations. In Africa the number of Catholics grew by 19.4 per cent, from 186 to 222 million. In Europe, the situation remained stable (almost 286 million in 2015, up by 800,000 over 2010 but 1.3 million fewer than in 2014). This stagnation is due to well-known demographic factors. Despite the slight increase, Europe’s population is expected to decline in the coming years. The Americas and Asia are somewhere in between with the number of Catholics growing at the same rate as the continents’ overall population (+6.7 per cent and +9.1 per cent respectively). The situation remains unchanged in Oceania.

With respect to the clergy, the overall figure for 2015 was 466,215, including 5,304 bishops, 415,656 priests and 45,255 permanent deacons.

The overall number of bishops rose in every continent. The overall growth was 3.9 per cent in the five years under review. This meets the needs of the growing number of believers, and reflects a better balance vis-à-vis the existing number of priests.

After rising between 2000 and 2014, the overall number of priests dropped by 136 in 2015. However, the picture varies according to continent. Europe lost 2.502 priests, a drop compensated by Africa (+1,133), the Americas (+47), Asia (+1,104), and Oceania (+82).

Over 2010-2015, the number of priests grew by 0.83 per cent (from 412,236 to 415,656). The growth in Africa and Asia was sustained (+17.4 per cent and +13.3 per cent respectively). In the Americas, the number remained more or less the same (+0.35 per cent). Conversely, Europe and Oceania saw a decline of 5.8 and 2.0 per cent respectively.

The decline touched primarily religious priests. In fact, the number of diocesan priests rose from 277,009 in 2010 to 281,514 in 2015. Conversely, the ranks of religious priests shrank (-0.8 per cent) to just over 134,000 in 2015.

They number of permanent deacons is up, 14.4 per cent in the five-year period, from 39,564 to 45,255. The significant rise touches every continent.

The number of professed men religious who are not priests dropped slightly, from 54,665 in 2010 to 54,229 in 2015, a trend due mostly to a decline in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania. The numbers are up instead in Africa, and to a lesser extent in Asia.

By contrast, the number of professed women religious has dropped significantly, from 721,935 in 2010 to 670,320 in 2015, or 7.1 per cent. Here too regional differences are important. Africa saw a gain, from 66,375 in 2010 to 71,567 in 2015, for a 7.8 per cent increase. Second comes South-East Asia, where professed women religious went from 160,564 in 2010 to 166,786 in 2015, a gain of 3.9 per cent for the entire period or 0.78 per cent per year. Conversely, South and Central America saw a major decline, from 122,213 in 2010 to 112,051 in 2015. That is an 8.3 per cent drop for the whole period, or 1.7 per cent annually. The sharpest decline was recorded in North America (17.9 per cent overall, 3.6 per cent per year), Europe (13.4 per cent overall, 2.7 per cent per year), Oceania (13.8 per cent and 2.7 per cent), thus affecting the overall picture.

As for priestly vocations, the downward trend continues. In 2015, the number of major seminarians stood at 116,843, down from 116,939 in 2014, 118,251 in 2013, 120,051 in 2012, 120,616 in 2011 and 118,990 in 2010.

In Africa, the number of major seminarians increased steadily (7.7 per cent) over the period under consideration. Conversely, the number dropped in the Americas (8.1 per cent).  In the Middle East, the negative trend continued until 2013. In South East Asia, the number was up until 2012 (4.5 per cent), followed by a major drop so that in 2015 the number stood 1.6 per cent lower than in 2012.  In Europe, the number of seminarians dropped by 9.7 per cent in 2010-2015. In Oceania, the number rose until 2012 then plunged so that by 2015 it was lower by 6.9 per cent compared to 2012.

There are significant regional differences in overall numbers with, at the top, Asia (34,741), followed by the Americas (33,512), Africa (29,007), Europe (18,579), and Oceania (1,004).

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”