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Catholic World News News Feature

World Catholic population up 1.1% February 20, 2006

The world's Catholic population-- just over 1 billion-- increased by 1.1% in the latest year for which full statistics are available.

The 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook, shows 1,098,000,000 Catholics in the world. The volume shows figures compiled by the Church's central statistical bureau, headed by Mgr. Vittorio Formenti. The new edition, formally presented to Pope Benedict XVI on February 18, shows statistics through the end of the year 2004.

Between 2003 and 2004, the world's Catholic population grew by 12 million. But with overall world population growing at a considerably faster pace, the percentage of baptized Catholics among the world's people declined from 17.2% to 17.1%.

Over the same period, the number of Catholic priests in the world also rose slightly-- by 441-- to a total of 405,891. That increase came in a very uneven pattern. Africa and Asia saw a healthy growth in the number of priests living there, while the numbers in the Americas and Oceania held steady. But Europe saw a net loss of 1,876 priests.

The number of permanent deacons, which has risen steadily since 1978, continued to increase, particularly in Europe and the Americas. There are now 32,324 permanent deacons in the Catholic Church: a 2.5% increase over the past year's figures.

The number of seminaries grew, from 112,373 to 113,044, but again the figures show a marked variation. Africa and Asia have seen a healthy growth in the number of young men entering priestly training; in Europe the seminary population is dropping dangerously. The Annuario Pontificio shows the 15 new episcopal sees created by Pope Benedict during 2005, along with a metropolitan see and a new apostolic administration. There were also 170 new bishops appointed during the past year, whose names are included in the latest volume.

The Annuario has been produced each year since the end of the 19th century. The thick red volume, now accounting for over 2,000 pages, provides a directory for the entire Catholic hierarchy throughout the world, complete with statistics for each diocese. The new volume is traditionally presented to the Roman Pontiff when it is ready for publication.

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