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World's Catholic population steady; up in Africa and Asia, down in Europe and Americas

May 13, 2013

The world’s Catholic population rose by 1.5% in 2011—the last year for which accurate figures are available—according to the Vatican’s latest statistics.

On May 13, Pope Francis received the first official copies of the 2013 Annuario Pontificio, the annual Vatican directory, along with the statistical yearbook, the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae. The statistics show the world’s Catholic population rising from 1,196 million in 2010 to 1,214 million in 2011. The Catholic proportion of the world’s overall population remained steady at 17.5%.

The Catholic population grew fastest in Africa, which saw a 2.3% increase in the number of baptized Catholics. In Europe and the Americas (which are treated as a single continent in Vatican compilations), the Catholic population grew at only 0.3%, matching the slow rate of overall population growth.

By 2011, the Americas accounted for 48.8% of the world’s Catholic population, followed by Europe with 23.5%, Africa with 16%, Asia with 10.9% and Oceania with 0.8%.

The number of Catholic priests in the world continued to grow slowly, sustaining a trend that began in 2000. At the end of 2011 there were 413,418 priests in the world, up slightly from the 412,236 figure in 2010. The number of priests in Africa and Asia soared—by 39% and 32%, respectively—while in the Americas the figure remained steady, and Europe saw a drop of more than 9%. The number of seminarians preparing for priestly ministry grew by a healthy 7.5% rate, again with large increases in Africa and Asia masking declines in Europe and the Americas.

The number of women religious declined sharply, however, from 782,000 to 713,000. The figures showed growth in Africa (28%) and Asia (18%), overshadowed by steep losses in the Americas (-17%) and Europe (-22%). The number of male religious climbed slightly, showing the same geographical pattern.

There was a sharp increase in the number of permanent deacons worldwide: from 29,000 to 41,000. In this case the growth came in North America and Europe, which account for more than 97% of the world’s permanent deacons.


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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - May. 14, 2013 11:04 PM ET USA

    Would there be a bigger increase of men studying for the priesthood if marriage were an option? The large increase in permanent deacons in Europe and North America seems telling. The Anglican Catholic clergy is showing the Church how it is managed.