World's Catholic population up, but sacramental practice in decline, study shows
June 02, 2015
The world’s Catholic population has grown by over 400 million since 1980, with the fastest growth coming in Africa and Asia, according to a new study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Although the CARA study showed overall growth in the number of Catholics, the results also contained some sobering news for the Church:
- Catholics are less likely to receive the sacraments, and less likely to marry in the Church.
- While the absolute number of Catholics in the world is projected to continue growing through 2050, the proportion of Catholics in the world’s overall population is not likely to change, according to the CARA study.
- The number of Catholic parishes has not nearly kept pace with the number of Catholics, and the number of priests serving the Catholic faithful has declined sharply—by 35% worldwide since 1980.
The CARA study shows a pronounced contrast between the growth of the Church in Africa and Asia on one hand, and the decline of Catholicism in Europe on the other. Since 1980, Africa has seen a 238% growth in the number of Catholics, 112% growth in the number of Catholic parishes, and 131% growth in the number of priests. In Europe, over the same period of time, the number of Catholics has grown by 6%, but the number of parishes has declined by 12% and the number of priests has plummeted by 32%.
The decline of European Catholicism is also vividly illustrated in the CARA study by the drop in the number of church marriages—from 1.5 million in 1980 to 650,000 in 2012—and the stunning loss of 1.5 million in the number of babies baptized.
The Church is also experiencing growth in Asia, where the number of Catholics has grown by 115% and the number of priests by 121%. The Americas—combining North and South America, as the Vatican does in its statistical yearbook—show much slower growth: 56% in the number of Catholics, but just 2% in Catholic priests. Oceania shows a similar pattern: a 67% increase in Catholics, but just 5% in Catholic parishes.
The CARA study showed that the proportion of Catholics receiving the sacraments on a regular basis declined worldwide since 1980. Not surprisingly, the steepest decline was in Europe, followed by the Americas.
For all current news, visit our News home page.
- Today’s Church: More Catholics, fewer receiving sacraments (RNS)
- There's a major global shift happening in the Catholic Church (Christian Today)
- Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts (CARA)
All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!
Posted by: Minnesota Mary -
Jun. 03, 2015 1:01 PM ET USA
Receiving the sacraments requires some preparation. Most Catholics today don't want to go through that preparation process. They want a Church that gives them what they want and requires nothing from them.
Posted by: ForOthers8614 -
Jun. 03, 2015 1:38 AM ET USA
"...the drop in the number of church marriages—from 1.5 million in 1980 to 650,000 in 2012—and the stunning loss of 1.5 million in the number of babies baptized. My Dear Bishop, Have we, the faithful, missed something? Are we not following you, our shepherds? Teach us and lead us, please, that we might know how we, the laity, can best serve the Body and all of the souls in your diocese who seem to be suffering from some grave affliction. Love, Your Flock