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Worldwide Increase in Number of Catholics. More Bishops, More Priests, More Deacons

April 27th, 2010
Asia News (www.asianews.it/)

The Statistical Yearbook of the Church records that there are 1.166 billion Catholics on the planet with a growth rate slightly ahead of that of the global population. 5,002 bishops and 409,166 priests. The vitality of Catholicism in Asia, where all data is positive.

VATICAN CITY (AsiaNews) - The number of Catholics in the world is increasing, from 1.045 million in 2000 it has risen to 1.166 million in 2008, with a relative change of +11.54%. Similar trends in the number of bishops, which grew from 4,541 in 2000 to 5,002 in 2008, an increase just over 10%.  The number of priests grew from 405,178 to 409,166, candidates for the priesthood increased from 110,583 to 117,024 and permanent deacons rose from 27,824 to 37,203.

These are just some of the numbers revealed by the recently published Statistical Yearbook of the Church.

At a global level the number of baptized Catholics increased from 1.045 million in 2000 to 1166 million in 2008, with a relative change of +11.54% an increase only slightly ahead of the world's population growth, which stands at 10.77% . The highest increase is recorded in Africa (+33.02%), followed by Asia (+15.61%), Oceania (+11.39%) and America (+10.93%). Europe remains substantially stable (+1.17%). In 2008, Catholics were 17.40% of the world's population, they were 17.28% in 2000. The biggest increase was recorded in Africa, from 16.47 to 17.77% with a change of more than 33%, followed by Asia, with a growth of 15.61% and passing from 2.90% of the population to 3.05%.

Turning to the priests, there was considerable growth in their numbers in Africa and Asia, +33.1% and +23.8%, respectively.  The data is nearly stationary for America, while there was a considerable drop of over 7% in Europe and Oceania - 4%. If we then distinguish between diocesan priests and religious priests, while the number of first rose from 265,781 in 2000 to 272,431 in 2008, thus showing a significant recovery, that of the latter is in constant decline. Indeed, the religious priests, which counted 139,397 in 2000, declined to about 135 thousand eight years later. 

The distribution of the percentage of priests per continent shows, as was expected, significant changes in the eight years under consideration. Africa and Asia in 2000 contributed 17.5% of priests to the world total; in 2008 their contribution had risen to 21.9%. Even America has slightly increased its percentage. The only continent that has seen its share decline is Europe: in 2000 more than 208 000 European priests represented nearly 51% of the total number of priests worldwide, while eight years later that number has fallen to 47%.

Summing up, demographic changes and variations in the number of priests as the shifting balance in the number of Catholics per priest emerges. This ratio has increased over time and, globally, has risen from 2,579 Catholics per priest at the beginning of the period, to 2849 at the end. The number of Catholics per priest has increased on every continent, but the size ratio is quite diverse from continent to continent. In 2008, for example, compared to an average of about 1,400 Catholics per priest in Europe, in Africa there are about 4800 and 4700 in America.  These numbers also reveal the different structure of relations between priests and faithful.

Professed sisters, count a total population of 740 thousand in 2008, about twice that of the priests and about 41% present in Europe, followed by America with over 203 000 consecrated women and Asia which reaches 161 000. Compared to 2000, the group suffered a decline of 7.75%. This drop was registered on three continents (Europe, America and Oceania), with significantly negative changes (around 15-17 percent).

In Africa and Asia, however, there has been a decided increase in the numbers, around 21% in Africa and 16% for Asia. As a result of these differing dynamics, the proportion of religious in Africa and Asia rose from 23% to 30% of the world total at the expense of Europe and America whose impact has been reduced overall from 75% to 68 %.

Finally there is a clearly growing trend of students of philosophy and theology in the diocesan and religious centres: globally it has risen from almost 110 thousand in 2000 to over 117 thousand in 2008, with a variation of 28.6%. The evolution is very different on diverse continents. If one refers to the original starting year, then on a global level, America was first with 33% of the total, 24% for Europe, Asia and Africa had 23% and 18%. Eight years later, the number of students in the U.S. has dropped to 31%, European students to 18%, while that number has increased to about 28% in Asia and 22%Africa.

Referring to the number of Catholics, the vitality of Asia and Africa are confirmed, with about 148 candidates per million believers in Africa and 263 in Asia. The European (75) and American (63) numbers are much lower. Out of 100 priests, Africa and Asia confirm their supremacy with 72 and 61 candidates, respectively, while the European situation is weaker: only 11 candidates for every 100 priests (in 2000 there were 13). Worldwide, however, the number has passed thanks to the contribution of Asia and Africa, from about 27 to less than 29.

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