The World

How many Catholics are there in the world?

The Fides agency has published a report with statistical data on the Church. Among the figures provided in the study are the percentage of Catholics in the world, the number of ordained priests and the number of Catholic education schools open all over the world.

Paloma López Campos-October 20, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes

Pilgrims attending WYD from around the world displayed their flags during a parade in Lisbon (CNS photo / Lola Gomez).

– Supernatural Fides Agency has published a report with data on Catholics in the world. The document gives an idea, through the figures, of the situation of the Church. It is customary for this press agency to present this study in the run-up to World Catholic Day. Missionswhich in 2023 will be held on Sunday, October 22.

The report aims to show a global picture of the Catholic Church, extracting data from the "Statistical Yearbook of the Church", updated to December 31, 2021. As specified in the document, the numbers of the study "refer to the members of the Church, its pastoral structures, the activities in the health, welfare and educational fields".

Global perspective

According to statistics, at the end of 2021 the world population was 7,785,769,000 people, which implies an increase of 118,633,000 compared to 2020. This increase in population was recorded in all continents of the world except Europe, which recorded a drop of 224,000. It is interesting to note that the continent where most people were born was Asia (71,186,000 more people), followed by Africa, then America and finally Oceania.

Knowing these data, it is possible to put into perspective the number of Catholics in the world. According to the "Statistical Yearbook", on December 31, 2021, there were 1375,852,000 Catholics in the world, which implies an increase of 16,240,000 people compared to 2020. Again, Europe is the only continent to show a decrease, as 244,000 fewer Catholics were recorded. However, Africa saw the largest increase (8,312,000 people), followed by the Americas, Asia and Oceania, in that order.

Nevertheless, the report notes that the percentage of Catholics has decreased compared to the previous year, dropping by 0.06 percent. In total, the worldwide percentage of Catholics is 17.67 % of the global population.

Attention to lay Catholics

Fides notes that the number of inhabitants per priest also increased, reaching 15,556. In relation to this, the number of Catholics per priest has also increased in all continents, except in Asia.

The number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions also increased in 2021, bringing the total number to 3,030. New circumscriptions were created in both the Americas and Africa, while the number of circumscriptions in the other continents remained unchanged.

On the other hand, the number of mission stations with resident priests has decreased. There are 43 fewer than in 2020, although it is true that they increased in America and Europe, but decreased in both Asia and Africa. As for mission stations without a resident priest, they decreased by 297 units.

Bishops, priests and deacons worldwide

The report of the Fides agency states that there are 5,340 bishops worldwide, decreasing by a total of 23 units. Diocesan bishops total 4,155. They increased in Africa and Europe, but decreased in America, Asia and Oceania. On the other hand, religious bishops number 1,185 worldwide and have decreased in all continents except Oceania.

As for priests, there are also fewer than in 2020. In total, there are 407,872. The greatest decrease is in Europe, which has 2,347 fewer priests. However, in Africa there are 1,518 more ordained men, an increase that is also seen, to a lesser extent, in both Asia and Oceania. In total, both diocesan and religious priests have decreased. There are 279,610 and 128,262, respectively.

The Fides news agency reports that the number of permanent deacons is on the rise. As of December 31, 2021, there were 49,176, which implies an increase over the previous year in all continents.

Religious and secular institutes, a number that continues to decline

As for non-priest religious, there are a total of 49,774 in the world. This means that the number has dropped by 795 units. Despite this global picture, there was an increase in male religious life in Africa and Asia.

As far as religious women are concerned, the overall figure has been on a downward trend for some time now. The "statistical yearbook" reports a total of 608,958 in the world. As in the case of the male branch, the increase in religious vocations only took place in Africa and Asia, while Europe heads the table of decreases.

The male secular institutes have a total of 593 members, although they increased in Africa, with 21 men. The number of members of women's secular institutes is much higher, with a total of 19,688. However, the figure shows a decrease of 278 women compared to 2020.

Lay missionaries and catechists, declining trend

The total number of lay missionaries in the world is 410,449, which implies a decrease of 3,112 persons. The country in which this downward trend is more pronounced is the Americas, while Asia experienced an increase of 668 lay missionaries.

The number of catechists has also decreased, with a total of 5,397. Numbers have dropped especially in the Americas and Europe, but increased in both Africa and Asia.

Seminarians increase in Africa

Major seminarians, both diocesan and religious, have decreased by 1,960 persons. This brings the total number of major seminarians to 109,895 (66,553 diocesan and 43,342 religious). The downward trend is registered in all continents, except in Africa, which had 185 more people. 

The number of minor seminarians increased by 316, bringing the total to 95,714. While it is true that they have decreased in all continents, Africa registered an increase of 2,053 minor seminarians.

As for minor seminarians, diocesan seminarians have decreased by 442 units. The only continent in which they have increased is Africa. On the other hand, the number of minor religious seminarians has generally increased, with Europe being the only continent where the number has decreased.

Educational Institutions

The Church administers many educational institutions throughout the world. The Fides report notes that there are 74,368 nursery schools, with 7,565,095 pupils. In addition, there are 100,939 primary schools with 34,699,855 children.

The Church also coordinates 49,868 Catholic secondary schools, for a total of 19,485,023 students. Finally, its institutions have 2,483,406 students in high schools and 3,925,325 in Catholic universities.

Catholic health institutes

There are many Catholic charitable and welfare health institutes throughout the world. In all, the Church operates 5,405 hospitals; 14,205 dispensaries; 567 leprosaria; 15,276 homes for the elderly, sick, chronically ill and disabled; 9,703 orphanages; 10,567 day-care centers; 10,604 marriage counseling centers; and 3,287 social re-education centers.

Percentage of Catholics by continent

At the end of its report, Fides gives the percentage of Catholics in relation to the total population of each continent. America has the highest density, while in Asia the ratio of Catholics to the number of people on the continent is the highest. The exact data by continent are as follows:

  • America: Catholics represent 64.08 % of the total population;
  • Europe: 39.58 % declare themselves Catholic;
  • Oceania: The Catholics of the continent are 25.94 %;
  • Africa: 19.38 % of the population is Catholic;
  • Asia: Catholics are 3.32 % of the total population of the continent.
Pope Francis greets the crowd of pilgrims attending WYD 2023 in Lisbon (CNS photo / Vatican Media).
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