The World

Statistical Yearbooks of the Holy See: increase in the number of baptized and decrease in the number of priests

The number of baptized Catholics in the world has increased by 1 % to 1.39 billion. The number of priests has decreased slightly, while the number of permanent deacons has increased by 2 % worldwide.  

Giovanni Tridente-April 8, 2024-Reading time: 2 minutes

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, 2023 ©OSV

The Statistical Yearbooks of the Holy See, the "Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2022" and the "Annuario Pontificio 2024," which have just been published by the Tipografia Vaticana, offer, as always, an interesting overview of the evolution of the Catholic Church worldwide. These volumes, published by the Central Statistical Office of the Church, represent an authoritative source for the faithful and the initiated to analyze the dynamics at play in the international ecclesial panorama.

From the data, a contrasting picture emerges, with lights and shadows that vary according to geographical areas. Globally, there is an 1% increase in the number of baptized Catholics, reaching 1.39 billion in 2022 versus 1.376 billion in 2021. This increase is mainly driven by the African continent, where the faithful increased from 265 to 273 million (+3%), while Europe remains stable at 286 million Catholics.

A positive trend affects the number of bishops, which increased by 0.25% in the 2021-2022 biennium, from 5,340 to 5,353. The most significant growth was recorded in Africa (+2.1%) and Asia (+1.4%).

The number of permanent deacons also continues to grow worldwide, from 49,176 to 50,150 (approximately +2%). The most important advances have occurred in Africa, Asia and Oceania, where this figure is not yet generalized but has increased by 1.1%, reaching 1,380 permanent deacons in 2022.

Some critical issues

However, some critical problems persist. The number of priests decreased by 142 in 2022, from 407,872 to 407,730 (-0.03%), continuing the downward trend begun in 2012. This decline is particularly marked in Europe (-1.7%) and Oceania (-1.5%), while Africa (from 38,570 to 39,742, +3.2%) and Asia (from 70,936 to 72,062, +1.6%) show positive dynamics.

Similarly, priestly vocations continue to decline worldwide, with a decrease in major seminarians from 109,811 to 108,481 (-1.3%). The most worrisome declines are in Europe (from 15,416 to 14,461, -6.2%) and in the Americas (from 28,632 to 27,738, -3.2%). The exceptions are Africa, where seminarians increased from 33,796 to 34,541 (+2.1%), and Oceania (from 963 to 974, +1.3%).

The number of professed non-priest religious also decreased globally by almost 1%, as did the number of professed religious sisters, from 608,958 to 599,228 (-1.6%). In the latter case, significant declines occurred in Europe (-3.5%), the Americas (-2.3%) and Oceania (-3.6%), only partially offset by increases in Africa (+1.7%) and Asia (+0.1%).

Questions and challenges

These data raise questions about the challenges awaiting the Catholic Church in the near future, especially with regard to priestly and religious vocations, and the widespread presence of clerics and religious in certain areas of the world such as Europe, America and Oceania. However, encouraging signs from Africa and Asia augur a continued spread of the Christian message in these continents.

The authorGiovanni Tridente

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