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Vatican reports growth in numbers of faithful, while priest numbers decline

Church crowd, standing room only

Aleksandr Trofimchuk | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 04/06/24

Africa and Asia continue to see a growth in number of priests, and America's numbers were stable. In America and Europe, the number of permanent deacons is increasing.

The Vatican has released the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church, two documents that present an essential view of the life of the Church, as well as statistical data to assess trends in the Church worldwide. The first contains information drawn between December 1, 2022, and December 31, 2023, while the latter examines basic aspects of the Church between 2021 and 2022.

In total, the worldwide portion of baptized Catholics was shown to have increased by about 1% in 2022, from 1.376 billion to 1.390 billion. When broken down by continent, Africa showed the largest growth at 3% (265 to 273 million), followed by the Americas and Asia (+0.9% and +0.6%, respectively). Europe and Oceania were considered to be “stable,” meaning these areas did not experience significant change. 

Priests and deacons

The Vatican News report shows a continuance of the downward trends in number of priests. Since 2012, the Church has seen a downward trend in incoming vocations, and 2022 was no different. Compared to 2021, the clergy’s ranks decreased by 142 priests, going from 407,872 to 407,730. While this change is not enormous, it is troubling to see a net loss of priests after accounting for the newly ordained and those who have retired from active ministry.

The downward trend of priestly numbers is not, however, universal. Africa and Asia both saw growth of 3.2% and 1.6%, respectively, and the Americas were seen as relatively stable. Europe, which the report notes has the largest number of priests in the world, fell by 1.7%, followed by Oceania with a drop of 1.5%.

It is unlikely that this downward trend in priests will turn next year, as the number of seminarians has continued to fall since 2012. There are currently 108,481 seminarians studying to become priests worldwide, with a variation of -1.3% compared to the situation a year earlier. Africa was the only continent to show growth in this area (by 2.1%).

Meanwhile, the permanent diaconate continues to increase in popularity, growing from 49,176 to 50,150 (2%) worldwide, in 2022. Every continent exhibited growth in the number of permanent deacons, with the Americas and Europe in the lead at 2.1% and 1.7%, respectively.

Bishops and religious

From 2021-2022 the number of bishops worldwide rose from 5,340 to 5,353. The lion’s share of bishops were named to Africa and Asia, growing the number of bishops on those continents by 2.1% and 1.4%, respectively.

The number of non-priest professed religious men was also shown to be on the decline. The year 2022 saw their ranks drop from 49,774 to 49,414. This was, however, not a universal drop, with Europe, Africa, and Oceania citing decreases in numbers, while Asia and to a lesser extent the Americas experience growth. 

While it was found that female religious outnumber Catholic priests by 47%, their numbers are also in sharp decline, falling from 608,958 to 599,228, or 1.6%. Africa saw the largest increase of professed women (1.7%), but the only other continent to show a positive figure was Southeast Asia at .1%. South and Central America, which were taken together, saw a decrease of 2.5%, but the largest declines in professed women were seen in Oceania (-3.6%), Europe (-3.5%), and North America (-3.0%).

Read more at Vatican News.

BishopsChurch NewsPriestsReligious LifeVocations
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