Numerical status of the Catholic Church by 2023: how many priests, Catholics, nuns, vocations or bishops there are

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The Pontifical Yearbook 2023 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2021, edited by the Central Office of Ecclesiastical Statistics, and published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, are already in bookstores.

Reading the data from the Pontifical Yearbook offers information on the life of the Catholic Church in the world, from December 1, 2021 to November 30, 2022.

During this period, four bishoprics (three dioceses and one eparchy) were erected; two dioceses joined; a territorial prelature was elevated to a diocese; and a diocese became an apostolic exarchate.

The Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae provides data on the main dynamics that characterize the pastoral action of the Catholic Church in the 3,030 ecclesiastical circumscriptions of the world.

Below are some notes on the quantitative aspects that seem to constitute the clearest and most important trends for the Catholic Church between 2020 and 2021

Number of Catholics in the world

Worldwide, the number of baptized Catholics will go from 1,360 million in 2020 to 1,378 million in 2021, which represents a relative variation of +1.3%. This increase is only slightly less than that of the Earth’s population, which will increase from 7,667 to 7,786 million in the same period, a positive variation of 1.6%.

These increases are attributable in a differentiated way to the different continental situations: while in Africa there is an increase of 3.1% in the number of Catholics, at the other extreme there is a situation of practical stability in Europe; there are also increases in Asia (+0.99%) and America (+1.01%).

Percentage of Catholics in relation to the world population

In 2021, Catholics will represent 17.67% of the world population. The proportion of Catholics in the population has remained practically unchanged in recent years, thus showing a behavior of substantial stability in the diffusion of Catholics. Likewise, it should be noted that the highest proportion occurs in America with 64.1 Catholics per 100 inhabitants, followed by Europe with 39.6 Catholics, Oceania with 25.9 and Africa with 19.4; the lowest incidence occurs in Asia with 3.3 Catholics per 100 inhabitants, due, as is well known, to the great diffusion in this continent of non-Christian denominations.

Observing the number of Catholics present in the different continental areas as a percentage of the world total, the trend towards an increase in the weight of Africa (whose Catholics went from 18.9% to 19.3% of the world total) in the considered two-year period is confirmed, while that the weight of Europe decreases, whose percentage of the world total will drop three percentage points in 2021, from 21.1% in 2020.

Even if there is a very slight decrease in 2021, America is still the continent to which 48% of the world’s Catholics belong. Of these, almost 57% reside in South America, 27% only in Brazil, which is confirmed as the country with the largest number of baptized Catholics in the world: almost 180 million Brazilians are of the Catholic faith. The incidence of the Asian continent seems to grow moderately, with a weight of more than 59% of the planet’s population, and remains around 11% of Catholics in the period considered. In Oceania, the weight of Catholics in the world total remains stable, although with a consistency that does not reach 0.8% of the world population.

Number of Catholic priests in the world

The most recent data, referring to 2021, indicate that the number of clergy in the world is 462,388, with 5,340 bishops, 407,872 priests and 49,176 permanent deacons. Compared to 2020, the number of clergy decreased by 0.39%.

Number of bishops in the world, Catholics per bishops and priests per bishop

The number of bishops decreases from 5,363 in 2020 to 5,340 in 2021. The decrease affects America (from 2,022 to 2,000), Asia (from 810 to 806), Europe (from 1,678 to 1,676) and Oceania (from 135 to 133), while Africa registers an increase of 7. In particular, North America registers a growth of 3 units, while the rest of the continent shows contrasting variations: almost stability in the central part and a fairly pronounced decrease (24 units) in the lower part. southern.

The percentage of bishops by continent remains substantially stable throughout the period considered: in particular, in 2021 the entire American continent represents 37.5% of all bishops in the world, followed by Europe with 31.4%. , Asia with 15.1%, Africa with 13.6% and Oceania with 2.4%.

The distribution by continent of the number of Catholics per bishop is more homogeneous and balanced, which rose from 254,000 to 258,000 on average between 2020 and 2021: Africa and Asia, continents where the spread of Catholicism has been more dynamic, show a tendency to converge towards average.

Evaluating the number of priests per bishop is useful to get an idea of ​​the pastoral commitments faced by each bishop on each continent. Worldwide, this proportion decreases over the two-year period considered, going from 77 to 76 priests per bishop, which shows a better quantitative balance, in the continental reality, between priests and bishops as time passes between the beginning and end of the observation period.

Decrease in priests in Europe and America, increase in Africa and Asia

The number of priests as a whole will decrease from 410,219 in 2020 to 407,872 in 2021, which represents a decrease of 0.57%. However, when diocesan priests and religious priests are analyzed separately, it can be seen that while the former decreased by 0.32%, the latter did so by 1.1%.

On the different continents, the variations contrast: Europe and Africa, but also Asia, are in an antithetical position. In fact, in Europe there is a decrease in both diocesan priests and religious priests (even in America there is a decrease in both groups of priests), on the contrary, in Africa and Asia there is an increase in priests of both groups. In Africa, the number of diocesan priests increased from 35,561 to 36,535, a relative increase of 2.74%, while the number of religious priests increased by 3.65%. In Asia, the number of priests registered an overall growth of 1.0% during the two years under review. In Oceania, an increase of only 0.2% is registered, however, in this continent the relatively low number of priests makes the impact less, and the quota of 4,496 priests in 2020 increases to 4,507 in 2021.

Priests by continent

The percentage distribution of priests by continent shows appreciable changes in the biennium considered. Europe, despite having the highest quota, sees the number of priests over the total decrease over time: in 2020 the 164,000 priests accounted for almost 40% of the total ecclesiastical group, while a year later they dropped to a quota of 39 ,3%. Africa and Asia, for their part, are gaining ground, reaching a joint share of 30.3% of the world total in 2021, compared to 29.6% in 2020. America and Oceania maintain a stable percentage share of 29% and slightly more than 1%, respectively.

Number of Catholics per priest

The differences between the distributions of Catholics and priests, as well as the different temporal dynamics revealed for these two characters, imply a marked variability of the pastoral burden understood as the relationship between the number of Catholics and the number of priests: this index passes globally from 3,314 in 2020 to 3,373 in 2021. Compared to the global average value, the heaviest burdens are in the Americas (5,534) and Africa (5,101) in 2021. With values ​​below the world average are Oceania (with 2,437 Catholics per priest), Asia (2,137) and Europe (1,784).

Number of permanent deacons: increase

The population of permanent deacons, both diocesan and religious, also shows significant and encouraging evolutionary dynamics in the 2020-2021 biennium: the number in the world goes from 48,635 to 49,176, with a relative increase of 1.1%. The increase occurs everywhere, but growth rates differ from one continent to another. Europe and America register the most numerically significant consistencies. The number of European deacons, in fact, with 15,170 in 2020 reaches 15,438 in 2021.

In America, the consistency of 32,226 in 2020 rises to 32,373 in 2021. More than 97% of the planet’s world population is concentrated in these two continents alone, while the rest is distributed between Africa, Asia and Oceania. In Asia and Oceania, in particular, the growth rate is softer. Such a differentiated development of the different continents has meant that the percentage importance of deacons has shifted, and not a little throughout the period considered: for example, in Europe at the beginning of the period the rate constituted 31.2% of the total planetary, in 2021 it will rise to 31.4%. Correlatively, in America, where there is another important group of permanent deacons, a decrease in relative weight is observed (from 66.3% to 65.8%).

The pastoral activity of the clergy is flanked by other numbers of religious workers: we dedicate the following observations to them.

Number of professed religious who are not priests

The downward trend that has affected the group of non-priestly professed religious for several years continues, which worldwide numbered 50,569 in 2020 and will drop to 49,774 in 2021, with a variation of -1.6%. In sharp decline in Europe (-4.1%), North America (-3.6%) and Oceania (-10.3%), stationary in Asia, non-priestly professed religions are increasing in Africa (+2.2 %), where their participation in the world total continues to increase. The weight of non-priestly professed religions in Africa and Asia reaches 71% more than in America. Europe continues to maintain the highest relative share (27.9%), but decreasing compared to 2020.

Total number of professed men and women religious in general

The total number of professed religious in 2021 is 608,958, about 33% present in Europe, followed by Asia with 175,494 consecrated religious and America with 145,206. Compared to 2020, the pool decreased by 1.7%. The decrease affects three continents (Europe, America and Oceania), with even significant negative variations (around -3.5%). Consequently, the fraction of women religious in Africa and Asia out of the world total goes from 41.1% to 42.3%, to the detriment of Europe and America, whose incidence as a whole decreases from 57.8% to 56.7%. .

Number of major seminarians

The temporary trend of the number of major seminarians observed in the world, from 2013, denotes an uninterrupted decline that continues in 2021.

In this year, the number of seminarians stands at 109,895, of which 61% are diocesan seminarians and the remaining 39% religious. Compared to 2020, there is a decrease of 1.8%. The decrease occurs in almost all territorial divisions: the number of seminarians increases only in Africa, where an increase of barely 0.6% is registered between 2020 and 2021.

North America shows a fairly pronounced downward trend (-5.8% in the biennium considered). The rest of the American continent, for its part, shows a smaller decrease (-1.8%). In Europe and Asia, seminarians experienced a decrease of 5.8% and 1.6% in the biennium, respectively. Consequently, a reduction in the role of the European continent in the potential growth of priestly renewal is observed, with its share falling from 13.6% to just over 13% of the world total. The weight of North America also decreased, going from a share of 4.6% in 2020 to 4.4% in 2021. The share of the rest of the American continent in the world total remained practically unchanged in the biennium. On the other hand, the weight of Africa and Asia increases, reaching a total of 60.1% of the total number of major seminarians. Oceania only represents 0.9% of the total, but with a slight increase.

If we compare the number of major seminarians with the amount of the Catholic population, we obtain a rate (of vocations) that shows even better the magnitude of the level reached by vocations at the end of the biennium. In 2020 there were 8.23 ​​major seminarians for every one hundred thousand Catholics in the whole continent and the number at the end of 2021 is 7.99. The most favorable situation in 2021 occurs in Asia (with 20.96 seminarians for every hundred thousand Catholics), Africa (with 12.75) and Oceania (8.76). Much lower is the rate of vocations in the other divisions, where the value of 5.01 for Europe contrasts with that of 4.13 for South America.

Vocations by number of priests

In relation to the number of priests present, vocations also decrease. While in 2020 the number of candidates worldwide was 27.27 for every 100 priests, in 2021 the proportion drops to 26.94. This indicator, which can be interpreted as a measure of the potential for generational sustainability in effective pastoral service, is diversified by continental areas. Comparing, in fact, the values ​​observed in 2021 in the different continents with the threshold value equal to 12.5 seminarians for every 100 priests present and such that it guarantees the replacement of priests by seminarians, it is verified that for the moment Europe, with fewer of 9 candidates for every 100 priests in 2021, it continues to be the only continental area below the replacement percentage, thus confirming the continuation of a situation of regression in priestly vocations, which will decrease by 888 units as of 2020. The continent with the most favorable quotient continues to be the African, where for every 100 priests present, more than 65 seminarians will attend philosophy and theology seminars in 2021, and the Asian (with 44.79 seminarians for every 100 priests). At the level of subcontinents, North America is also below the threshold value, with a ratio of seminarians per priest of 11.21%.


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