Church across the globe growing faster than population, new survey shows


Pope Francis with the future of the Church in Mexico

[Austen Ivereigh] Numbers of baptised Catholics in the world went from just over 1.1bn to just under 1.3bn over the nine years from 2005 to 2014, an increase of 157m Catholics according to statistics just released by the Vatican.

The rate of increase was slightly higher than that of population, meaning that Catholics went over that period from 17.3 per cent of the population to 17.8 per cent, according to the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae for 2014, published by the Vatican’s Central Office for Church Statistics.

The growth relative to population was most marked in Africa, where the population increased by nearly 24 per cent but the number of Catholics by just over 40 per cent. In Asia, too, the Catholic population increase of 20 per cent was more than twice that of the overall population increase of just under 10 per cent.

In ‘America’ — the Vatican counts North, Central and South America as one — the increase was also slightly above that of the overall population (11.7 compared to 9.6 per cent), and even in Europe the Catholics grew by 2 per cent, just above the rate in the population overall. Only Oceania — Australia and New Zealand — reversed the trend, recording a population growth (18 per cent) slightly higher than the rate of increase of Catholics (16 per cent).

In 2014 — the most recent year for which figures are available — baptised Catholics were distributed across the five continents as follows:  America (48 per cent), Europe (22.6 per cent), Africa (17 per cent), Asia (10.9 per cent), and Oceania (0.8 per cent).

Compared with 2000 (see picture), this means that in percentage terms America has stayed stable, while Africa has grown rapidly at the expense of Europe, a trend set to continue (see table).

Overall, the 2005-2014 figures reveal that while the dynamic growth in the Church has shifted to Africa and Asia, Europe shows signs of stagnation, and America occupies an intermediate place.

The Vatican analysis notes however that if the statistics distinguished between North America (Canada and the US) and Latin America (Mexico down to Argentina and Chile), the growth in Catholic population of the first would be closer to Europe and the second closer to Asia and Africa.

Projected distribution of Catholics in 2025

Table : Projected distribution of Catholics in 2025

Among the other trends:

  • Numbers of bishops between 2005 and 2014 increased by just over 8 per cent to 5,237.
  • Numbers of priests, both diocesan and religious, increased in the same period by 9,381 to 415,792. The increase was very strongest in Africa and Asia (32.6 per cent and 27.1 per cent respectively) whereas in Europe the number declined by 8 per cent, and in Oceania by just under 2 per cent.
  • Permanent deacons went from 33,000 in 2005 to 44,566 in 2014, an increase of 33.5 per cent. Almost all (97.5 per cent) are found in North America and Europe, less than 2 per cent in Africa and Asia.
  • Men training for the priesthood, both in dioceses and religious orders, went up slightly from 114,439 in 2005 to 116,939 in 2014, but this is still lower than 2011 when there were 120,616 in training. The downturn over the past three years affected all continents except Africa, which showed a near 4 per cent increase in numbers of seminarians.
  • Over the last 9 years, however, seminarian numbers in Africa, Asia and Oceania have recorded significant increases of 21, 14 and 7.2 per cent while in Europe and America the decline has been equally significant: 17.5 per cent in Europe and just under 8 per cent in America.

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