New Church statistics reveal more Catholics, fewer vocations

By L’Osservatore Romano, 21 April 2024
The hand of a priest is seen during the consecration of the Eucharist during Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


The Holy See publishes the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church, detailing the numbers of bishops, priests, men and women religious, and deacons throughout the world.

The 2024 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church, edited by the Central Statistical Office of the Church, are currently being distributed in bookstores, published by the Vatican Printing Press.

The Pontifical Yearbook offers information regarding the life of the Catholic Church worldwide for the period ranging from December 1, 2022, to December 31, 2023.

During this period, 9 new Episcopal Sees and 1 Apostolic Administration were established; 2 Episcopal Sees were elevated to Metropolitan Sees and 1 Apostolic Vicariate to an Episcopal See.

The Statistical Yearbook of the Church is filled with statistical data to assess the main trends affecting the evolution of the Catholic Church worldwide. Here are a few of the salient details on some basic aspects of the Catholic Church between 2021 and 2022.

Church statistics: Catholics and Bishops

The number of baptized Catholics has increased globally, rising from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.390 billion in 2022, with a relative increase of 1.0%.

The rate of change varied from continent to continent. Africa recorded an increase of 3%, with the number of Catholics rising from 265 to 273 million in the same period. Europe shows a situation of stability (in 2021 and 2022 Catholics amount to 286 million). The Americas and Asia recorded a significant growth in the number of Catholics (+0.9% and +0.6%, respectively), a trend entirely in line with the demographic development of these two continents. Oceania reported stability, with lower absolute values.

The number of Bishops during the biennium 2021-2022 increased by 0.25%, going from 5,340 to 5,353 Bishops. Much of this growth was found in Africa and Asia, with relative variations of 2.1 and 1.4 percent, respectively. A situation of stability was visible in the Americas (with 2,000 Bishops) and in Oceania (with 130), while a slight decline (-0.6%) was recorded in Europe (from 1,676 to 1,666 units).

Fewer priests and more permanent deacons

The year 2022 marked a further decrease in the number of priests compared to the previous year, continuing the downward trend that has characterized the years since 2012.

The global number of priests in the world in 2022, compared to that of 2021, decreased by 142 priests, going from 407,872 to 407,730.

Africa and Asia showed a sustained dynamic (+3.2% and 1.6%, respectively) and the Americas remained almost stationary. Europe, with the greatest weight on the total, and Oceania registered negative variation rates of 1.7 and 1.5 percent, respectively.

The number of permanent deacons continued to show significant evolutionary dynamics.

In 2022, the number of deacons increased by 2% compared to a year earlier, going from 49,176 to 50,150 deacons. The number improved in all continents at significant rates. In Africa, Asia, and Oceania, where they still failed to reach 3% of the total, the number of deacons increased by 1.1%, standing at 1,380 in 2022.

The data also improved in areas where the presence of permanent deacons was quantitatively significant. In the Americas and Europe, where 97.3% of the total population resided, deacons increased in the biennium considered by 2.1 and 1.7 percent, respectively.

Decrease in professed religious

The number of non-priest professed religious men contracted at the global level.

There were 49,774 religious men in 2021, falling to 49,414 in 2022. The decline was attributable, in order of importance, to the European, African, and Oceanian continents. In Asia, on the other hand, religious men increased considerably, and to a lesser extent in the Americas.

Professed religious women constituted a population of considerable size.

In 2022, they exceeded the number of priests across the world by almost 47% but are currently in sharp decline. Globally, they went from 608,958 professed women in 2021 to 599,228 in 2022, with a relative decline of 1.6%.

Africa was the continent with the largest increase in religious women, who went from 81,832 in 2021 to 83,190 in 2022, with a relative increase of 1.7%. They were followed by Southeast Asia, where professed religious women went from 171,756 in 2021 to 171,930 in 2022, with an increase of just 0.1%. South and Central America showed a decline, going from 98,081 religious women in 2021 to 95,590 in 2022, with a global decrease of 2.5%. Finally, three continental areas are marked by a significant contraction: Oceania (-3.6%), Europe (-3.5%), and North America (-3.0%).

Reduced numbers of seminarians

The decline that has characterized the trend of priestly vocations since 2012 continued over the period.

In 2022, men preparing for the priesthood numbered 108,481, with a variation of -1.3% compared to the situation a year earlier. A summary analysis conducted at the subcontinent level showed that local behaviors were differentiated from each other.

In Africa, the number of major seminarians (post-secondary education), increased by 2.1% over the two year period. In all parts of the Americas, there was a decrease in vocations resulting in a variation of -3.2%. In Asia, a decrease was recorded that brought the number of major seminarians in 2022 to a level 1.2% lower than that of 2021.

Europe’s vocational crisis since 2008 continued unabated. In the biennium 2021-2022, the number of seminarians decreased by 6%. In Oceania, priestly vocations in 2022 exceeded those of 2021 by 1.3%.

Of the 108,481 seminarians worldwide, in 2022, Africa was the continent that showed the highest number of seminarians, with 34,541 men. It was followed by Asia with 31,767, the Americas with 27,738, Europe with 14,461, and Oceania with 974 major seminarians.

With thanks to Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano, where this article originally appeared.


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