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Worldwide Church numbers steady as she goes

VATICAN (SE): The Catholic population of the world rose marginally during 2011, statistics published in the 2013 edition of the Pontifical Year Book released on May 13 at the Vatican show.

From the end of 2010 to the end of 2011, the Catholic population grew from 1.196 billion to 1.214 billion, representing a growth of 1.5 per cent, the Vatican Information Service reports.

While numbers do not tell the whole story, they do reflect where the Church is at its most vibrant and where it is struggling to hold its own in terms of numbers.

However, they do not necessarily reflect on the quality of the struggle that the Church is involved in or what impact it is having on society. Nevertheless, they are an important beginning point in understanding its overall life.

The statistics published in the Year Book relate to 2011 and show a steady-as-she-goes Church, with small increases in Asia and Africa and decreases in Europe and the Americas.

All up, 11 new dioceses were created and a handful of other ecclesiastical territories, bringing the total number of Church district designations in the world up to 2,979.

The African continent recorded a 4.3 per cent growth, almost double the 2.3 per cent overall population growth rate.

Asia had a similar experience, with Church membership growing at two per cent, while overall population grew only 1.2 per cent.

While the Americas and Europe did not show a growth in Church membership, they did record an increase equal to the population growth rate of 0.3 per cent.

This means that in today’s world, 48 per cent of Catholics live in the Americas, 23.5 per cent in Europe, 16 per cent in Africa, 10.9 per cent in Asia and 0.8 per cent in Oceania, which includes New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

There are now more bishops than there were before, with their numbers registering a 0.55 per cent increase, with the bulk of the new ones in Oceania and the remainder in Africa.

However, priest numbers continued the steady decline which began in 2000, dropping by 1,182 to come in at 412,236.

While overall there was a drop in priestly numbers, it was not spread evenly. In Asia and Africa, there was an increase of 3,000 in overall numbers, with Africa showing a 39.5 per cent increase and Asia 32 per cent.

The Americas’ numbers have stagnated, while Europe bled, with a decrease of over nine per cent.

Brothers are on the up overall, with the total number now exceeding 55,000. Once again Africa and Asia are the two big winners with respective increases of 18.5 per cent 44.9 per cent, while the Americas lost 3.6 per cent, Europe 18 per cent and Oceania 21.9 per cent.

The category with the biggest increase is permanent deacons. Their numbers sky rocketed from 29,000 in 2009 to 41,000 at the end of 2011. North America and Europe account for 97.4 per cent of them.

The biggest drop in numbers is in women’s congregations, which can now boast only 713,000 as against 792,000 in 2001. Europe lost 22 per cent, Oceania 21 per cent and the Americas 17 per cent. However, there was a 30 per cent growth in Africa and 29.4 per cent up in Asia.

Europe lost 21.7 per cent and the Americas 1.9 per cent.

The statistical pattern in the latest report is consistent with trends shown in the 2012 Year Book.

A quantifiable group within the Church that is not listed in the Year Book is lay missionaries. 


The number of laypeople working under contract for dioceses or Church organisations on a volunteer basis could well be a valuable figure to have at hand in accessing overall Church activity.

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