The number of baptised Catholics in Europe is growing, according to figures released this week by the Vatican concerning the Church’s workforce, sacramental life, dioceses and parishes from 2005 to 2014.
The Church in Europe grew by 2 per cent over the nine-year period, but while 40 per cent of the continent is Catholic, that figure has not changed in nearly a decade, according to the report by the Vatican's Central Office for Church Statistics.
The number of baptised Catholics globally reached 1.27 billion or 17.8 percent of the global population, an increase of 157 million, the report showed. This means the Church is growing at a faster rate than that of the world's population on every continent apart from Oceania.
Highest growth was seen in Africa where Catholics increased by 41 per cent, followed by Asia, where the Church grew by 20 per cent. The percentage of baptised Catholics as part of the general population remains highest in North and South America where they "make up almost half" of the world's Catholics, the report said.
The number of priests has also increased in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, but decreased slightly in Europe and Oceania. The report said numbers for diocesan and religious orders were “stable” overall, but the variation in the number of men training to become priests varies by continent, the report said. There is an "evident decline" in the numbers from Europe and North America, while "Africa and Asia show great vitality," it said.
"It is a great joy that the number of Catholics and the number of vocations continue to increase, especially in Africa and Asia," said Fr Fernando Domingues, head of the vocations branch of the Church's mission charity, Missio, in Rome. "However, the number of priests is still disproportionate to the needs of the local Catholic community. In Africa and Asia, each priest ministers to a great number of people, often spread over vast geographical areas with many outstations, meaning people are not always able to receive the Sacraments as regularly as they would need."
"The missionary presence is still indispensable to ensure the gospel can reach those who have yet to hear its message of God’s mercy," he added.
Women in religious orders continued to decrease, dropping by 10,846 in 2014.The biggest decreases were seen in North and South America, Europe and Oceania while numbers in Africa and Asia continue to rise.
The number of candidates for the priesthood – both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders – who had reached the level of philosophy and theology studies showed a slight downturn. The number of candidates fell to 116,939 men at the end of 2014 compared to 118,251 men at the end of 2013.
Permanent deacons worldwide increased by 1,000 between 2013-2014, but the number of religious brothers was down slightly going from 55,253 at the end of 2013 to a total of 54, 559 at the end of 2014.