The number of Catholics as a proportion of the world population is in decline, according to the latest Vatican statistics.
The newly released Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2016 reports a 1.1 per cent increase in absolute Catholic numbers between 2015 and 2016. In 2015 there were 1,285 million baptised Catholics and in 2016 1,299 million. However the world population increased by 1.14 per cent (from 7.383 billion to 7.467 billion) meaning that as a proportion of world population the proportion of Catholics fell, from 17.73 per cent of the world’s population in 2015 to 17.67 per cent in 2016.
The global figures fail to differentiate between those regions such as Africa where the Church is enjoying dramatic expansion, and regions such as Europe where it is not. The number of African Catholics rose from 185 million in 2010 to 228 million in 2016 – a more than 23 per cent increase, that means 17.6 per cent of the world’s Catholics live in Africa.
Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest number of Catholics in Africa, with 44 million, while Nigeria has 28 million.
By contrast Europe was more or less static, and is also stagnating in terms of demographic dynamics. Europe hosts almost 22 per cent of the world’s Catholics with numbers increasing by a marginal 0.2 per cent between 2010 and 2016.
The Americas are home to 48.6 per cent of baptised Catholics, with 57.5 per cent of these living in South America, 28.4 per cent of them in Central America and 14.1 per cent in North America.
The number of Catholics in Asia has remained at around 11 per cent of the continent’s population between 2010 and 2016.
As regards the number of priests, in 2016 there were 414,969 priests, 67.9 per cent of these being diocesan clergy and 32.1 per cent religious. Between 2010 and 2014 the number of priests grew by 0.22 per cent, but in the two years to 2016 the numbers decreased by 0.2 per cent, with declines of -2.7 per cent in North America, -2.8 per cent in Europe, and -1.7 per cent in the Middle East. Increases of between 4 and 5 per cent occurred in all other areas except for Central America and Oceania, where the increase was 2 per cent.
Priestly vocations continued to decline globally, from 116,843 major seminarians in 2015 to 116,160 in 2016. A decline in Europe and the Americas contrasts with an overall increase in Africa of 3.5 per cent between 2010 and 2016.