The statistical yearbook of the Vatican registers an overall increase of 1.285 million of baptised Catholics in 2015, 49% of which live in the Americas. For the first time since 2000, there is a decline in the number of priests.
In five years, Catholics in Asia, and especially in Africa, have grown from 15.5 per cent to 17.3 per cent of the world’s total. European Catholicism declined both in relative terms, from 23.8% in 2010 to 22.2% in 2015 and, from year to year in absolute terms in 2015, Catholics were almost 286 million, they are just over 800,000 compared to 2010 and 1.3 million less than in 2014.
The American continent is still the most Catholic, with 49% of the Catholic population on the planet. These are some of the data of the “Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae” 2015, published these days by the Vatican. These trends are also reflected in those of seminarians, priests and bishops. Globally, Catholics in the world increased by 1% since 2014, from 1.272 million to 1.285 million, and by 7.4% over 2010.
The number of bishops and deacons worldwide is also increasing, while the number of Priests declined in 2015 compared to the previous year, reversing the positive trend that had been recorded from 2000 to 2014. The most Catholic country in the world remains Brazil, followed by Mexico, the Philippines, the United States, Italy, France, Colombia, Spain, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Argentina.
In 2015 the world’s Catholics reached 1.285 million
A note, which anticipated some data from the the Pontifical Yearbook 2017 published by the Central Office of Statistics of the Church and printed by the Vatican Typography, indicates that the number of baptised Catholics, has been increasing at a planetary level, rising from 1.272 million in 2014 to 1.285 million in 2015, with a relative increase of 1%. This figure represents 17.7% of the total population of the world.
If a medium-term approach is adopted, for example with reference to 2010, thus covering the last two years of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict and the first three of the current Pontificate of Pope Francis, we can see a stronger growth, equivalent to 7.4%.
The African boom and the European decline
From continent to continent there are relevant differences. Meanwhile, in Africa there has been an increase of 19.4% (the number of Catholics rose from 186 to 222 million in the same period), there is a situation of stability in Europe (in 2015 Catholics were almost 286 million and are just over 800,000 compared to 2010, and 1.3 million less than in 2014). In Latin America and Asia, the growth of Catholics is significant (+6.7% and +9.1% respectively), but in line with the demographic development of both continents.
No change, with obviously lower absolute values, in Oceania. If we take into account the relationship between baptised Catholics and the number of inhabitants in 2015, we are going from 3.2 Catholics per 100 inhabitants in Asia to 63.7 in America. This relative number of Catholics in Africa is 19.4, in Oceania 26.4 and in Europe 39.9. In comparative terms, the weight of the African continent is confirmed, whose baptised faithful have increased from 15.5% to 17.3% of the total number of Catholics in the world. On the other hand, there has also been a sharp drop in the number of Europeans, from 23.8% in 2010 to 22.2% in 2015. The American continent remains the home of most Catholics in the world, with 49% of baptised. On the other hand the percentage of the Asian continent is kept around 11 of the world’s Catholics in 2015.
Brazil, the most Catholic country; Spanish, the most Catholic language
Brazil, out of all of the ten countries of the world with a greater number of baptised Catholics, is in first place (with 172.2 million, or 26% of all Catholics in the American continent). Followed by Mexico (110.9 million), the Philippines (83.6 million), the United States (72.3 million), Italy (58 million), France (48.3 million), Colombia (43.3 million), Democratic Republic of Congo (43.2 million) and Argentina (40.8 million). The total amount of Catholics of the first ten countries of the list represents 717.9 million, that is to say 55.9% of the Catholics of the world. Taking into account only the countries in which Spanish is spoken (not including all Spanish-speaking Catholics living in the United States), there are 240.3 million people.
Priests decline for the first time since 2000
The number of priests registered a decrease in 2015 compared to the previous year, thus reversing the trend that characterised the period between 2000 and 2014. The decrease between 2014 and 2015 was 136, and was recorded mainly in the European continent. On the other continents, there were positive changes from year to year: +1133 in Africa, +47 in America, +1104 in Asia and +82 in Oceania. The global number of priests in the world during 2015, compared to 2010, increased 0.83% (from 412,236 to 415,656). If in Africa and Asia there was a sustained trend (respectively +17.4% and +13.3%) and in the Americas remained almost with the same numbers (+0.35%), in Europe and Oceania there was a rate of clearly negative variation in the same period, respectively -5.8 and -2%. Diocesans together increased 1.6%, but religious priests decreased by 0.8%. Taking into account the relationship between the number of baptised present in the different continental areas and that of the priests, it is revealed that, while in 2010 each priest was attributed, on average, 2,900 Catholics, in 2015 the number passed to 3,091.
In America the situation is particularly critical, since the ratio of Catholics per priest exceeds 5,000 and continues to increase over the period considered. The priestly presence is also weakened in Europe, although the latter has the most favourable relationship in absolute terms: with 1,595 Catholics per priest. The situation of priests improves in Asia (from 2,269 Catholics per priest to 2,185), while in Africa it remains stable, with an estimated 5,000 Catholics per priest. In general terms, the number of clerics in the world was 466,215, with 5,304 bishops, 415,656 priests and 45,255 permanent deacons.
The professed women religious constitute a population that shows a certain consistency: in 2015 they exceeded by 61% the number of priests worldwide and are currently in clear decline. At global level, they have decreased in number from 721,935 in 2010 to 670,320 in 2015, a relative diminution of 7.1%.