Vatican Releases New Report on the State of the Church

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

(May 27, 2008) According to the latest statistics released by the Vatican, the Catholic presence in the world has remained stable for the past seven years. The Church is growing at its most rapid pace in Africa while seeing the most dramatic decline on the continent of Europe.

These statistics are included in the latest edition of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church which compiles information on Church activity around the world for the period 2000-2006. 

Over the last seven years, the Catholic presence in the world has remained stable at around 17.3 percent of the total population. The greatest growth in the Church during this period occurred in Africa where the number of Catholics jumped from 130 million in 2000 to 158 million in 2006.

The continent showing the largest decline was Europe where the growth in the number of Catholics was less than one percent in spite of the fact that 25 percent of all Catholics in the world live there. By contrast, the number of the faithful in the Americas grew by 8.4 percent during the same period.

There was a slight increase in the number of priests worldwide during this seven year period with the number climbing from 405,178 in 2000 to 407,262 in 2006. The greatest growth in these numbers occurred in Africa and Asia where while they remained stable in the Americas and fell by almost six percent in Europe.

“Of the continents, only in Europe was there a clear reduction in priests: in 2000 they represented 51 percent of the world total, in 2006 just 48 percent,” said a press released from the Vatican Information Service. “On the other hand, Asia and Africa together represented 17.5 percent of the world total in 2000 and 21 percent in 2006. The Americas remained steady at around 30 percent, and Oceania a little more than one percent.”

The number of female religious, while almost double the number of priests, experienced a decline in the last seven years from 800,000 in 2000 to 750,000 in 2006. Almost half of the world’s religious live in Europe, while 28 percent live in America and 20 percent in Asia. The number of female religious has increased the most in Africa where it rose 15 percent, and in Asia where the numbers increased by almost 13 percent.

The Statistical Yearbook of the Church also includes information on the number of students of in diocesan and religious seminaries. In global terms, their numbers increased from 110,583 in 2000 to more than 115,000 in 2006, a growth of 4.43 percent. Once again, numbers rose in Africa and Asia while declining in Europe by almost 16 percent. 

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