Catholic Church grows to 1.39 billion members; number of priests shrink

Rommel F. Lopez - Philstar.com
Catholic Church grows to 1.39 billion members; number of priests shrink
Catholic faithful raise their palm fronds during the blessing in front of a church as part of the traditional lenten devotion on Palm Sunday in Manila on March 24, 2024.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

The worldwide Catholic Church membership has grown to 1.390 billion in 2022 with Africa contributing to the growth.

Based on the newly released 2024 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the number of baptized Catholics has increased globally, from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.390 billion in 2022, accounting for a 14 million increase.

Africa recorded the biggest increase with 273 million Catholics up from 265 million the previous year. The continent accounted for 3% of new Catholics baptized into the Church.

Europe still accounts for the most number of Catholics at 286 million. The Americas recorded a 0.9% increase and Asia a 0.6% increase. Oceania reported stability, with lower absolute values.

The Vatican annually releases the Pontifical Yearbook which offers information regarding the life of the Catholic Church worldwide. This year’s edition covered the period December 1, 2022, to December 31, 2023.

The Statistical Yearbook of the Church contains statistical data about the Catholic Church worldwide.

During the period, the Church created 9 new Episcopal Sees or dioceses and 1 Apostolic Administration; 2 Episcopal Sees were elevated to Metropolitan Sees or archdioceses and 1 Apostolic Vicariate to an Episcopal See.

Increase in number of bishops

For the same period, the number of bishops in the Catholic world grew from 5,340 to 5,353 or a 0.25% increase. Most of the new bishops were from Africa (2.1%) and Asia (1.4%). The Americas recorded a total of 2,000 Bishops and in Oceania with 130. Oceania recorded a slight decline of -0.6% as well as Europe from 1,676 to 1,666 units).

The total number of priests in the Catholic Church decreased slightly, from 407,872 to 407,730. 

Africa and Asia ordained more priests (+3.2% and 1.6%, respectively) and the Americas remained almost stationary. Europe and Oceania registered decreases at 1.7 and 1.5 percent, respectively.

The number of permanent deacons worldwide is on the rise from 49,176 deacons in 2021 to 50,150 deacons in 2022, with growth being seen in all continents. The Americas and Europe contributed much of the growth with 2.1 and 1.7 percent respectively.  

In Africa, Asia, and Oceania, the number of deacons increased by 1.1%, totaling 1,380 in 2022. The Philippines recently got the Vatican’s approval to allow permanent deacons in the country. 

The number of professed religious women decreased from 608,958 professed women in 2021 to 599,228 in 2022, or a relative 1.6% decrease. 

Africa contributed to the largest increase in religious women, from 81,832 in 2021 to 83,190 in 2022, for a 1.7% increased. Southeast Asia followed with a slight decrease of 0.1% (from 171,756 in 2021 to 171,930 in 2022). Decreases in the number of professed women religious were marked in Oceania (-3.6%), Europe (-3.5%), North America (-3.0%) and South and Central America (-2.5%)

However, the number of professed religious women still exceeds the number of priests across the world by almost 47%. 

Reduced numbers of seminarians

The number of seminarians also decreased by 1.3%. 

Africa’s number of vocations increased by 2.1% over the two year period. Oceania registered a 1.3% increase. Europe continues to suffer low vocations, a problem that started in 2008. The continent registered a 6% decrease.  The Americas registered a 3.2% decrease in vocations. Asia recorded a decrease of 1.2%.

Of the 108,481 seminarians worldwide, in 2022, Africa recorded the highest number of seminarians, with 34,541 men, followed by Asia with 31,767, the Americas with 27,738, Europe with 14,461, and Oceania with 974 major seminarians.

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