The Vatican Publishing House released today a report on the Catholic Church's global presence, showing an increase in the Catholic population in 2008. Although the number of Catholics has risen globally, the study recorded a constant decline in priests, seminarians and non-ordained religious within Europe.
The recently released edition of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church compiled findings from 2000-2008, and documented that the number of Catholics in the world increased from 1.045 billion in 2000 to 1.166 billion in 2009, a growth of 11.54 percent.
Specifically in Africa, the Church grew by 33 percent, in Asia by 15.61 percent, in Oceania by 11.39 percent and in America by 10.93. The number of Catholics in Europe remained generally stable throughout the nine year period, increasing only by 1.17 percent.
The Vatican yearbook also reported that the number of bishops in the world went up from 4,541 in 2000 to 5,002 in 2008, a growth of 10.15 percent.
Non-ordained religious fell from 55,057 in the year 2000 to 54,641 in 2008, with the strongest decline taking place in Europe and Oceania. The number of women religious stood at 800,000 in 2000, but had dropped to 740,000 in 2008. In Africa and Asia, however, the number of women religious increased by 21 and 16 percent respectively.
While the amount of diocesan priests increased globally by 3.1 percent, the study showed that the number of priests was down by 3.04 percent. Europe, the yearbook said, showed a consistent overall decline in priests, representing 51 percent of the world's priests in 2000 yet in 2008, representing just 47 percent.
Although the number of students studying philosophy and theology at diocesan and religious seminaries increased globally from 110,583 in 2000 to more that 117,024 in 2008, Europe again saw a reduction in numbers. The Vatican study reported that the number of seminarians increased in Africa and Asia.
As reported earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to release a letter announcing the creation of a new Vatican dicastery called the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. The new department will be aimed at bringing the Gospel back to Western societies that have lost their Christian identity, most notably Europe and the United States.
The Holy Father has made the restoration of the Catholic faith in Europe one of the major efforts of his pontificate.