.- The latest statistics for the Catholic Church have been released by the Vatican for the years 2000-2006. The results show that the overall population has remained stable but that Europe’s population has continued to decline while African and Asia have maintained strong growth.
The Statistical Yearbook of the Church, says that over the seven year period, the Catholic presence in the world has remained stable at around 17.3 percent of the total population.
The number of Catholics in Europe has only shown a one percent increase, despite the fact that 25 percent of all Catholics live there.
All other areas of the world showed a more substantial increase. In the Americas and in Oceania the number of Catholics grew by 8.4 percent and 7.6 percent respectively; in Asia they remained more or less stable with respect to population growth, whereas in Africa they increased from 130 million in 2000 to 158.3 million in 2006.
The ranks of the clergy also saw an upswing with the number of bishops in the world rising from 4,541 in 2000 to 4,898 in 2006, an increase of 7.86 percent.
The number of priests also increased slightly over this seven-year period by about 2,000, that is from 405,178 in 2000 to 407,262 in 2006, an overall rise of around 0.51 percent.
In keeping with the trend in Catholic population growth, the global south (Africa and Asia) saw priestly vocations increase by 23.24 percent and 17.71 percent respectively. The Americas maintained their number of priests, while Europe and Oceania witnessed a decline in their priestly ranks of 5.75 percent 4.37 percent correspondingly.
The number of diocesan priests increased by two percent, going from 265,781 in 2000 to 271,091 in 2006. By contrast, the number of religious order priests showed a constant decline, down by 2.31 percent to 136,000 in 2006.
Europe was the only continent to take a hit in the number of religious order priests: in 2000 they represented 51 percent of the world total, in 2006 just 48 percent. 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.
Non-ordained religious numbered 55.057 in the year 2000 and 55,107 in 2006. Comparing this data by continent, Europe showed a strong decline (down by 12.01 percent), as did Oceania (16.83 percent), the Americas remained stable, while Asia and Africa increased (respectively, by 30.63 percent and 8.13 percent).
Female religious are almost double the number of priests, and 14 times that of non-ordained male religious, but their numbers are falling, from 800,000 in 2000 to 750,000 in 2006. As for their geographical distribution, 42 percent reside in Europe, 28.03 percent in America and 20 percent in Asia. The number of female religious has increased in the most dynamic continents: Africa (up by 15.45 percent) and Asia (up by 12.78 percent).
A final bright spot that the statistical yearbook noted was an upswing in the number of seminarians in diocesan and religious seminaries. Globally, their numbers increased from 110.583 in 2000 to more than 115.000 in 2006, a growth of 4.43 percent. In Africa and Asia their numbers went up whereas Europe saw a reduction of around 16 percent.