There are more than 5,000 more Catholic priests globally in 2009 than there were in 1999, according to official Church statistics.
The Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper anticipated the news from the soon-to-be released 2009 almanac prepared by the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics.
The statistics reveal that there were 410,593 priests in the world in 2009 compared to 405,009 in 1999. The number of diocesan priests among these increased by over 10,000 while the number of those belonging to religious orders fell by nearly 5,000.
In North America, as well as Europe and Oceania, the numbers decreased for both diocesan and religious priests. Africa and Asia, however, brought up the overall figures with a more than 30 percent increase on both continents.
Europe still has nearly half of the world’s priests, but the “old continent” is gradually losing weight on the world stage.
More seminarians are studying for the priesthood from Africa and Asia and fewer from Europe. But, there is also the issue of the number of deaths of priests in the different areas.
In Europe, the average age of priests is higher than in Africa and Asia. The number of European priests is falling as new ordinations do not surpass the numbers of those who die.
But in Asia and Africa the number of deaths was only one-third of the total new ordinations.
North and South America’s numbers combined show a positive trend over the decade since 1999, according to L’Osservatore Romano. In Oceania, the death-to-ordination ratio was equal.
The Vatican’s publishing house prints the volume of Church statistics annually. It includes names and biographies of major Catholic figures and offers a variety statistics on all those who work in apostolates and evangelization efforts the world over.
It also offer shorter term statistics. They report, for example, that between 2008 and 2009 the number of priests in the world increased by 809. According the Vatican newspaper, this is the highest jump since 1999 and a reason “to look to the future with renewed hope.”