The Catholic Church by the numbers: more Catholics but fewer vocations 

The crowd in St. Peter's Square for the pope's Angelus address on Jan. 14, 2024. The crowd in St. Peter's Square for the pope's Angelus address on Jan. 14, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media

The number of Catholics worldwide increased by 14 million in 2022, according to the Vatican’s 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church released earlier this month and highlighted in a report by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

The figures from 2021 to 2022 — the most recent years where numbers are available — marked a decrease in the number of priests and seminarians.

While vocations to the priesthood and religious life have decreased overall, the Church shows signs of growth in some parts of the world — most notably Africa and Asia.

More Catholics 

The number of baptized Catholics has increased by about 1% — 14 million — rising from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.390 billion in 2022.

As in previous years, the Catholic Church in Africa continues to grow. Africa had the highest increase in Catholics at 3%, while the Americas recorded a 0.9% increase and Asia a 0.6% increase. 

The number of Catholics in Europe remained steady at about 286 million from 2021 to 2022.

The Church has fewer priests and seminarians 

The number of priests continued the downward trend that began in 2012.

Globally, the number of priests decreased by 142 from 2021 to 2022, going from 407,872 to 407,730.

But the number of priests continues to grow in Africa and Asia, while vocations in other continents plateau or decline.

The number of priests in Africa and Asia increased by 3.2% and 1.6%, respectively, while the number remained steady in the Americas. Oceania saw a 1.5% decrease in priests, while Europe had a 1.7% decrease.  

There are also fewer seminarians worldwide. According to the Vatican numbers, there were 1.3% fewer men preparing for priesthood in 2022 than in 2021. 

This decrease is most marked in Europe, where there has been a noted vocations crisis since 2008. The number of seminarians decreased by 6% from 2021 to 2022. The number of seminarians also decreased in the Americas by 3.2% and in Asia by 1.2%. 

But Africa saw a 2.1% increase in the number of seminarians, while Oceania had a notable 1.3% increase.

Africa had the highest number of seminarians in 2022, at almost 35,000 men, while Oceania (which makes up only 0.6% of the world’s population) had the least, at almost 1,000. 

Asia and the Americas had roughly 30,000 and 27,000 seminarians, respectively, while Europe, which makes up almost 10% of the world’s population, had only 14,461 seminarians. 

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But not all is lost for parochial Church leadership. The numbers show a marked increase in permanent deacons, increasing by 2% from 2021 to 2022. 

While the global Catholic Church saw 142 fewer priests from 2021-2022, there are 974 more permanent deacons worldwide. 

The number of bishops from 2021 to 2022 increased by a quarter, from 5,340 to 5,353 bishops, with most of the growth centered in Africa and Asia. 

In the Americas, the number of bishops remained steady at about 2,000, while in Europe the number of bishops declined slightly at less than 1%.

Vocations are on the decline for both men and women

The number of professed religious men — not including priests — decreased by 360, from 49,774 in 2021 to 49,414 in 2022. 

Asia and the Americas were the only regions where religious vocations for men increased, with the most substantial increase in Asia. 

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While there are more religious women than priests by almost 50%, the number of religious women is also declining. According to the most recent data from 2021 to 2022, their numbers have declined by 1.6% — meaning almost 10,000 fewer religious sisters worldwide.

This decline is most prevalent in Oceania, Europe, and North America, where the number of women religious decreased by 3.6%, 3.5%, and 3% respectively. South and Central America also saw a slight decrease of more than 2,000 religious women.

But Africa had the largest increase in religious women at 1.7%, increasing by more than 1,000 vocations. Southeast Asia’s numbers also reflected a small increase of 0.1% — almost 200 more religious women.

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