Catholic Church sees membership rise but number of priests decline

(Photo: Unsplash/Mitchell Leach)

While the number of Catholics worldwide slightly increased from 2021 to 2022, new statistics show that the number of priests continues to decline.

The Vatican released the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church earlier this month. Edited by the Vatican Secretariat of State's Central Statistical Office, the publications are being distributed in bookstores and published by the Vatican Printing Press.

The publications highlight "statistical data to assess the main trends affecting the evolution of the Catholic Church worldwide," reports Vatican News.

The latest edition of the Statistical Yearbook shows the number of baptized Catholics in the world increased from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.39 billion in 2022, which amounted to an increase of 1.0%.

Africa saw the highest rate of increase in the number of Catholics (3%), followed by the Americas (0.9%) and Asia (0.6%). The number of Catholics in Europe remained relatively stable at 286 million, while Oceania "reported stability" as well.

The number of priests worldwide registered a very small decrease between 2021 and 2022. While there were 407,872 priests in 2021, that number dropped to 407,730 a year later.

Even as the number of priests declined worldwide, increases were reported in Africa (3.2%) and Asia (1.6%). On the other hand, the number of priests decreased by 1.7% in Europe and 1.5% in Oceania. The number of priests in the Americas remained "almost stationary."

As the number of priests declined, permanent deacons increased from 2021 to 2022. While deacons can take on some administrative roles within a church and give homilies, they cannot preside over mass.

Worldwide, deacons increased by 2% from 49,176 in 2021 to 50,150 in 2022. In Africa, Asia and Oceania, the number rose by 1.1% from 2021 to 2022, reaching a total of 1,380 in 2022. In the Americas and Europe, permanent deacons saw respective increases of 2.1% and 1.7%.

The Vatican's statistics also examined the number of non-priest professed religious men. In 2022, 49,414 religious men held such positions, a decrease from the 49,774 recorded in 2021.

"The decline was attributable, in order of importance, to the European, African, and Oceanian continents," the Vatican News report stated. "In Asia, on the other hand, religious men increased considerably, and to a lesser extent in the Americas."

The number of religious women in the Catholic Church dropped by 1.6% from 608,958 in 2021 to 599,228 in 2022. While religious women increased by 1.7% in Africa and 0.1% in Southeast Asia, the number of professed religious sisters dropped in South and Central America (2.5%), North America (3%), Europe (3.5%) and Oceania (3.6%).

Looking to the future, the number of seminarians studying to become priests declined by 1.3% from 2021 through 2022. Although seminarians increased by 2.1% in Africa and 1.3% in Oceania, the other regions in the world saw a decrease in the number of men seeking to join the priesthood. A drop in vocations was recorded in Europe (6%), the Americas (3.2%) and Asia (1.2%).

Courtesy of The Christian Post.