Catholicism: A Look at the Numbers

March 17, 2023

The Holy See released the latest official Church statistics on March 4, 2023. While the number of Catholics continues to rise around the world, especially in the African continent – standing at 17.67% of the world's population - a notable decline in the recruitment of clergy is felt in Europe, and in the continents of North and South America.

Several lessons emerge from the publication of the Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae which provides a snapshot of Catholicism at the end of 2021.

First, globally, the number of baptized Catholics increased from 1.360 billion in 2020 to 1.378 billion in 2021, an increase of +1.3%. This increase is slightly lower than the percentage of the population increase of the planet, which rose from 7.667 billion to 7.786 billion, for a positive variation of 1.6%.

An uneven progression according to the continents since it is especially in Africa that the increase in the Catholic population is felt the most: +3.1%, despite a context of often violent persecution.

It also emerges from the report that Brazil is the largest Catholic country on the planet, with 180 million faithful, alone concentrating 27% of Catholics worldwide. More broadly, the American continents - North and South – have been for a considerable time and still are one of the lungs of the Church, since nearly one out of two Catholics lives in this region of the world.

By comparison, just over 20% of the Catholic faithful live in Europe, 19.3% in an Africa that is very promising for the future, 11% in Asia, 0.8% in Oceania.

The number of priests worldwide decreased from 410,219 in 2020 to 407,872 in 2021, or -0.57%. There is also a drop of 0.32% in the number of diocesan priests and 1.1% of religious priests. Figures that hide a huge imbalance within the different continents.

Indeed, the average ratio of priests per faithful throughout the world stands at the end of 2021 at one priest for 3,373 faithful. But on the two American continents, there is only one priest for 5,534 faithful. In comparison, the ratio in Europe is one priest for 1,784 faithful.

As for priestly and religious vocations, they also show a decline, unequal depending on the parts of the world considered: at the end of 2021, the number of candidates for the priesthood in the world represents 26.94% of the existing clergy, against 27.27% the last year.

Taking into account the fact that the so-called replacement percentage is established at 12.5% of seminarians for 100 priests, Europe has a rate of less than 9%, the two American continents 11.21%, while the continents African and Asian have a rate of 65% and 44.79% respectively.

It emerges once again that the future of world Catholicism by the year 2100 will be more on the African continent, which should overtake the two American continents. As for Europe, barring providential intervention, it should slowly complete its secularization and, at least for this part of the earth, illustrate the words of the Lord in St. Luke: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8).