Happy Easter everyone! I thought that today’s topic was appropriate for the season…The Vatican has just released its statistics on the recent size and growth of the Catholic Church throughout the world which are contained within the 2016 Pontifical Yearbook, and the 2014 Annuaruim Statisticum Ecclesiae.

These statistics show that throughout the period studied (the ten years 2005-2014) the number of Catholics increased from 1.12 billion to 1.27 billion. This represents a growth rate faster than that of the global population meaning that as a proportion of the world there were slightly more Catholics in 2014 than in 2005.

As the Catholic news Agency reports, certain areas of the world saw massive growth in the number of Catholics:

“The greatest increase in Catholics was seen in the African continent at 41 percent, amid an overall population growth of 23.8 percent. This was followed by Asia, with a 20 percent Catholic increase vs. the 9.6 percent population increase, then America which saw an 11.7 percent increase in Catholics compared to 9.6 percent of the population.”

In contrast, in Europe the growth of Catholics only kept pace with population growth while in Oceania the overall population growth was slightly larger than that of the Catholic population.

The number of bishops worldwide increased in line with the overall growth of Catholics, as did the number of diocesan and religious priests. However, there was a decline in the number of new priests in Europe and Oceania. The number of permanent deacons increased in Africa, but overall there was a decline worldwide. Similarly, there was worldwide decline in the number of female religious, but an increase in Africa and Asia.

The number of seminarians for the priesthood also slightly increased from 114,439 in 2005 to 116,939 in 2014. This number peaked in 2011 at 120,616. The number of seminarians was consistently highest in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, while Europe and America saw a decline in the number of seminarians.

Now, one can dispute the definition of a “Catholic” – should we use it to apply to someone who is baptised, but is not practising? Your answer would probably depend on your view of the nature and effect of baptism. However, there is little doubt that the medium-term future of the Catholic Church in terms of numbers of laity and religious is not Europe but Africa and Asia. 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...