Number of Catholics in World Grows: There Are More Than 1.3 Billion

Data of the Pontifical Yearbook and the Ecclesial Statistics

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In the period 2013 to 2018, the number of baptized Catholics in the world increased from 1.254 billion to 1.329 billion, with an absolute increase of 75 million.

These are some of the data drawn from the 2020 Pontifical Yearbook and the 2018 Church’s Statistical Yearbook, published today, March 25, 2020, by the Holy See Press Office. The Church’s Central Statistical Office prepared both reports.

Highlighted in the extract offered is an increase in the incidence of pastoral action in the Catholic world of Africa and Asia in the first five years of His Holiness Pope Francis’ pontificate. Novelties are also deduced in the Pontifical Yearbook on the life of the Catholic Church in the world, from 2019.

The Church in the World

 During this period, four new Episcopal Sees were erected, one Eparchy, two Territorial Prelatures, one Apostolic Exarchy and one Apostolic Administration; one Archbishopric See and four Dioceses were elevated to Metropolitan Sees, one Territorial Prelature and one Apostolic Vicariate to Episcopal Sees and two Apostolic Exarchies to Eparchies.

The statistical data of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, referring to 2018, reflects the main tendencies that affect the Catholic Church’s evolution in the world in the five years just ended.

The whole of the phenomena examined shows clearly how in the years between 2013 and 2018 there was a decrease in the weight of the European countries and of North America and an increase of the incidence in all the other geographic areas. Deduced, in sum, are the following evaluations.

Catholics in the World

 In the period 2013-2018, baptized Catholics in the world represented almost 6% <of the world’s population>. In the same period, they increased from 1,254 billion to 1,329 billion, with an absolute increase of 75 million.

 At the end of 2018, Catholics represented just under 18% of the global population. This rate remains almost unchanged throughout the years. Observed in 2018 is that the greater proportion is in America with 63.7 Catholics out of every 100 inhabitants, followed by Europe with 39.7 Catholics, Oceania with 26.3 and Africa with 19.4. The smallest proportion is in Asia with 3.3 Catholics out of every 100 inhabitants due to the spread of non-Christian denominations in that Continent.

Distribution by Continents

 The distribution of Catholics among the different Continents differs considerably from that of the population. In regard to the population, from 2013 to 2018, America maintained an incidence, in the approximately constant global total, equal to 13,5%, whereas the weight of Catholics diminished in the five-year period by a percentage point, reaching 48% of the world’s Catholic population. The importance of Catholics in Asia increased slightly from 10.9% to 11.1%, however, it’s considerably lower in relation to the population of the Continent (some 60% in 2018).

Europe is some four percentage points lower than America (9.6%), and its incidence in the Catholic world is lower than that of the American countries (21.5% as opposed to 48.3%). Both for the African countries, as well as for those of Oceania, the weight of the population on the total is little different from that of Catholics.

Bishops and Priests

 Between 2013 and 2018 the number of Bishops in the world increased by more than 3.9%, from 5,173 to 5,377, with a very marked increase in Oceania (+4.6%), in America and Asia (with +4.55% for both) and in Europe (+4.1%), while in Africa (+1.4%) the values are below the global average. The Bishops’ territorial distribution continues to be essentially the same in the two years compared.

The dynamic of priestly consistency seems, in general, to be quite disappointing, showing a contraction of 0.3% concentrated in the second half of the sampling period. In fact, the number of priests increased in general by 1,400 in the first two years, only to be stabilized later and to show a decrease in the last three years.

As opposed to the global average, the evolution of priestly consistencies in Africa and Asia is quite comforting, with a +14.3% and a +11.0% respectively, whereas in America it remains stationary in an average of some 123,000 units. Finally, Europe and Oceania, responsible for the decrease observed at the global level, show a decrease of more than 7% and slightly more than 1%, respectively, in 2018.

Distribution of Priests

 The distribution of priests in the Continents was characterized in 2018 by a strong prevalence of European priests (41.3%), which is greater by 40% than those of the American clergy. The Asian clergy represents 16.5%, the African 11.5% and that of Oceania 1.1%. In the five-year period, the incidence grows both of the Asian clergy (from 14.8% to 16.5%) as well as the African clergy (from 10.1% to 11.5%, whereas for the European clergy the weight diminishes drastically from 44.3% to 41.3%. The situation is the same for the American clergy (29.6%) in the two years considered.


 The number of major seminarians seems to consolidate in a tendency to slow and gradual contraction. The candidates to the priesthood in the world decreased from 118.251 in 2013 to 115.880 in 2018, a variation of -2.0%.

With the exception of Africa, the decrease affects all the Continents, with a great reduction in Europe (-15.6%) and America (-9.4%). Africa, with a positive variation of 15.6% is confirmed as the geographic area with the greatest possibilities to cover the needs of pastoral services.

Permanent Deacons and Religious

 An ecclesiastical reality that is evolving rapidly is that of Permanent Deacons, whose number has grown considerably both at the global level as well as in the different Continents, increasing from 43,195 units in 2013 to 47,504 units five years later, with a positive variation, therefore, of about 10%.

The crisis of professed Religious that are not priests does not seem to be diminishing and it is worrying that they are increasingly fewer in the world. In fact, the group decreased by almost 8% between 2013 and 2018, having decreased from 55,000 to fewer than 51,000. The tendency to decrease is common in the different Continents, with the exception of Africa and Asia, where there are variations of +6.8% and +3.6%, respectively.

Women Religious

 Observed also in the group of professed women religious is a strong decreasing tendency, with a contraction of 7.5% in the period considered. The total number of professed women religious decreased from some 694,000 in 2013 to fewer than 642,000 five years later. The decrease affects three Continents (Europe, Oceania and America), with important negative variations  (-15% in Europe, -14.8% in Oceania and -12% in America).

In Africa and Asia, instead, the increase is decidedly consistent, more than 9% in Africa and +2.6% in Asia. Consequently, the proportion of professed women religious in Africa and Asia increased from 34.6% of the global total to 39%, in detriment of Europe and America, whose incidence decreased from 64.3% to 59.9%.

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