The Annuario 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014, edited by the Central Statistics Office, is has become available in book stores. Both volumes are printed by the Vatican Printing Press.
The data reveal several new aspects that emerged between 15 February and 31 December 2015 in the life of the Catholic Church in the world. During that period one eparchy was elevated to metropolitan status, three new dioceses, three eparchies and two apostolic exarchates were created, and one apostolic exarchate was elevated to eparchy.
The statistics presented in the Annuarium Statisticum, relevant to the year 2014, provide a brief analysis of the chief dynamics regarding the Catholic Church in the 2,998 ecclesiastic circumscriptions throughout the world.
Over the past nine years the number of baptized Catholics worldwide grew by 14.1%, exceeding the growth rate of the world’s population for the same period (10.8%). The presence of Catholics in the world, therefore, increased to 17.8% in 2014, from 17.3% in 2005. In absolute terms this amounts to approximately 1.272 billion Catholics in 2014 as compared to 1.115 billion in 2005. Since the statistics varied considerably in the various geographical areas, this explains the heterogeneous overall figure.
While Europe hosted nearly 23% of the world’s Catholic community in 2014, it now appears to be the least dynamic area overall, with an increase in the number of Catholics for the entire period of only slightly over 2%. The Catholic presence in the territory remained fixed at roughly 40%, with a minor correction with respect to 2005. This takes into account the fact that the demographic dynamic in the same period is several decimal points below that of the number of Catholics.
With reference to the entire 2005-2014 period, the number of baptized Catholics in Oceania increased at a slower rate than the population (15.9% and 18.2%, respectively), while the contrary was seen in the Americas (11.7% versus 9.6%) and in Asia (20% versus 9.6%). The African continent undoubtedly showed the most growth: the number of baptized (about 215 million in 2014), increased at a pace more than double that of Asian countries (nearly 41%) and is far higher than the population growth rate for the same period (23.8%).
Thus, apart from different demographic dynamics there was obvious confirmation of the increased percentage in Africa (where the number of baptized faithful rose from 13.8% to almost 17% of the worldwide population) and of the net drop of that in Europe, falling from 25.2% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2014. Although 2014 marked a minimal fall, the American continents continue to be home to almost half of baptized Catholics.
Asia, with over 60% of the global population, showed moderate growth in the incidence of Catholics, with approximately 11% of Catholics in the world. In Oceania the incidence of baptized faithful remained stable at less than 0.8% of the worldwide Catholic population.
Between 2005 and 2014 the number of bishops rose from 4,841 to 5,237, an increase of 8.2%. This increase was marked in Asia (over 14.3%) and Africa (over 12.9%), while in the Americas (over 6.9%), in Europe (over 5.4%) and in Oceania (over 4%) the figures were below the worldwide average. Regarding these varied trends, however, the distribution of bishops by continent remained substantially stable throughout the period studied, with a higher concentration of the total in the Americas and Europe. Also in Asia, where the number of bishops grew considerably, the overall demographic statistics showed limited growth, from 14.3% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2014.
There was a more homogenous and balanced distribution by continent in the number of baptized faithful per bishop, passing from 230,300 to 242,900 between 2005 and 2014; except for the singular case of Oceania (where the low population density in the fragmented territory of numerous islands and archipelagos creates completely unique situations), the trend in Africa and Asia, continents where the spread of Catholicism is more dynamic, is converging toward the global average.
From the statistics regarding diocesan and religious priests, the first striking figure is that the overall consistency in the number of priests increased by 9,381 between 2005 and 2014, from 406,411 to 415,792, and seems to have been consistent in recent years. This applies globally, since the figures vary widely among individual continents. In contrast with the notable increases in Africa (more than 32.6%) and Asia (more than 27.1%), Europe showed a fall of over 8%, and Oceania less than 1.7%. Different growth rates were recorded worldwide over time in the number of priests: the increase was stronger in the first six years of the period under study, but practically null in the last three years. In particular, the growth in the figures shows that, following the steady rise up to 2011 in the number of ordinations to the priesthood, there has been a steady, gradual decrease to date. The negative aspects of the trend show that defections have progressively decreased in number, while the death of priests, after a period of annual fluctuation, has risen in recent years. In particular, the trends of diocesan priests show overall growth in comparison to priests of the religious orders; moreover, while the initial data showed a growing trend in Africa, in the South and Central America, in Asia and Oceania, they reveal, by contrast, a declining trend in the remaining areas, Europe in particular. Religious priests, on the contrary, registered a downward trend in the Americas as well as in Europe and in Oceania.
The data regarding diocesan and religious priests demonstrate favourable trends overall in the areas previously studied, while the remaining areas show a downward trend. Thus, when viewed in relative terms, trends in the overall number of priests showed changes in the following geographical areas: from 2005 to 2014, an increase was seen in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America; numbers in the Middle East and Oceania remained virtually unchanged; lastly, downward trends were recorded in North America and Europe — the latter, in particular, showed a drop from 48.8% in 2005 to 43.7% in 2014.
The pastoral work of bishops and priests is supported by other pastoral figures: permanent deacons, professed men and women religious. The composition of these three groups of pastoral workers is quite diverse. At the end of 2014, there were, worldwide, 44,566 permanent deacons, 54,559 professed men religious who are not priests, and roughly 683,000 professed women religious. The evolutionary trends also presented different characteristics.
Permanent deacons constitute the most rapidly changing group over the course of the period: they grew from approximately 33,000 in 2005 to almost 45,000 in 2014, with a relative variation of over 33.5%. Although the increase is manifest everywhere, its pace varied among the continents: in Europe the number of permanent deacons increased significantly over nine years, rising from less than 11,000 to 15,000. The American continents also showed an increase: in 2014 the number rose to nearly 29,000 from approximately 22,000 in 2005. There are no significant changes to report in the territorial distribution of permanent deacons during the period examined: only a slight decrease was shown in the relative number of deacons in America and a growth in Asia. It is of interest to note that permanent deacons are well represented in the Americas (North America in particular) with 64.9% of all deacons in the world, and also in Europe (32.6%). This category, however, is scarce in Africa and Asia: these continents hold barely 1.7% of the worldwide figure.
The practical ability of permanent deacons to assist priests in performing pastoral work effectively in the territory, however, is still limited. In the world, the distribution of deacons per 100 resident priests, in fact, was just 10.7 in 2014, with a minimum of 0.48 in Asia and a maximum of 23.5 in America. In Europe the quotient is about 8%, while in Africa, 1.1 deacons serve alongside 100 priests. Therefore, the dimension of the phenomenon is still rather modest for their work to have a significant effect on the balance between the demand and offer of ministry to the baptized faithful residing in the area. In terms of development, however, it should be noted that there tend to be a greater number in the territory precisely where the ratio between baptized faithful and priests is reduced.
Instead, a slight decrease was reported in the number of professed men religious who are not priests. In 2005 there were 54,708 worldwide, decreasing thereafter to 54,559 in 2014. It is also noteworthy that the drop was concentrated in the Americas (less than 5%), in Europe (less than 14.2%) and in Oceania (less than 6.8%). On the contrary there was an increase in Africa (over 10.2%) and in Asia (more than 30.1%). Overall, in 2014, Africa and Asia represented almost 38% of the total (up from 31% in 2005). Conversely, the group comprised of Europe, the Americas and Oceania decreased to almost 10% over the period under examination.
Professed women religious in 2014 represented a population of 682,729, with almost 38% in Europe, followed by the American continents with over 177,000 consecrated women and Asia with 170,000. In comparison to 2005, this group showed a decrease of 10.2% which likewise involved the Americas, Europe and Oceania, with significant negative variations (around 18-20%). On the contrary, there was a decidedly steady increase of approximately 20% in Africa and of approximately 11% in Asia. In light of these greatly varied trends, the portion of the worldwide total of women religious grew in Africa and Asia from 27.8% to 35.3%, as compared to Europe and America, where the combined figure dropped from 70.8% to 63.5%.
The temporal development observed in the world between 2005 and 2014 for the number of major seminarians (diocesan and religious) showed an initial growth that continued until 2011, when the total recorded was equal to 105.4% of the 2005 total. This was followed by a slow but steady decline, which brought the 2014 figure down to 102.2%. With regard to consistency, the number of candidates to the priesthood worldwide rose from 114,429 in 2005 to 120,616 in 2011, and then dropped to 116,939 in 2014. The decrease observed in the overall number of major seminarians between 2001 and 2014 involved all the continents except Africa, where the number of seminarians increased by 3.8% (from 27,483 to 28,528). However, when the entire period from 2005 to 2014 is considered, the differences between the territorial areas appear more evident. While Africa, Asia and Oceania show dynamic upward trends (with growth rates of 21%, 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively), Europe registered a 17.5% reduction over the same period, and the Americas (particularly due to the negative trend in the southern hemisphere) showed a drop of 7.9% compared to the start of the period. As a result, a general re-evaluation of the role of the European and American continents in the potential growth and renewal of priestly figures is observed, with Europe’s share falling from 20.2% to 16.2%, and the Americas’ from 32.2% to 29.1%, in contrast with the expansion in Africa and Asia which represents an overall percentage of 53.9 of the worldwide total for 2014 (24.4% and 29.5%, respectively).
Also in relative terms with respect to the number of Catholics, the greatest movement was shown in Africa and Asia, with 133 candidates to the priesthood per one million Catholics in Africa in 2014, and about 247 in Asia. European and American figures (66 and 55, respectively, which are far less significant and in decline in comparison with 2005, would suggest a reduced offering of pastoral services. Lastly, from the number of major seminarians per 100 priests, one can form an idea of the generational replacement in the effective exercise of pastoral ministry. Thus, also in this context, Africa and Asia retain their primacy with 66 and 54 candidates per 100 priests respectively, while in Europe the figure is 10, confirming an ongoing stagnation in priestly vocations. The Americas and Oceania maintain an intermediate position with 28 and 22 candidates to the priesthood per 100 priests in 2014. Overall, however, thanks to the upturn in Africa and Asia, the total has gone from 28.16 to 28.12 major seminarians per 100 priests.
At the end of the quantitative survey conducted overall and for large geographical areas both in terms of consistency and of variations, one can draw approximate conclusions regarding the most obvious phenomena regarding current trends.
Firstly one can note from most of the phenomena analyzed, a certain dichotomy between the dynamics of the emerging continents, Africa and Asia, and those of Europe, which is progressively losing its centrality as the model of reference. This is not surprising. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the development of the Church in the world cannot ignore the major trends underlying worldwide development, especially for demographics. Thus, Europe has become the most static continent, hindered by the net aging of its population and by its low birth rate. The Americas as a whole are in an intermediate position, but were the analysis to distinguish between North and Latin America, divergences would likely arise, enabling at least a partial comparison, first to Europe and second to Africa and Asia. Oceania constitutes a reality unto itself, also due to its far more limited demographics.
In the 2005-2014 period, the number of priests increased overall, even if the significant increase of diocesan priests and the marked decrease of religious priests should be noted.
Europe registered a heavy loss, which was largely compensated by the lively trend shown by Africa and Asia regarding diocesan priests. The Americas presented, for the same period, a 1.6% growth: they have addressed the loss of 4,000 religious with just over 6,000 diocesan priests.
The average pastoral figure worldwide, expressed by the number of Catholics per priest, grew noticeably and is higher in Africa and the Americas, while in Europe it has been far more limited. The situation may plausibly be modified in the coming years, since the European clergy is older and weakened by lower renewal rates, while in Africa and Asia the number of candidates to the priesthood is clearly growing.
The relatively recent phenomenon of the considerable increase in the number of permanent deacons is of great importance. The dynamic trend shown by these workers is certainly not attributable to temporary or contingent motivations, but seems to express new and different choices in performing the work of spreading the faith. Indeed, the increase of deacons is seen generally in Europe and the Americas, less positive continents in terms of development in other categories of pastoral workers.
Candidates to the priesthood present a positive trend overall, however in this case as well, there are several reasons for concern in Europe and the Americas, where a decline has been clearly shown in recent years. Conversely, Africa and Asia show great vitality.
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