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Number of Catholics in the world grows by 15m in a year

By on Monday, 21 February 2011

Bishops from Latin America attend a papal Mass in Sao Paolo. Half of the world's Catholics live in the Americas (Photo: CNS)

Bishops from Latin America attend a papal Mass in Sao Paolo. Half of the world's Catholics live in the Americas (Photo: CNS)

The number of Catholics, deacons, priests, bishops and dioceses all increased in 2009, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics.

At the end of 2009, the worldwide Catholic population increased by 15 million or 1.3 per cent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which was estimated at 1.1 per cent, according to a statement by the Vatican press office.

The statement reported a handful of the statistics contained in the 2011 “Annuario Pontificio”, a yearbook containing information about every Vatican office, every cardinal and bishop, every diocese and religious order in the world.

Officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State and its Central Office of Church Statistics presented the first copy of the 2011 yearbook to Pope Benedict XVI during an audience on Saturday.

The Vatican statement said that in the calendar year 2010, Pope Benedict established 10 new dioceses, bringing to 2,956 the number of dioceses and Church jurisdictions in the world.

The more detailed statistics in the yearbook refer to the situation reported by dioceses and religious orders as of December 31, 2009.

The number of Catholics reported was about 1.18 billion, the Vatican said, which was up 15 million from the 1.16 billion reported a year earlier.

While only 13.6 per cent of the world’s people live in the Americas, 49.4 percent of all Catholics live there, the Vatican said.

The Vatican said the number of bishops in the world increased to 5,065 from 5,002; the number of priests went from 405,178 to 410,593, increasing everywhere except Europe.

The number of permanent deacons reported – 38,155 – was an increase of more than 1,000 over the previous year; 98 per cent of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe, it said.

The number of women in religious orders fell by almost 10,000 in 2009, despite increases in their numbers in Asia and Africa, the Vatican said. At the end of the year, Catholic women’s orders had 729,371 members.

  • Ursulacaffarey

    I wish u would put on face book the latest evidence of the Turin Shroud as it is now baffling scientists as to how it happened. I saw the whole programme on discovery and wondered why the catholic herald didn’t write about it (or I might have missed it). Please do more for the shroud as all scientists seem to agree it is a mystery. I am glad the catholic population is increasing. Pray to Jesus and get the Turin Shroud on main stream tv. Sincerely beauty

  • Ratbag

    Whilst it is great news that the number of Roman Catholics is on the increase, I pray to the Holy Spirit that the quality of our flock will improve.

    It is sad to see the decline in the number of females in religious life. Women have so much to offer in religious life. The nuns I have encountered in my life have been great characters, full of joy and hard working – by contrast, there are some who are – ahem! – from a different planet.

    Unfortunately, there are those silly outdated stereotypes with regards priests and nuns. It is up to priests and nuns to radiate enthusiasm without resorting to being ‘trendy’… then a germ of an idea could take shape.

  • AgingPapist

    As usual Vatican statistics are misleading. The Vatican and their pawns, the bishops, never bother to count those who’ve left the Church completely, or are inactive. A case of a continuing con job and deliberately misleading information emanating directly from Rome. Does anyone speak the truth in the Vatican today?

    In the U.S.A, the estimate is 22 million Catholics have left the Church since the 70s. Maybe 22 to 23% attend Mass once or more a week. The decline can be traced not to the repudiation of the Novus Ordo (the Pew Research Group claims those who rank the liturgy as their reason for leaving the Church to be about 17%), but a rejection of “Humane Vitae” and the the Church’s teachings on issues governing the ordination of women, women’s sexual rights under the law, the abominable treatment of gays, and the American bishops and their love affair with the radical right-wing Republican Party. Added to their see no evil, hear no evil, and know of no evil policies dealing with America’s unpopular wars, continuing corporate corruption and greed.

  • Ronk

    The Church’s teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality and women’s sexual rights, have in essence remained unchanged since the Church’s inception. So how could they be the cause of fewer Catholics attending Mass? If these teachings didn’t prevent much higher percentages of Catholics attending Mass before the 1970s. they couldn’t be the reason for the lower attendance since then.
    In the past 90 years the USA has not fought any “unpopular wars”; all the wars it has partici[pated in have had the support of the majority of its citizens. “love affair with the Republicans”? About the only thing the Republicans generally agree with the bishops on is abortion and other life issues; on everything else the bishops’ stance is much closer to the policies of the Democratic Party.

  • Downunder Papist

    This is not correct. The Vatican statistics are usually based on official figures. In countries like Australia, Canada and Switzerland, these come from the national censuses, which include a question on religious denomination. People who have left the Catholic Church would presumably not say they are Catholics in the census, especially in Australia, where the census question is optional anyway. Figures from the United States are based on polling. The Pew Research Group figures from the US that Aging Papist refers to found that the rate of departures from the Catholic Church was about the same as for other US religious bodies, including those raised in non-religious families.

  • teresa

    that is really an opinion from an ageing Papist! Sorry for the cheap shot but it reflects the reality. Recently some 200 ageing German theologians signed their project of a future church called “Church 2011″ suggesting the very same like you. And the reaction? Another petition started with now about 5734 signatures, and many among them students and seminarians and normal working folk…
    Sorry, your version of church is passé. Or perhaps you are not a Papist at all. Anyway it is you who are rejecting the reality stubbornly.
    Among those people who signed this petition for the royalty to Magisterium are Peter Seewald, the Star Journalist and interviewer of Pope Benedict, the historian Hesemann in his best years,
    people can help by signing up for this petition pro eclessia:

  • James Varghese

    The above comment contains a lot of truth, even though the choice of the words and the language used certainly pretty unfortunate. From my own experience I know for certain that many a times Vatican officials stubbornly refuse to accept the new figures sent to them. They, for reasons known only to them, keep reproducing earlier figures and refuse to acknowledge the fact that PEOPLE DO LEAVE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH for various reasons. The reasons for their leaving may not be as simplistic as suggested above. Perhaps the rationale for refusing to acknowledge the fact of leaving the Church could be found in the theology of the PERMANENT SEAL of the Sacrament of Baptism, which to me is pretty silly in publishing any worthwhile statistics.
    One only needs to look at the figures for Europe for the last 10 to 20 years to realize how unrealistic are the Church statistical figures. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE REALITY…?! The Pope keeps on speaking ad nauseam about the ‘TRUTH’. I wonder what ‘truth’ is for him and his officials…!!!

  • louella

    What are women’s sexual rights?! Sounds like promiscuity dressed up to me. Yuck.

  • teresa

    Of course there are people who leave, but there are also new-comers, I for example, and many others too, I know at least five personally, all former Protestants.

  • Ratbag

    Spot on. louella.

  • Saxotelephone

    Considered opinions, both of you. Glad to see that the Church is really moving with the times. ‘Womens sexual rights’ means simply what it says; the right of a woman to control their sexual activity and, to some degree, fertility. Opinions on whether or not to agree with that varies, but a bit more of a considered opinion that ‘ooh, sounds like promiscuity to me! Evil! Evil! Yuck!’ would be nice.

  • Saxotelephone

    It isn’t the changing Church position, but the changing social norms.

  • Justme

    What about the thousands of priests and sisters and brothers who have left active ministry over the last forty/fifty years? Is there a place for them in a renewed Catholic Church? Many would not be interested in a return of any kind but many would. Is there a place for them?

  • Profidebookstore

    “never bother to count those who’ve left the Church completely, or are inactive.”
    You are welcome to provide the statistics. How would you expect the “Vatican” to provide the figures you would like to have?
    On the other hand, the shortcomings of statistics should always be taken into account when the media count under “Catholics” those who are no longer so, and yet use the fiigures to demonstrate how the “Catholics” disagree with “their Church”. Not to mention when they, invite these disidents to appear on TV programmes as representativa “spokesmen”, in order to promote their own agenda.
    The “Vatican” statistics are based on what is on record in parishes, and the number of bishops and priest are known from records in Rome and the dioceses.
    If somebody leaves the Church or is inactive it is only known if he/she bothers to notify the parish priest; I and I wonder what criteria one would have to employ in order to establish the “inactive” members.
    Everyone knows that the statiastics should be taken with a salt, but the fugures that are obtained from records nevertheless give us some clue as to the real state of affairs.

  • Profidebookstore

    Everybody is welcome to return, but not on his terms.

  • Justme

    Would they all be welcome to return?
    What would the terms be?
    Those I know who have left the active ministries of priesthood and vocational life love their Church
    deeply and feel as much Catholic as ever but can never see themselves being allowed to return in some way as there is a deep rooted lack of forgiveness from those on high.

  • Ronk

    Insofar as, if you insist on using thatinaccurate term, the Catholic Church infringes upon anybody’s right to control his sexual activity or fertility, it does so equally to men and to women. You insert the word “women’s” simply to give the false impression that the Church is somehow being sexist about it.
    In any case the Church doesn’t force anyone to obey her rules of morality. Any person is free to accept or reject them.
    And fertility is not a disease that needs to be “controlled”. INfertility is a disease. Fertility is the normal natural state of healthy young adults.

  • Ronk

    Exactly, so Aging Papist should be honest and say that a lot of people have left Catholicism because they decided to it was easier to change their beliefs about contraception, abortion, homosexuality etc from the Churchs perpetual position to a position in line with the prevailing social norms. Instead of saying it’s because of the pope and bishops merely repeating what the Church has always taught.

  • Ronk

    Would you please name one ex-Catholic who has notified the Church that he has left and the Church has “refused” to acknowledge the fact?
    In any case as mentioned the figures do not come from the Church but from secular civil governments and from secular opinion poll companies. Actaully the figures would be a lot higher except that many Marxist and Moslem ruled countries officially claim to have a much lower number of Catholcis than they actually do, and they refuse to allow people to freely state their religious beliefs in an opinion poll (or they are afraid to do so if the government doesn’t approve).
    And your block capitals don’t convince anyone of anything, they only annoy people.

  • Ronk

    The Church offers forgiveness to everyone without exception no matter what he has done. An essential part of forgiveness for a sin is REPENTANCE. That is, to stop committing the sin and to promise to at least try not to commit it again. If people say, I’ll come back to the Church if the church lets me keep committing the sin which was the reason I left” they obviously love their sin more than they “love their church”.

  • johnny sprite

    Open letter (Part 1) to His Holiness Pope Benedict 16, Servant of the Servants of God:-
    Good show. And with your new curial Congregration for Evangelisation team of an Indian cardinal head and a Chinese deputy head (Archbishop from Hong Kong) it will increase by leaps and bounds. Not so much in India because Indians have traditionally preferred Hinduism. Christianity is seen as a foreign religion and foreign interference upsetting their lives. Hinduism is more supportibe of their culture with their fatalism (karma) and their yoga and meditation included;

    In Peoples Republic of China and Hong Kong most Holy Father I advise about the following:-
    1. The former and current Cardinals of Hong Kong have adopted a largely confrontational stance with the PRC government. That has to be toned down.
    2. The Communist Party is scared of the church because of what happened in Poland. A Polish Pope used Christianity to demolish Communism from the inside. Therefore you cannot blame the Communist Party for being suspicious of your church.
    3. During the Tiananmen massacre (1989) the churches, christian groups and evangelical christian groups including your church in Hong Kong has conspired with the US to smuggle the student leaders and activists in the square out of Beijing to the USA. The Salesians have done this with impunity. Its funny. Your former predecessor Blessed John Paul 2 was clamping down on liberation theology in South America. But at the same time your church leaders in Hong Kong and China were playing politics there. They were mixing politics and religion and interfering in the internal affairs of their country. What a shame. the Salesians there are hardly smart and blamless. They continue to antagonise the government.
    4. The underground church is viewed with suspicion as it rports to Rome. Anyone who interferes from outside or gives his allegiance to outside boss will be viewed as trying to serve “two masters” Jesus himself warned against this. So please merger both the underground and overground Catholic Churches immediately. The nominations of bishops to be decided both by Rome and the Chinese Communist Party (because this party is resilient and is not going to disappear overnight. This I got from Richard McGregor’s recent book on the party. McGregor is a Financial Times journalist and writes in balanced and soft tone. No stridency. No bellicose so please read that book. It will help you plan your evangelisation efforts in China.
    Thank you Most Holy Father. Good Luck, Good Health and God’s protection to you always.

  • Justme

    I’m thinking about priests, sisters and brothers who left and are now married. Is there a place for them?

  • Dannybbz


  • Jennyboyquiapos

    Thank you god

  • Al

    I pray that Catholcism returns to europe (formerly known as Christendom)

  • Leigh

    I guess you’d expect all the liberal churches to be growing. Oh, but they aren’t. All liberal churches in the USA are in steep decline. The Episcopal church and the Church of England are in meltdown, ever chasing the liberal horizon. 

    Catholics are losing good people to evangelicalism, not liberal churches. These evangelical churches have a strong doctrine line and tend to be socially conservative.  So your analysis is a fairly bankrupt. Catholicism is universal, and the church is growing in many parts. The future, sadly, isn’t with the USA and Europe. But the Americans and Europeans often think the church is only about them! With Islam, often offering a safe and stable rock to rest, we need to up our game. Not looking to make our church a bankrupt church.

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