Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2004
L'Osservatore Romano
The steady growth of the Catholic Church worldwide

The Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae of 2004, compiled by the Central Office for Statistics of the Church and published by the Vatican Publishing House, has recently been presented.

In comparison with the Annuario Pontificio, in which precedence is given to names and biographies, the Annuario Statistico shows the principal trends that mark the pastoral activity of the Catholic Church in the different countries and various continents.

The tables of statistics, with graphics, are completed by captions in Latin, English and French.

The following is a concise quantitative analysis of the structural changes that have taken place in the pastoral activity of the Catholic Church from 1978 to 2004.

Catholics worldwide

From 1978 to 2004, there was a rapid increase in the number of Catholics in the world by more than 45 percent. In the same period, they rose from almost 757 million to 1.098 billion, with an overall increase of about 342 million faithful (Table 1).

Table 1 - Catholics in 1978, 1988 and 2004: geographical distribution per 100 inhabitants variations over the period
 

CONTINENT

Catholic Faithful (Baptized)

In thousands

Per 100 of the total

Per 100 inhabitants

Percent of
variation
1978-2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988 

2004

 AFRICA

54,759

81,883

148,817

7.24

9.13

13.55

12.37

13.41

16.97

171.77

 AMERICA

366,614

444,422

548,756

48.46

49.55

48.96

62.22

63.50

62.34

49.68

 ASIA

63,183

84,302

113,489

8.35

9.40

10.33

2.53

2.78

2.91

79.62

 EUROPE

266,361

279,401

278,736

35.21

31.15

25.38

40.53

41.14

39.54

4.65

 OCEANIA

5,616

6,870

8,568

0.74

0.77

0.78

25.30

26.83

26.24

52.56

 WORLD

756,533

896,878

1,098,366

100.00

100.00

100.00

17.99

17.77

17.19

45.18

This figure, however, looks less impressive when compared with the demographic growth worldwide in the same period that increased from 4.2 billion to 6.4 billion.

Indeed, a slight decrease in the incidence of Catholics across the world can be noted, from almost 18 percent to just over 17 percent. However, these figures sum up situations that differ widely from one continent to another.

In Europe, the visibly stationary situation recorded can be ascribed mainly to the Old Continent's well-known static demographic situation: a sharp decline in its population, currently stable, is forecast for the coming decades. The number of baptized faithful in 2004, slightly less than in 2003, totaled almost 280 million, a little more than 12 million in comparison with 1978 and slightly less in comparison with 1988.

In relative terms too, the number of European Catholics per 100 inhabitants has remained virtually the same: it has fallen from 40.5 to 39.5.

The situation in Africa, where the number of Catholics has almost tripled, is definitely more dynamic. In 1978 they numbered about 55 million and in 2004 their number had risen to almost 149 million.

This trend can be ascribed only in part to strictly demographic factors. It reflects an effective increase in the number of baptized faithful. In fact, Catholics who accounted for 12.4 percent of the African population in 1978, 26 years later represented almost 17 percent.

Intermediate situations between those described above are recorded in America and in Asia, where the numbers of faithful have increased considerably (49.7 percent and 79.6 percent respectively). However, this can be explained by the demographic increase recorded in the same period.

In relative terms, American faithful account for a stable 62 percent of the population, whereas in Asia, the incidence of Catholics increased from 2.5 percent to just under 3 percent in 2004.

The incidence of baptized persons per 100 inhabitants in Oceania is stable even though much lower figures are involved.

Over and above the different demographic dynamics, there is obvious confirmation of the growth of Catholics on the African Continent (here Catholic faithful have increased from 7 percent to more than 13.5 percent of the number in the world), and of the conspicuous fall in the number of Catholics on the European Continent, where the percentage of Catholic faithful of the world total fell from 35 percent in 1978 to 25.4 percent in 2004.

America's position as a Continent to which almost half the world's faithful belong was consolidated.

Bishops worldwide

The number of Bishops in the world increased between 1978 and 2004 by more than 28 percent, rising from 3,714 to 4,784 (Table 2), with a very marked increase in Africa (+45.8 percent), in Oceania (+34 percent) and in Asia (+31.4 percent), whereas in America (+27.2 percent) and in Europe (+23.3 percent) the figures were below average.

In the face of these different dynamics, however, the distribution of Bishops per continent remained substantially stable in the period under review, with a greater concentration of the total number in America and in Europe.

In Africa too, where the number of Bishops started to increase noticeably, the number of Bishops out of the world total rose slightly from 11.6 percent in 1978 to 13.2 percent in 2004.

Table 2 - Bishops in 1978, 1988 and 2004: their geographical distribution and variations over the period



CONTINENT

Bishops

 

Percentage
of variation
1978-2004

Number

Per 100 of the total

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

AFRICA

432

487

630

11.63

11.80

13.17

45.83

AMERICA

1,416

1,589

1,801

38.13

37.51

37.64

27.19

ASIA

519

578

682

13.97

14.01

14.26

31.41

EUROPE

1,253

1,365

1,545

33.74

33.09

32.30

23.30

OCEANIA

94

107

126

2.53

2.59

2.63

34.04

WORLD

3,714

4,126

4,784

100.00

100.00

100.00

28.81

Attention should be drawn to the ageing of Bishops.

Their average age has increased by more than five years across the world in the period under review, rising from 62 to 67.4 years (a slight ageing with respect to the previous year).

This increase is noticeable especially in Africa (+6.8 years, with an average age in 2004 of 63.6 years), Oceania (+6.8, to 67 years) and America (+6.7, to 67.8 years), whereas Europe, which continues to be in the lead with an average age of over 69, has shown a more contained dynamic.

The most important statistic, however, concerns the increase in the number of over-65-year-olds out of the total. On average they increased from 39 percent to 59 percent in 2004, more than doubling their numbers in Africa (from 22 percent to 46 percent) and increasing consistently also in Oceania and America.

Lastly, in Europe, the number of Bishops who have reached 65 years of age represent 64 percent of the total (compared with 51 percent in 1978).

Priests worldwide

Compared with the increase in the number of Bishops across the world in the period 1978-2004, the statistics for the number of priests overall were rather disappointing, with a decrease of more than 3.5 percent (from about 421,000 to less than 406,000), concentrated in the first part of the specimen period (Table 3).

In point of fact, the number of priests decreased overall by more than 15,000 in 1988. It subsequently stabilized and growth has been recorded in the last decade.

With a counter trend in comparison with the world average, the increase in the number of priests in Africa and Asia is quite comforting, with +85 percent and +74 percent respectively (and with an increase of more than 2,000 only since 2003).

In America, on the other hand, the situation is static, with on average about 120,000 priests.

Finally, Europe and Oceania, which account for the decline in priests across the globe, showed a decrease in 2004 of more than 20 percent and of almost 14 percent, respectively.

If diocesan priests and religious priests are counted separately, the results are very different. Whereas the number of diocesan priests, after falling to a minimum of 257,000 in 1988 compared with 262,000 in 1978, recorded a slight but important recovery (rising to more than 268,000), the number of religious priests showed a constantly downward trend throughout the period under examination (with an overall decrease of more than 13 percent, or a decrease of 20,000).

Moving on to an analysis by continent, it can be noted that religious priests have diminished in number on all the continents (-23.9 percent in Oceania, -20 percent approximately in Europe, -19 percent in America and -4.5 percent in Africa), with the exception of Asia, where from 14,000 they have increased to more than 19,000.

It must be noted, on the other hand, that the decrease recorded for the African Continent, after a reduction of more than 1,300 in 1988, showed a slight recovery of about 8 percent in the second part of the period under discussion.

The very slight increase in the total number of diocesan priests is instead exclusively ascribable to the rapid expansion of the presence of diocesan priests in Africa (where the number of diocesan priests more than tripled between 1978 and 2004), in Asia (where it has doubled), and in America. On the contrary, figures for Oceania and especially for Europe showed a sharp fall.

With regard to the number of priests overall, great changes can be noted on at least two continents.

In Africa, if there were twice as many religious priests as diocesan priests at the beginning of the period, in 2004 there were only slightly more than half the number of diocesan priests.

In Asia, however, in 1978 the two categories were equally represented; but 26 years later, there were over 40 percent more diocesan than religious priests.

The percentage distribution of priests per continent also shows considerable changes during the 26 years under examination.

Table 3 - Diocesan or Religious priests in 1978, 1988 and 2004 per continent: variations over the period
 



CONTINENT

 

Priests

1978

1988

2004

Percent variation 1978-2004

Diocesan 

Religious

Total

Diocesan Religious Total  Diocesan

Religious

Total Diocesan Religious Total 

AFRICA

5,507

11,419

16,926

9,184

10,085

19,269

20,358

10,901

31,259

269.67

-4.54

84.68

AMERICA

66,084

54,187

120,271

68,414

50,989

119,403

77,756

43,878

121,634

17.66

-19.02

1.13

ASIA

13,863

13,837

27,700

17,789

14,502

32,291

28,497

19,725

48,222

105.56

42.55

74.09

EUROPE

174,175

76,323

250,498

159,033

69,413

228,446

139,494

60,484

199,978

-19.91

-20.75

-20.17

OCEANIA

2,856

2,720

5,576

2,779

2,669

5,448

2,728

2,070

4,798

-4.48

-23.90

-13.95

WORLD

262,485

158,486

420,971

257,199

147,658

404,857

268,833

137,058

405,891

2.42

-13.52

-3.58


Although Europe has retained the greatest number of priests, the number of priests out of the total has decreased considerably over time: in 1978, the more than 250,000 priests represented almost 60 percent of the total of this group of clergy, while 26 years later, their number had fallen to less than half, not above 50 percent. This is due in particular to the plummeting number of diocesan priests who are now outnumbered by religious priests.

Africa and Asia, on the contrary, have gained ground, attaining overall more than 19 percent of the world total of 10.6 percent in 1978, thanks in particular to the increase in the number of diocesan priests on both continents.

America has continued to maintain about 30 percent, with a slight but continuous increase of its percentage, whereas Oceania continues to be relatively stable, with not much more than 1 percent.

The numbers of the other agents who support the pastoral work of the Bishops and priests permanent deacons, professed men religious who are not priests and professed women religious differ widely.

Deacons and Religious

In 2004, there were more than 32,000 permanent deacons and more than 55,000 non-ordained professed men religious. Women religious, who numbered 767,000 were far more numerous. The

dynamics of development in the three groups are very different.

The number of permanent deacons, diocesan and religious, is rapidly increasing, both across the world and on the individual continents. Overall, it has risen from about 5,500 in 1978 to more than 32,000 26 years later, with an increase of more than 480 percent (Table 4).

Table 4 – Permanent deacons in 1978, 1988, and 2004:
Their geographical distribution and variations over the period

Permanent deacons (diocesan and religious)


CONTINENT

Number

Per 100 of the total

Percentage of variation
1978-2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

AFRICA

91

235

368

1.64

1.50

1.14

304.40

AMERICA

4,239

11,489

21,067

76.21

73.24

65.17

396.98

ASIA

52

81

148

0.93

0.52

0.46

184.62

EUROPE

1,133

3,781

10,528

20.37

24.10

32.57

829.21

OCEANIA

47

100

213

0.85

0.64

0.66

353.19

WORLD

5,562

15,686

32,324

100.00

100.00

100.00

481.16


The largest numbers and the most vigorous trend in development are being recorded in Europe and America.

In Europe, there were just over 1,000 deacons in 1978 and in 2004 there were more than 10,000, with an increase of more than 800 percent in 26 years.

In America, there were more than 4,000 permanent deacons at the beginning of the period (almost three quarters of the total number across the globe), and in 2004 they already numbered more than 20,000.

More than 97 percent of the total number of deacons in the world are to be found on these two continents alone. The rest are distributed in Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The number of non-ordained professed religious has been steadily falling; it decreased by more than 27 percent between 1978 and 2004 and by 15 percent from 1988 (Table 5).

Table 5 - Professed Religious (non-priests) in 1978, 1988, and 2004:
their geographical distribution and numerical variations

 

CONTINENT

Professed religious non-priests

Number

Per 100 of the total

Percentage
of variation
1978-2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

AFRICA

5,248

5,495

7,791

6.92

8.50

14.16

48.46

AMERICA

23,747

19,516

16,587

31.33

30.17

30.14

-30.15

ASIA

6,508

6,391

9,028

8.59

9.88

16.40

38.72

EUROPE

37,104

30,681

19,942

48.95

47.43

36.24

-46.25

OCEANIA

3,195

2,603

1,682

4.21

4.02

3.06

-47.36

WORLD

75,802

64,686

55,030

100.00

100.00

100.00

-27.40


In 1978, they numbered more than 75,000 worldwide, there were fewer than 65,000 of them in 1988, and in 2004, only slightly more than 55,000.

This downward trend is common to the various continents with the exception of Africa and Asia, where they have increased by 48 percent and 39 percent respectively. In 2004, they represented overall more than 30 percent of the total (from less than half in 1978).

On the other hand, the group constituted by Europe (-46 percent), America (-30 percent) and Oceania (-47 percent), was almost halved during the period under examination.

There is also a sharp downward trend in the number of professed women religious, with a decrease of more than 22 percent in the specimen period (Table 6).

Table 6 - Professed religious in 1978, 1988 and 2004: 
their geographical distribution and numerical variations



CONTINENT

Professed women religious

Number

Per 100 of the total

Percentage
of variation
1978-2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

AFRICA

35,473

40,789

57,475

3.58

4.53

7.49

62.02

AMERICA

300,489

269,967

219,274

30.33

30.01

28.57

-27.03

ASIA

91,585

109,540

150,736

9.24

12.18

19.64

64.59

EUROPE

546,029

465,273

329,898

55.11

51.72

42.99

-39.58

OCEANIA

17,192

14,075

10,076

1.74

1.56

1.31

-41.39

WORLD

990,768

899,644

764,459

100.00

100.00

100.00

-22.54


The overall number of women religious, in fact, has steadily fallen from over 990,000 in 1978 to less than 770,000 26 years later. Also in this case, the decline concerned three continents (Oceania, Europe and America) with substantial decreases (-41 percent in Oceania, -39 percent in Europe and -27 percent in America).

In Africa and Asia, on the other hand, there was a steady increase in the number of women religious, who increased by more than 60 percent on both continents. Consequently, the percentage of women religious in Africa and Asia has grown from 13 percent to about 27 percent of the world total, to the detriment of Europe and America, where their overall incidence has fallen from 87 percent to 73 percent.

Vocations worldwide

The potential for the renewal of pastoral activity depends on a series of factors. The most important is the number of priestly vocations, that is, of candidates to the priesthood, roughly calculated according to the number of students of philosophy and theology attending diocesan and religious seminaries (Table 7).

The overall annual statistics of the number of candidates to the priesthood, diocesan and religious, show a marked upward trend for the total period.

Candidates across the world rose from almost 64,000 in 1978 to more than 113,000 in 2004, with an increase of about 77 percent. The figures were very different on the various continents.

Whereas Africa, America and Asia showed extremely lively dynamics, Europe recorded a decrease of about 2 percent in the same period.

Consequently, a re-dimensioning of the role of the European Continent in the potential growth of the renewal of priests is observed, with a figure that has fallen from 37 percent to 20 percent, compared with the growth in Africa (the number of priests quadrupled in the 26 years under consideration), America and Asia, which in 2004 represented 78 percent overall of the world total (20 percent, 32 percent, and 26 percent, respectively).

The European dynamic in absolute terms can be divided into three distinct periods: growth (24,000 to 30,000) from 1978 to 1985; a period of stability until 1994-95; and finally, a sharp decline that brought the 2004 figures to approximately what they had been 26 years earlier.

America experienced a fairly steady increase in the number of candidates to the priesthood up to 1998: it was subsequently consolidated at around 36,000 to 37,000.

The number of candidates in Africa and Asia is steadily increasing, although the growth rate has slowed in recent years.

In relative terms, with regard to the number of Catholics, greater dynamism was recorded in Asia and Africa, with more than 150 candidates to the priesthood per million faithful in Africa in 2004 and about 257 per million in Asia.

The figures for Europe (84) and for America (67), considerably less than those in 2003 and on the decline, indicate a decrease in the ability to provide for the needs of pastoral service.

Finally, by comparing the number of major seminarians per 100 priests, it is possible to form an idea of the potential for the renewal of effective pastoral service down the generations.

Africa and Asia are also in the lead in this realm with more than 72 and 60 candidates respectively, whereas Europe had less than 12 candidates per every 100 priests in 2004, confirming a period of stagnation in vocations to the priesthood (which have increased by only 2 since 1978).

At a global level, however, from 15 candidates to the priesthood per 100 in 1978, the number rose to just short of 28 in 2004, largely thanks to the contributions of Asia and Africa.

Table 7 - Candidates to the priesthood in 1978, 1988 and 2004: their geographical distribution,  
variations over the period,  indication of priestly vocations



CONTINENT

Candidates to the priesthood

Number

Per 100 of the total

Percent variation
1978-2004

Per one million Catholics

Per 100 priests

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

1978

1988

2004

AFRICA

5,636

12,636

22,791

8.82

13.42

20.16

304.38

102.92

154.32

153.15

33.30

65.58

72.91

AMERICA

22,011

31,010

36,681

34.45

32.94

32.45

66.65

60.04

69.78

66.94

18.30

25.97

30.16

ASIA

11,536

19,090

29,220

18.06

20.28

25.85

153.29

182.58

226.45

257.47

41.65

59.12

60.59

EUROPE

23,915

30,581

23,401

37.44

32.48

20.70

-2.15

89.78

109.45

83.95

9.55

13.39

11.70

OCEANIA

784

831

951

1.23

0.88

0.84

21.30

139.60

120.96

110.99

14.06

15.25

19.82

WORLD

63,882

94,148

113,044

100.00

100.00

100.00

79.96

84.44

104.97

102.92

15.17

23.25

27.85

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 July 2004, page 5

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