Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2007
L'Osservatore Romano

Overview of the Church's presence worldwide

The Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae of 2007, 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, the Pontifical Year Book, in which names and biographies take pride of place, the Statistical Year Book provides a quantitative overview of the principal numerical dynamics of the Catholic Church in the various countries and continents.

As they are every year, the data are provided with captions in Latin, English and French.

We publish as follows information on certain basic aspects of the Catholic Church from 2000-2007.

Baptized Catholics

In the past eight years, the presence of baptized people in the world has remained more or less stable at around 17.3%. There seem to have been some signs of recovery in 2007, with the number of Catholics growing at a slightly higher rate (9.72%) than that of the world population in the same period (9.42%). The presence of Catholics has therefore risen to 17.33%, from 17.29% in the previous year. In fact in 2007, there were approximately 1,147 million Catholics in absolute terms in comparison with the approximately 1,045 million in 2000. The contribution of the various geographical areas to the overall data remains somewhat varied.

Although Europe is home to almost 25% of the world's Catholic community it stands out as the least dynamic area with an increase in the number of the faithful of only a little more than 1%. The presence of the faithful on the continent is stable at around 40%, with a negligible improvement in comparison with the previous year and with the fact that the demographic dynamic in the same period exceeds the number of Catholics by a few decimal points. In Italy, Poland and Spain, the incidence of baptized Catholics exceeds 93% of the resident population.

With reference to the entire period 2000-2007 the number of baptized faithful in America and Oceania has increased less than that of the population (9.5% and 10.1% respectively), whereas the contrary is true on the Continent of Asia. In terms of the ratio of the faithful to the total population, the continent of Asia remained more or less the same in 2007, with a tendency to a gradual consolidation in comparison with the statistics of 2000.

Africa remains without any doubt the continent which has the greatest growth in the number of Catholics. Indeed, the number of baptized faithful in Africa (in 2007, more than 164 million) increased by almost 27%, a rate slightly more than double that in the Asian countries, superior by far to the demographic growth in the same period.


From 2000 to 2007, the number of Bishops in the world rose from 4,541 to 4,946 with an increase of 8.92%. Asia has been confirmed as the most dynamic continent ( + 16.75%), followed by Oceania ( + 10.74%), but with the smallest proportion of the total, by Africa ( + 9.32%) and by America ( + 8.97%). Only Europe remains below the overall average ( + 5.28%). The distribution across the various areas remained virtually unchanged in the period, with America and Europe alone continuing to represent almost 70% of the total.

Over and above the number of Bishops in the various areas and the dynamic of their development, information on the "workload" that may be attributed to each Bishop remains crucial for an evaluation of their adequacy. An estimate of this "burden" in the various geographical areas is obtained from the relationship between the number of priests and the number of Bishops. The trend of a gradual but continuous erosion of the pastoral duties attributed to Bishops has been confirmed. From a ratio of almost 90 priests per Bishop in 2000 their numbers have dwindled to about 82 priests per Bishop, with the result of a more equal and perhaps effective division of tasks among the various categories of pastoral workers.


Number of priests/
Number of Bishops






















After 20 years of a somewhat disappointing performance, the population of priests, both diocesan and religious, is continuing to show overall a trend of positive but fairly moderate growth, which was however less than 1% in the period of 2000-2007.

The number of priests, in fact, has increased in the course of the past eight years, rising from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007. The overall statistics, however, have proven to be of little importance in the light of obvious regional disparities. While Africa and Asia show a fairly sustained dynamic (respectively + 27.58% and + 21.20%) and America has remained almost stationary, in the same period Europe, with the greatest proportion out of the total, and Oceania recorded on the contrary decisively negative growth rates, respectively of 6.84% and 5.48%.

Then, looking at the difference between diocesan and religious priests, a clear divergence appears in the growth of the two categories of working priests. In comparison with the former, who are recording a growth of 2.5%, thus increasing from 265,81 in 2000 to 272,431 in 2007, the latter are constantly diminishing ( 2.73%), with slightly over 135,000 in 2007.

Furthermore, in addition to their dwindling numbers in Europe, borne out by the overall statistics, there is also a significant downward trend in the number of religious priests on the American continent, where they decreased in number from more than 45,000 in 2000 to less than 42,000 in 2007.

In terms of the percentage rate, there is a downward trend in the number of priests only in Europe: in 2000 they represented more than 51% of the world total and their percentage fell to less than 48% in 2007, with a decrease of almost four points.

On the other hand, in comparison with the clearly downward trend in Western Europe, an outstanding dynamic is recorded in certain Eastern European countries, and most of all in Poland. Despite the evident decline in their numbers in Italy, France and Spain, in 2007 these countries still represented almost 50% of the total number of European priests. Of these, about half may be attributed to Italy alone. On the other hand, Asia and Africa are improving their positions: in 2007 together they represented 21% of the total (up from 17.5% eight years earlier).

In Africa in particular the relative proportion of priests is such that four African countries the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda together account for almost 50% of the total number.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the greatest number of priests: in 2007 it had 16% of all African priests. America and Oceania have tended to maintain their rate essentially constant over time, although it is very different in quantity: the former remained at around 30% whereas the latter is continuing to represent only a little more than 1%.


The population of permanent deacons, both diocesan and religious, is continuing to show a significant and encouraging dynamic of development. While deacons are still limited in absolute terms, in 2007 they increased by more than 29% in comparison with their number eight years earlier, rising from 26,824 to 35,942. The number of deacons is increasing in all the areas at an astonishing rate.

In Oceania, where deacons do not yet account for 1% of the total, they have increased by more than 50%, reaching the number of 272 in 2007. However, they are also increasing in areas where they are more numerous. In America and in Europe, where in 2007 about 98% of the overall population of deacons lived, they increased in number during the period under examination, respectively by 26.8% and 34.4%. In America they are concentrated above all in North America.

Non-ordained male religious

The downward trend in the number of professed men religious who are not priests that seemed to have come to a halt in 2006 has instead continued.

There were 55,057 in the world in the year 2000 and in 2007 this figure had fallen to 54,956. Clearly diminishing in Europe ( 13.82%) and in Oceania ( 15.80%), stationary in America, there was a significant increase in the number of professed religious who are not priests in Asia ( + 31%) and in Africa ( + 9.16%), where their ratio out of the world total continues to increase.

The number of non-ordained religious on the two latter continents, in fact, is exceeding the percentage present in America. In Asia growth rates exceeding the average are recorded in Singapore, Vietnam, India and the Philippines, whereas in Africa this sector is growing at a sustained pace in Cameroon, Chad, Ghana and Tanzania. Europe continues to maintain the highest relative ratio (31.0 %) but this percentage is clearly diminishing. We point out, as a counter trend in comparison with this continent's average, the good performance of Ukraine, Romania and Hungary, and also of Austria in Western Europe.

Women religious

The population of professed women religious is also passing through a profound transformation. Professed religious, of whom there are almost twice as many as there are priests and 14 times as many as the number of professed men religious who are not priests, are currently clearly decreasing.

At a global level their number has fallen from more than 800,000 in 2000 to less than 450,000 eight years later. As for their geographical distribution, almost 42% live in Europe. More than 60% of European women religious live in three countries: France, Spain and Italy. Italy alone accounts for 30% of the total number of women religious on the old continent.

America follows with 27.65% (homogenously distributed in the two hemispheres) and Asia, with just over 21%. In terms of development, professed women religious have increased on the most dynamic continents, Africa (+ 17.69%) and Asia ( + 14.83%) in the face of a decrease in the other areas. Consequently, if in the year 2000 professed women religious resident in Europe and America amounted to almost three quarters of the world total, in 2007 they accounted for less than 70%.

Candidates to the priesthood

Comforting news continues to arrive from an examination of the development in time and place of candidates to the priesthood. Philosophy and theology students present in the diocesan and religious seminaries provide an indication of the potential of priestly vocations. The number of candidates to the priesthood in the world has increased by 4.83%, from 110,583 in 2000 to almost 16,000 in 2007.

This increase is largely attributable to Africa and Asia, with respective growth rates of 21.32% and 20.35%. In Europe there a counter trend which shows dwindling potential in the number of vocations of more than 17%. The number of vocations is falling steeply in Belgium and Spain, among others, but also in Eastern Europe where Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia are recording decreases of more than 40%.

Consequently, a decrease in the role of the European continent in the potential growth of the renewal of priestly structures has been observed, with a rate that has fallen from 24% to just over 19%.

On the other hand, the number of candidates to the priesthood seems destined to increase in Africa and Asia, continents on which reside future generations destined to be involved in pastoral activity. In Africa about 36% of the total of candidates to the priesthood live in two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while India and the Philippines overall represent almost 70% of the total of future Asian recruits. America maintains a rate equal to about 32%, whereas Oceania represents barely 0.85% of the total, which is however an increasing rate.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 June 2009, page 10

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