Confirmed by the Statistical Yearbook of the Church
The number of priests worldwide is growing while the number of priests who opt to return to the lay state is falling noticeably. The number of deaths has also decreased. Perhaps these numbers do not tell us much —they refer to 1.4 per hundred of newly ordained priests and to 3-4 per thousand of the defections of priests in recent years. Yet, to look to the future with fresh hope it is enough to reflect on the fact that a positive upward trend in the total number of priests in the world in 2009 has not been registered since 1999 — an increase of 809.
The good news is confirmed by the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2009, prepared by the Central Office of Church Statistics and the Libreria Editrice Vaticana [Vatican Publishing House], that will be published shortly. Unlike the better known Annuario Pontificio [Pontifical Yearbook], in which priority is given to names and biographies, the Statistical Yearbook of the Church — several extracts of which we are publishing here in advance — provides a quantitative survey of all the forces of the Catholic Church committed to the apostolate and evangelization in the different countries and continents.
The most recent official statistics refer to 2009. The overall number of priests then was 410,593; 275,542 of this number were members of the diocesan clergy and 135,051 were religious. By contrast, in 1999 there were 405,009 priests: represented by 265,012 diocesan and 139,997 religious. There were no significant difference in the incidence of either diocesan or religious clergy: respectively, 65% and 35% in 1999, as compared with 67% and 33% in 2009.
The overall number of priests in the world in 2009, in comparison with that in 1999, has therefore increased by 1.4% as a result of an increase of 4.0% of diocesan clergy and a decrease of 3.5% of priests who belong to religious orders.
The percentage decrease concerns North America (diocesan clergy about 7% and religious clergy 21%); Europe (9%), and Oceania (4.6%); on the other hand the number of priests increased in Africa (38.5%), in Asia (30.5%) and of diocesan clergy in Central and South America. Except in Africa and Asia, the number of religious who are priests has fallen everywhere.
The distribution of clergy on the continents in 2009 showed a higher number of European priests (46.5%), who account for about 56% more than American priests; the incidence of Asian clergy is of 13.5%, of African clergy 8.9% and of the clergy of Oceania 1.2%.
From 1999 to 2009 there was an increase in the percentage of African clergy (from 6.6 to 8.9), of Asian clergy (from 6.6 to 13.5), and also of American clergy (from 29.7 to 29.9). This growth has taken place despite the downward trend in the number of European clergy, which fell from 52% to 46.5%.
For an overall picture of the statistics on priests, the statistics on Catholics should be included, in order to show clearly the demand for and the offer of pastoral service.
The percentages of Catholics in Africa, Asia and South America increased, whereas the number of Catholics in North America and Europe decreased. If there is a perfect balance between the number of priests and the request for pastoral work, the percentages of priests should coincide with the percentage of Catholics in every area. The comparison between the two percentages — of priests and of Catholics — shows on the contrary that there were great differences: the percentage of priests exceeded that of Catholics in North America, in Europe, in the Middle East and in Oceania; the most evident shortage of priests was in Africa and in South and Central Continental America.
In 2009 the comparative superabundance of priests in comparison with Catholics was
evident in Europe, in North America and in Asia. On the other hand where in 1999 there was a relative shortage of priests in comparison with the number of Catholics, i.e. in Central and South America a decrease in this difference was registered (15.2% of priests as compared with 42.4% of Catholics in 1999; 17.3% as compared with 42.2% in 2009).
From 1999 to 2009 a smaller of priests died than the number of priests ordained and the average reported in this period was 7,750.
Lastly, a note on the number of deaths of priests in the world. Basically, the number of deaths of diocesan priests decreased whereas the deaths of priests who are religious remained more or less stable. In Europe, the clergy is considerably older, so the number of deaths was consistently higher than the number of ordinations. Africa and Asia, which have a much younger priestly population, show a positive demographic trend; overall, the number of deaths on these continents were equivalent to a third of the ordinations in the period under examination. As for the demographical balance in Oceania, it is almost equal; and in America it is positive.