1-May-2006 -- Catholic World News Brief |

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WORLD CATHOLIC POPULATION AT 1.098 BILLION

Vatican, May. 01 (CWNews.com) - The world's Catholic population is now 1.098 billion, according to the latest figures from the Vatican's statistical bureau.

The figures contained in the Annuarium Statiscum Ecclesiae, presented to the press on April 30, show the number of Catholics in the world growing at roughly the same rate as the overall global population. The rising numbers of Catholics come mainly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The Annuarium, which will be published this week, covers the Catholic population from 1978 to 2004, the last year for which full statistics are available. The volume, which will be published this week by the Vatican, offers a more complete analysis of the figures provided in the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook that appeared in February.

From 1978 to 2004 the world's Catholic population grew by 45%, from 757 million to 1,098 million. But in Europe the percentage of Catholics dropped slightly over the same period, from 40.5% to 39.5%. There are now 280 millions in Europe: an increase of only 12 million from 1978.

The growth of the Catholic population in Africa has been much more positive. There the number of Catholics has almost tripled: from 55 million in 1978 to nearly 149 million in 2004. There has been a similar pattern of growth in Asia and the Americas-- where the number of Catholics has grown by 49.7% and 79.6%, respectively, over the same period. The Vatican statistical bureau notes that these figures reflect the overall population growth in those regions. Catholics now account for 62% of the people in the Americas, but only 3% in Asia.

The number of Catholic bishops rose 28% between 1978 and 2004, with the media age of those bishops also rising, so that in 2004 the average bishop was over 67 years old. The number of priests worldwide rose much less sharply: by 3.5%. The number of seminarians grew by 77%, with that increase attributable to sharp rises in Africa and Latin America. In Europe, however, over the same period of time the number of priests dropped more than 20%. In religious life, the number of male religious (excluding priests) dropped by 27% over the period of the Annuarium study, and the number of female religious dropped by 22%.

The steepest increase shown in the Annuarium is in the number of permanent deacons. From 1978 to 2004 that number soared from 5,500 to 32,000 worldwide, with 97% of the permanent deacons found in North America and Europe.

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