By Cindy Wood
VATICAN CITY – The number of Catholics and Catholic men and women who dedicate their lives to serving them continues to grow in Africa and Asia, according to Vatican statistics, but pastoral ministry is still much more easily accessible to Catholics in Europe.
At the end of 2020, the number of Catholics worldwide reached 1.36 billion, an increase of 16 million from the previous year, according to the Vatican’s Central Office of Ecclesiastical Statistics, which published a brief overview of the global figures.
While Catholics remained at around 17.7% of the world’s population, their numbers increased in Africa by around 2.1% and in Asia by 1.8% while in Europe the increase was only than 0.3%, said the summary, which was based on figures reported on December 31. 2020.
And while just over 20% of the world’s Catholics live in Europe, 40% of the world’s priests minister there. The Americas have 48% of the world’s Catholics, but only 29.3% of the world’s priests. The Vatican reported that 18.9% of the world’s Catholics live in Africa and are served by 12.3% of the world’s priests; 11% of Catholics live in Asia served by 17.3% of priests in the world; and just under 1% of the world’s Catholic population lives in Oceania where 1.1% of the world’s priests live.
The Catholic Church also had 5,363 bishops at the end of 2020, 13.4% of whom ministered in Africa.
The total number of diocesan and religious priests fell worldwide to 410,219, the Vatican office said. But the drop was due to lower numbers in Europe, North America and Oceania. The number of priests increased in Africa and Asia.
The statistics office noted a “clear imbalance” in the ratio of Catholics to priests in different regions. Overall, there is one priest for every 3,314 Catholics in the world. But the ratio is one priest for 1,746 Catholics in Europe, 2,086 Catholics per priest in the Americas and 5,089 Catholics per priest in Africa.
The number of religious brothers rose in 2020 to 50,569, the office said, with numbers rising in Africa, Asia and Europe. And while the number of nuns in Africa and Asia increased, the total was not enough to offset declines in Europe, the Americas and Oceania. The total number of professed women, he said, was 619,546 at the end of 2020.
The number of permanent deacons – 48,635 – increased slightly from the previous year, with the majority of them serving in the Americas.
The number of seminarians fell globally to just under 112,000, with all regions except Africa showing a slowdown.