Posted by: L. E. Barnes | March 10, 2011

And the Pontifical Yearbook Says…

So what’s the state of the Church these days? John Norton, writing for Our Sunday Visitor, shares the latest facts and figures, as per the 2010 “Pontifical Yearbook”:

Every year about this time, the Vatican releases a new version of the Annuario Pontificio (“pontifical yearbook”), which contains information about every diocese and bishop in the world; the main staff, members and consultors to all Vatican agencies and offices; summary information on every pontifically chartered religious order in the world; and more, including a list of all the popes and the dates of their reign, all the way back to St. Peter.

I’ve got a copy of the 2010 version on my desk (among other uses, it is our guide for official spellings of bishops’ names). It has a red cloth hardcover with gold letters, with a red ribbon dangling from between two of its 2,351 pages. For all of its girth, it is pretty small in its other dimensions; a missalette laid on its cover would completely hide it.

Because the book also lists the number of clergy, religious and laity in each Church territory, its unveiling is always an opportunity to check Catholicism’s global numbers.

This year’s data will likely come as no surprise, but the number of Catholics in the world; the number of seminarians, deacons, priests and bishops; and the number of dioceses all increased in 2009. One area of shrinkage noted was in the number of women in religious orders. No big surprise there, either.

The Vatican statistics show that at the end of 2009, the worldwide Catholic population stood at 1.181 billion, an increase of 15 million Catholics, or 1.3 percent. The global population growth rate is estimated at 1.2 percent, according to the World Bank.

The geographic distribution of Catholics is also shifting; most strikingly, while only 13.6 percent of the world’s people live in the Americas, 49.4 percent of all Catholics live there.

Number of bishops? In 2009, the Church added 63, for a total of 5,065.

Priests? Their number increased everywhere except Europe, to 410,593 worldwide. That’s growth of 1.34 percent. The Vatican said there’s been a steady growth in priests in the last decade.

Permanent deacons? Their number increased 2.5 percent, to 38,155 worldwide. The biggest growth rates were in Oceania and Asia (19 and 16 percent, respectively), but the Vatican said Europe and the Americas are still home to 98 percent of the world’s permanent deacons.

Religious women? Despite continued growth in Asia and Africa, their global numbers fell by nearly 10,000 to 729,371.

Seminarians? The Vatican said their numbers grew by almost 1 percent, to 117,978 worldwide. But the center of growth is in Asia and Africa; the Americas saw a barely perceptible decline of seminarians by 0.17 percent.

A couple of last facts that you can wow your friends with at the next parish potluck: The pope created 10 new dioceses in 2010. In all there are 2,956 Church territories around the world.

I’m of course very glad to see that the Church is continuing to experience overall growth. One question I have, however, is what Mr. Norton means when he says no big surprise there” in reference to the decline in women religious. Why does he assume that such a thing is to be expected? (I’m just asking, not criticizing.) It’s not something I’ve looked into. Any ideas on that issue?



  1. Many religious orders of women have a larger percentage above age 50 and they are not attracting vocations from the younger crowd. As the older ones die off, they are not being replaced. However, some newer founded religious communities have so many new applicants who are going on to their final professions that they are making new foundations – the more orthodox the order the more applicants. I personally expect in the next couple of years we will see an increase of religious women worldwide.

    • I’d heard that the more conservative/orthodox orders were attracting young women into their ranks, whereas the liberal ones were drying up. (Why can’t liberals put two and two together??) I hope the decline in women’s vocations will be turned around. They have contributions to make to the life of the Church too!

  2. It’s so interesting to see the way different people interpret things. The Vatican expects continued growth in the Church; others I have seen have said they expect a shrinkage in the Church, but that those who remain will be more faithful. Just interesting.

    • I’m glad to see continued net growth in the Church, though I’ve heard that the Pope himself remarked that the Church might need to get smaller (at least in the short term) to become more effective.

  3. I wonder how they define “Catholic”. My siblings were all baptized and confirmed. None of left the Church for another but my guess is that the last time most of them were in a church was for my mom’s funeral. Are they Catholic? What about the person who shows up at Christmas and Easter?

    As far as the women religious go, it’s hard to realize just how many of them there were years ago, just how many old women there are vs young, and that last bulge of women who entered in the late 50’s are dying off now–and in most communities there haven’t been subtantial numbers of new sisters in years.

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