By Cian Molloy - 23 October, 2017
The number of Catholics in the world is increasing, according to the latest annual statistics published by FIDES, the Church’s missionary news agency, with the overall global number in 2015 being 1,284,810,00 – an increase of 12.5 million since 2014.
In comparison, the overall population of the world in 2015 was 7,248,941,000, an increase of 88m on the previous year. This means that baptised Catholics now comprise 17.72% of the world’s population, according to the statistics, which are published each year in advance of World Mission Sunday.
The number of bishops in the world is recorded at 5,304 and the number of priests is 415,656, a decrease of 136 worldwide. Globally, on average, there is one priest for every 3,091 baptised Catholics. The number of mission stations with a resident priest worldwide has fallen by 309 to 1,559, but the number of mission stations without a resident priest has increased dramatically by 6,428 to a total of 143,000. Conversely, the number of permanent deacons is increasing with 45,255 recorded, up 689 on the previous year with most of this increase occurring in America, where numbers were up by 656.
On a macro level, because the number of Catholics is increasing most rapidly in developing countries, for the first time the majority of Catholics worldwide now live south of the equator.
While the world’s population increased on every continent, including Europe, according to Global Catholicism: Portrait of a World Church by Bryan Froehle and Mary Gautier, the number of Catholics is increasing on every continent, except Europe.
The countries with the largest Catholic populations are: Brazil (172.2m), Mexico (110.9m), the Philippines (83.6m), the United States of America (72.3m), Italy (58m), France (48.3m), Colombia (45.3m), Spain (43.3m), the Democratic Republic of Congo (43.2m) and Argentina (40.8m). It is notable that the Philippines has overtaken the United States, which for decades had the world’s third largest Catholic population.
To fully grasp how quickly the Church’s demographics are changing it is worth considering this – that in or around 1917, the cultural and ethnic profile of the world’s Catholic population wasn’t very different from what it had been during the Council of Trent (1545-1563), there were about 270m Catholics in the world, two-thirds of whom lived in the West. Now in 2017, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, two-thirds of whom live outside the West. The change has been particularly dramatic in sub-Saharan Africa where in the space of a century the Catholic population has gone from 1.9m to 130m – a 6,708% increase!
Another startling fact from Froehle and Gautier’s book: in 2000, there were more Catholic baptisms in the Philippines alone than there were in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined. Combining Filipino population growth rates with those in Latin America, in Spain and the Hispanic population of the United States, it is estimated that in 2025, four out of five Catholics in the world will be Hispanic Caucasians.
Maybe it is not so strange that we have a South American Pope whose first language is Spanish. Deo gratias! Alabado sea Dios! Buíochas mór le Dia!