Asia posts increase in priest numbers against global trend

Asia and Africa continue to generate more Catholic priests as their number fell worldwide, particularly in Europe, according to the latest data released by the Vatican.

The number of priests worldwide fell to 414,065 in 2018, with Europe registering the largest decline, followed by the Americas, according to figures released by the Annuario Pontificio 2020, the Vatican yearbook.

Europe posted a 7 percent slide in 2018 in the number of priests, while the decrease in Oceania was a little over 1 percent.

However, Africa recorded a 14.3 percent increase and Asia an 11 percent rise during the 2013-18 period. The numbers in North and South America remain stationary, the yearbook data shows.

Though there was a 0.3 percent rise during the 2013-18 period in the number of priests worldwide, the Vatican report said the numbers “appear rather disappointing overall.”

The number of candidates for priesthood fell to 115,880 at the end of 2018 compared with 118,251 men in 2013, with Europe and the Americas accounting for the largest fall.

The number of young men attending a minor seminary decreased for the third consecutive year in 2018 to 100,164, but the number attending major seminaries rose to 115,880.

Fides, the news service managed by Pontifical Mission Societies, said the number of Catholics worldwide rose by almost 16 million in a year to 1.33 billion.

But the total number of priests decreased in 2018 to 414, 969, which was 687 less than the previous year. As a result, there are an average of 3,200 Catholics per priest.

The reasons for the steady fall in Catholic clergy worldwide is attributed to secularization and the Church’s ongoing sexual and financial scandals.

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There were 15,716,000 more Catholics added to the Church’s fold at the end of 2018, taking the overall number of Catholics to 1,328,993,000 compared with 1,313,278,000 in the previous year.

The hike was scattered across all continents, with a rise of 94,000 in Europe, 9.2 million in Africa, 4.5 million in the Americas, 1.8 million in Asia and 177,000 in Oceania.

As the global population is also on the rise, the percentage of Catholics in the world population, however, remained unchanged at 17.73 percent.

The number of male religious came down marginally to 50,941, while the number of female religious decreased by 7,249 to 641,661, Fides said.

According to Fides, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a dent in donations.

“The biggest challenge that many churches in mission territories had to face was church closures and therefore the lack of celebration and the resulting lack of collections at Mass,” said Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies.


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