Vatican statistics show modest, steady church growth worldwide

Vatican City — The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests and permanent deacons rose slightly in 2013 while the number of men and women in religious orders declined, according to Vatican statistics.

For the second year in a row, the number of candidates for the priesthood also decreased.

The numbers come from the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which was completed in February and published in March. The yearbook reported worldwide church figures as of Dec. 31, 2013.

By the end of 2013, the worldwide Catholic population had surpassed 1.253 billion, an increase of about 25 million or 2 percent, modestly outpacing the global population growth rate, which was estimated at 1 percent in 2013.

Catholics as a percentage of the global population was up less than a percentage point at around 17.7 percent.

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As it has done in previous years, the latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican; for example, China and North Korea.

According to the yearbook, the region where Catholics make up the largest percentage of the general population is in the Americas, where they account for 63.6 percent of the inhabitants, followed by Europe with 39.9 percent. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 percent.

During the 2013 calendar year, more than 16 million infants and adults were baptized, according to the statistical yearbook, which added that there has been "a general downward trend in the relative number of [infant] baptisms, following closely the trend of the birthrate in most countries." The ratio of children under 7 being baptized to the overall number of Catholics has been going down on every continent since 2008, it said.

It said the number of bishops in the world increased by 40 to 5,173.

The total number of priests -- diocesan and religious order -- around the world grew from 414,313 to 415,348, with a steady increase in diocesan priests present in Africa, Asia and the Americas, and a continued decline in Europe.

The number of permanent deacons reported -- 43,195 -- was an increase of more than 1,000 over the previous year.

The number of religious brothers was down slightly from a total of 55,314 at the end of 2012 to a total of 55,253 at the end of 2013.

The number of women in religious orders continued its downward trend. The total of 693,575 temporarily and permanently professed sisters and nuns in 2013 was a 1.2 percent decrease from the previous year and a 6.1 percent decrease since 2008. The biggest decreases in the five-year period were reported in North America, with a decline of 16.6 percent, and Europe, with a decline of 12.6 percent.

The number of candidates for the priesthood -- both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders -- who had reached the level of philosophy and theology studies continued a recent downturn.

The number of seminarians dropped 118,251 men at the end of 2013 as compared to 120,051 men at the end of 2012. The number of seminarians had seen small increases each year from 2003 to 2011 when there were 120,616 candidates preparing for priesthood.

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