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The living Church in a changing world

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The living Church in a changing world

The Annuario 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014,
edited by the Central Statistics Office, is has become available in
book stores. Both volumes are printed by the Vatican Printing Press.

The data reveal several new aspects that emerged
between 15 February and 31 December 2015 in the life of the Catholic
Church in the world. During that period one eparchy was elevated to
metropolitan status, three new dioceses, three eparchies and two
apostolic exarchates were created, and one apostolic exarchate was
elevated to eparchy.

The statistics presented in the
Annuarium Statisticum,
relevant to the year 2014, provide a brief analysis of the chief
dynamics regarding the Catholic Church in the 2,998 ecclesiastic
circumscriptions throughout the world.

Over the past nine years the number of baptized
Catholics worldwide grew by 14.1%, exceeding the growth rate of the
world’s population for the same period (10.8%). The presence of
Catholics in the world, therefore, increased to 17.8% in 2014, from
17.3% in 2005. In absolute terms this amounts to approximately 1.272
billion Catholics in 2014 as compared to 1.115 billion in 2005. Since
the statistics varied considerably in the various geographical areas,
this explains the heterogeneous overall figure.

While Europe hosted nearly 23% of the world’s
Catholic community in 2014, it now appears to be the least dynamic area
overall, with an increase in the number of Catholics for the entire
period of only slightly over 2%. The Catholic presence in the territory
remained fixed at roughly 40%, with a minor correction with respect to
2005. This takes into account the fact that the demographic dynamic in
the same period is several decimal points below that of the number of
Catholics.

With reference to the entire 2005-2014 period, the
number of baptized Catholics in Oceania increased at a slower rate than
the population (15.9% and 18.2%, respectively), while the contrary was
seen in the Americas (11.7% versus 9.6%) and in Asia (20% versus 9.6%).
The African continent undoubtedly showed the most growth: the number of
baptized (about 215 million in 2014), increased at a pace more than
double that of Asian countries (nearly 41%) and is far higher than the
population growth rate for the same period (23.8%).

Thus, apart from different demographic dynamics there
was obvious confirmation of the increased percentage in Africa (where
the number of baptized faithful rose from 13.8% to almost 17% of the
worldwide population) and of the net drop of that in Europe, falling
from 25.2% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2014. Although 2014 marked a minimal
fall, the American continents continue to be home to almost half of
baptized Catholics.

Asia, with over 60% of the global population, showed
moderate growth in the incidence of Catholics, with approximately 11% of
Catholics in the world. In Oceania the incidence of baptized faithful
remained stable at less than 0.8% of the worldwide Catholic population.

Between 2005 and 2014 the number of bishops rose from
4,841 to 5,237, an increase of 8.2%. This increase was marked in Asia
(over 14.3%) and Africa (over 12.9%), while in the Americas (over
6.9%), in Europe (over 5.4%) and in Oceania (over 4%) the figures were
below the worldwide average. Regarding these varied trends, however, the
distribution of bishops by continent remained substantially stable
throughout the period studied, with a higher concentration of the total
in the Americas and Europe. Also in Asia, where the number of bishops
grew considerably, the overall demographic statistics showed limited
growth, from 14.3% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2014.

There was a more homogenous and balanced distribution
by continent in the number of baptized faithful per bishop, passing
from 230,300 to 242,900 between 2005 and 2014; except for the singular
case of Oceania (where the low population density in the fragmented
territory of numerous islands and archipelagos creates completely unique
situations), the trend in Africa and Asia, continents where the spread
of Catholicism is more dynamic, is converging toward the global average.

From the statistics regarding diocesan and religious
priests, the first striking figure is that the overall consistency in
the number of priests increased by 9,381 between 2005 and 2014, from
406,411 to 415,792, and seems to have been consistent in recent years.
This applies globally, since the figures vary widely among individual
continents. In contrast with the notable increases in Africa (more than
32.6%) and Asia (more than 27.1%), Europe showed a fall of over 8%, and
Oceania less than 1.7%. Different growth rates were recorded worldwide
over time in the number of priests: the increase was stronger in the
first six years of the period under study, but practically null in the
last three years. In particular, the growth in the figures shows that,
following the steady rise up to 2011 in the number of ordinations to the
priesthood, there has been a steady, gradual decrease to date. The
negative aspects of the trend show that defections have progressively
decreased in number, while the death of priests, after a period of
annual fluctuation, has risen in recent years. In particular, the trends
of diocesan priests show overall growth in comparison to priests of the
religious orders; moreover, while the initial data showed a growing
trend in Africa, in the South and Central America, in Asia and Oceania,
they reveal, by contrast, a declining trend in the remaining areas,
Europe in particular. Religious priests, on the contrary, registered a
downward trend in the Americas as well as in Europe and in Oceania.

The data regarding diocesan and religious priests
demonstrate favourable trends overall in the areas previously studied,
while the remaining areas show a downward trend. Thus, when viewed in
relative terms, trends in the overall number of priests showed changes
in the following geographical areas: from 2005 to 2014, an increase was
seen in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America; numbers in
the Middle East and Oceania remained virtually unchanged; lastly,
downward trends were recorded in North America and Europe — the latter,
in particular, showed a drop from 48.8% in 2005 to 43.7% in 2014.

The pastoral work of bishops and priests is supported
by other pastoral figures: permanent deacons, professed men and women
religious. The composition of these three groups of pastoral workers is
quite diverse. At the end of 2014, there were, worldwide, 44,566
permanent deacons, 54,559 professed men religious who are not priests,
and roughly 683,000 professed women religious. The evolutionary trends
also presented different characteristics.

Permanent deacons constitute the most rapidly
changing group over the course of the period: they grew from
approximately 33,000 in 2005 to almost 45,000 in 2014, with a relative
variation of over 33.5%. Although the increase is manifest everywhere,
its pace varied among the continents: in Europe the number of permanent
deacons increased significantly over nine years, rising from less than
11,000 to 15,000. The American continents also showed an increase: in
2014 the number rose to nearly 29,000 from approximately 22,000 in 2005.
There are no significant changes to report in the territorial
distribution of permanent deacons during the period examined: only a
slight decrease was shown in the relative number of deacons in America
and a growth in Asia. It is of interest to note that permanent deacons
are well represented in the Americas (North America in particular) with
64.9% of all deacons in the world, and also in Europe (32.6%). This
category, however, is scarce in Africa and Asia: these continents hold
barely 1.7% of the worldwide figure.

The practical ability of permanent deacons to assist
priests in performing pastoral work effectively in the territory,
however, is still limited. In the world, the distribution of deacons per
100 resident priests, in fact, was just 10.7 in 2014, with a minimum of
0.48 in Asia and a maximum of 23.5 in America. In Europe the quotient
is about 8%, while in Africa, 1.1 deacons serve alongside 100 priests.
Therefore, the dimension of the phenomenon is still rather modest for
their work to have a significant effect on the balance between the
demand and offer of ministry to the baptized faithful residing in the
area. In terms of development, however, it should be noted that there
tend to be a greater number in the territory precisely where the ratio
between baptized faithful and priests is reduced.

Instead, a slight decrease was reported in the number
of professed men religious who are not priests. In 2005 there were
54,708 worldwide, decreasing thereafter to 54,559 in 2014. It is also
noteworthy that the drop was concentrated in the Americas (less than
5%), in Europe (less than 14.2%) and in Oceania (less than 6.8%). On the
contrary there was an increase in Africa (over 10.2%) and in Asia (more
than 30.1%). Overall, in 2014, Africa and Asia represented almost 38%
of the total (up from 31% in 2005). Conversely, the group comprised of
Europe, the Americas and Oceania decreased to almost 10% over the period
under examination.

Professed women religious in 2014 represented a
population of 682,729, with almost 38% in Europe, followed by the
American continents with over 177,000 consecrated women and Asia with
170,000. In comparison to 2005, this group showed a decrease of 10.2%
which likewise involved the Americas, Europe and Oceania, with
significant negative variations (around 18-20%). On the contrary, there
was a decidedly steady increase of approximately 20% in Africa and of
approximately 11% in Asia. In light of these greatly varied trends, the
portion of the worldwide total of women religious grew in Africa and
Asia from 27.8% to 35.3%, as compared to Europe and America, where the
combined figure dropped from 70.8% to 63.5%.

The temporal development observed in the world
between 2005 and 2014 for the number of major seminarians (diocesan and
religious) showed an initial growth that continued until 2011, when the
total recorded was equal to 105.4% of the 2005 total. This was followed
by a slow but steady decline, which brought the 2014 figure down to
102.2%. With regard to consistency, the number of candidates to the
priesthood worldwide rose from 114,429 in 2005 to 120,616 in 2011, and
then dropped to 116,939 in 2014. The decrease observed in the overall
number of major seminarians between 2001 and 2014 involved all the
continents except Africa, where the number of seminarians increased by
3.8% (from 27,483 to 28,528). However, when the entire period from 2005
to 2014 is considered, the differences between the territorial areas
appear more evident. While Africa, Asia and Oceania show dynamic upward
trends (with growth rates of 21%, 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively), Europe
registered a 17.5% reduction over the same period, and the Americas
(particularly due to the negative trend in the southern hemisphere)
showed a drop of 7.9% compared to the start of the period. As a result, a
general re-evaluation of the role of the European and American
continents in the potential growth and renewal of priestly figures is
observed, with Europe’s share falling from 20.2% to 16.2%, and the
Americas’ from 32.2% to 29.1%, in contrast with the expansion in Africa
and Asia which represents an overall percentage of 53.9 of the worldwide
total for 2014 (24.4% and 29.5%, respectively).

Also in relative terms with respect to the number of
Catholics, the greatest movement was shown in Africa and Asia, with 133
candidates to the priesthood per one million Catholics in Africa in
2014, and about 247 in Asia. European and American figures (66 and 55,
respectively, which are far less significant and in decline in
comparison with 2005, would suggest a reduced offering of pastoral
services. Lastly, from the number of major seminarians per 100 priests,
one can form an idea of the generational replacement in the effective
exercise of pastoral ministry. Thus, also in this context, Africa and
Asia retain their primacy with 66 and 54 candidates per 100 priests
respectively, while in Europe the figure is 10, confirming an ongoing
stagnation in priestly vocations. The Americas and Oceania maintain an
intermediate position with 28 and 22 candidates to the priesthood per
100 priests in 2014. Overall, however, thanks to the upturn in Africa
and Asia, the total has gone from 28.16 to 28.12 major seminarians per
100 priests.

At the end of the quantitative survey conducted
overall and for large geographical areas both in terms of consistency
and of variations, one can draw approximate conclusions regarding the
most obvious phenomena regarding current trends.

Firstly one can note from most of the phenomena
analyzed, a certain dichotomy between the dynamics of the emerging
continents, Africa and Asia, and those of Europe, which is progressively
losing its centrality as the model of reference. This is not
surprising. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the development of the
Church in the world cannot ignore the major trends underlying worldwide
development, especially for demographics. Thus, Europe has become the
most static continent, hindered by the net aging of its population and
by its low birth rate. The Americas as a whole are in an intermediate
position, but were the analysis to distinguish between North and Latin
America, divergences would likely arise, enabling at least a partial
comparison, first to Europe and second to Africa and Asia. Oceania
constitutes a reality unto itself, also due to its far more limited
demographics.

In the 2005-2014 period, the number of priests
increased overall, even if the significant increase of diocesan priests
and the marked decrease of religious priests should be noted.

Europe registered a heavy loss, which was largely
compensated by the lively trend shown by Africa and Asia regarding
diocesan priests. The Americas presented, for the same period, a 1.6%
growth: they have addressed the loss of 4,000 religious with just over
6,000 diocesan priests.

The average pastoral figure worldwide, expressed by
the number of Catholics per priest, grew noticeably and is higher in
Africa and the Americas, while in Europe it has been far more limited.
The situation may plausibly be modified in the coming years, since the
European clergy is older and weakened by lower renewal rates, while in
Africa and Asia the number of candidates to the priesthood is clearly
growing.

The relatively recent phenomenon of the considerable
increase in the number of permanent deacons is of great importance. The
dynamic trend shown by these workers is certainly not attributable to
temporary or contingent motivations, but seems to express new and
different choices in performing the work of spreading the faith.
Indeed, the increase of deacons is seen generally in Europe and the
Americas, less positive continents in terms of development in other
categories of pastoral workers.

Candidates to the priesthood present a positive trend
overall, however in this case as well, there are several reasons for
concern in Europe and the Americas, where a decline has been clearly
shown in recent years. Conversely, Africa and Asia show great vitality.

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