Number of Catholics increasing worldwide, falling in Europe

Denomination makes up 17.7% of population largely due to growth in Africa, census shows

The number of Catholics worldwide is increasing everywhere but Europe, according to a census published by the Vatican.

As of December 31th, 2019, Catholics in the world numbered 1.34 billion, of a world population of 7.6 billion. It represents an increase in the Catholic population of 15.4 million over December 2018 figures, about a 1 per cent rise, roughly in line with the growth in the global population. In Europe, the number dropped by 292,000 from 2018 figures.

The figures, released by Vatican news agency Fides ahead of Mission Sunday last weekend, show growth has been greatest once again in Africa where the number of Catholics was up by 8.3 million. The increase was 5.3 million in the Americas, 1.9 million in Asia, 1.9 million and up 118,000 in Oceania.

Overall, Catholics represented 17.7 per cent of the world’s population in 2019. A report by the Pew Research Center in 2013, found the percentage of Catholics worldwide has remained at about 17 per cent over the last 100 years.


According to the Vatican figures, the number of Catholic priests in the world increased also in 2019, to 414,336 (up 271). Again the most significant decrease was in Europe with a drop of 2,608 priests. But there was also a drop of 690 in the Americas and of 69 in Oceania. Meanwhile, in Africa the number of priests increased by 1,649 and in Asia by 1,989.

For the seventh year in a row the number of religious brothers and sisters declined everywhere, with Africa the only exception. Religious brothers were down by 646, to 50,295 internationally, while religious sisters lost 11,562 members, down to 630,099 worldwide.

The number of seminarians in the world was down 1,822 to 114,058 worldwide with, again, increases only in Africa (up 509).

According to the 2016 census there were 3.7 million Catholics in the Republic, down almost 6 percentage points to 78.3 per cent from 84.2 per cent of the population in the 2011 census. According to the 2011 census in Northern Ireland, there were 738,033 Catholics in the North, or 40.8 per cent, an increase of 0.6 percentage points on the previous 2001 census figure.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times