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ROME (LifeSiteNews) — There are 14 million more baptized Catholics across the world, according to the latest annual figures released by the Holy See earlier this month, while the numbers of priests and seminarians have continued a decline that began in 2012.

Issued in early April, the Vatican’s Statistical Yearbook presents data for the global state of the Catholic Church as of the end of 2022, the most recent year for which data is compiled.

While the number of Catholics generally has grown, the number of priests, seminarians, and religious has dropped, and in some places by quite significant margins. The data is considerably less detailed than that which was published last year.

Africa leads growth in baptized Catholics

As noted by L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s in-house newspaper, there are around 14 million more baptized Catholics as of 2022 compared to 2021, with the number rising from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.390 billion in 2022.

For context, population data suggest a global population of 7.975 billion at the end of 2022.

Continuing the path set in previous years, the growth in numbers of Catholics was seen particularly in Africa. 

The continent saw a 3 percent rise in the number of Catholics, growing from 265 million to 273 million. Such a figure is slightly less than the 3.1 percent growth in Africa as reported in the 2021 Statistical Yearbook. 

Numbers of Catholics also grew slightly in the Americas and Asia. While the Yearbook gave no hard figures, it reported a growth of 0.9 percent and 0.6 percent respectively. 

In contrast, the data from Europe and Oceania was, according to L’Osservatore Romano, simply stable, with no figures given.

Bishops and priests

While the numbers of Catholics generally have grown across the world, such a trend has not been reflected in Catholic clergy. L’Osservatore Romano reported that there were just 13 more bishops in 2022 than in 2021, meaning a total of 5,353. 

As for priests, the numbers of ordained priests continued to drop, this time by 142, leading to a total of 407,730.

Decline in seminarians accelerating under Pope Francis

Crucially linked to the data for priests is the amount of seminarians currently in formation around the world. As of the end of 2022, there were 108,481 major seminarians in the Church, meaning a decrease of 1.3 percent from the previous year’s number of 109,895.

Africa has the the highest proportion of total seminarians in the Church, some 34,541. Asia is next with 31,767; then follows the Americas with 27,738, Europe with some 14,461, and Oceania with 974.

Once again, like in 2021, such a figure is the lowest number of seminarians since 1999. Presenting the 2021 figures last year, the Vatican stated that the “trend for the number of major seminarians observed in the world, starting in 2013, denotes an uninterrupted decrease that continues in 2021.”

This time, the Vatican described it as continuing a “decline that has characterized the trend of priestly vocations since 2012.” 

Indeed, the declining trend has been marked since just prior to the start of Pope Francis’ pontificate and has notably worsened throughout his tenure. There were 120,616 seminarians in 2011 and 120,051 in 2012; by the end of 2013 they numbered 118,251 – dropping 1,800 in one year. That decline accelerated with the advent of Francis, with a drop down to 116,939 by the next year.

But just as with the general number of Catholics, certain parts of the world have been affected differently. Africa, once again, saw a rise of 2.1 percent over the previous year.

Oceania also saw a growth of seminarians by 1.3 percent over the previous year.

But Europe, the Americas, and Asia saw a continued and significant decline in vocations. Europe saw a 6 percent drop in seminarians over the previous year, with the Americas and Asia seeing a 3.2 and 1.2 percentage drop, respectively. 

More permanent deacons and fewer religious

Continuing a growing trend, the number of permanent deacons rose again in 2022, after an initial explosion in numbers after Vatican II. There was a 2 percent rise from 49,176 to 50,150 in 2022. L’Osservatore Romano reported that the number of permanent deacons rose in all areas of the Church, though some 97.3 percent of the total are based in Europe and the Americas.

As for religious, both male and female religious saw a decline in numbers. Male professed religious dropped by 360 to number 49,414 at the end of 2022. 

Meanwhile female religious fell by 9,730 to number 599,228 in 2022. Though the total number fell, the number of female religious grew – and outgrew the global rate of decline – in Africa. Contrastingly, the number of female religious dropped significantly in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania.