Featured Image
Pope Francis greets priests and seminarians during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on February 26, 2014.Giulio Napolitano /

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — As Pope Francis’ 10 year anniversary upon the papal throne is welcomed by his loyal supporters, the Vatican has released data showing the number of seminarians has continued the steady decrease which began in 2013.

On March 3, the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published the latest statistics on the state of the Catholic Church across the world. The data is from December 2021.

According to the data, the number of Catholics globally numbers 1.378 billion, having risen from 1.360 billion in 2020. L’Osservatore Romano noted that this was a growth of 1.3 percent which is slightly less than the Earth’s population growth during the same time, which was 1.6 percent.

The total number of clerics dropped by 0.39 percent since 2020 to 462,388. This figures is composed of 5,340 bishops, 407,872 priests, and 49,176 permanent deacons.

For priests in particular the decline was 0.57 percent. Interestingly, though, the report noted that while diocesan priests have dropped in number by 0.32 percent, the number of priests in religious order has actually increased by 1.1 percent.

However, one of the key aspects related to the numbers of clergy is the data regarding the amount of seminarians in the Church. This number has continued to decline – a decline which has been in effect since Pope Francis took office in 2013, as L’Osservatore Romano wrote: 

The time trend for the number of major seminarians observed in the world, starting in 2013, denotes an uninterrupted decrease that continues in 2021. In this year, the number of seminarians stands at 109,895, distributed 61 percent among diocesan seminarians and the remaining 39 percent among religious. 

Such a figure is the lowest since 1999.

As the newspaper noted, this is a decrease of 1.8 percent compared to the 2020, meaning that the number of seminarians is decreasing at a faster rate than the number of priests. In fact, the 2021 figures show that seminarian numbers are declining at over three times the rate of priests.

This is represented in the ratio of major seminarians to number of Catholics. In 2020 there were 8.23 major seminarians for every 100,000 Catholics, which dropped to 7.99 by the end of 2021.

Such a trend has been marked since the start of Pope Francis’ pontificate, and even just prior to it. For while they numbered 120,616 in 2011, in 2013 they numbered 118,251 – dropping over 2,000 in two years. That decline accelerated with the advent of Francis, however, with a drop down to 116,939 in 2014.

According to the dataset provided, the general number of vocations to the priesthood is also dropping, not merely the number of major seminarians. L’Osservatore Romano wrote there are now only 26.84 vocations for every 100 priests already ordained.

Conversely, the number of permanent deacons continues to rise, a trend which has been stable for a number of years after an initial explosion in numbers after Vatican II. There are now 49,176 permanent deacons according to L’Osservatore Romano.

What the statistics do show though, is that the Catholic Church is growing in Africa generally. The number of seminarians saw its only growth globally in the continent. Though Catholics in under are less than 20 percent of the population generally, the Church recorded its biggest growth there during 2021 – 3.1 percent. 

It is notable, therefore, that despite Pope Francis’ regularly repeated remarks to seminarians about compassion and the need for synodality, that such talking points have not led to a growth in vocations. Rather, they appear to have precipitated a decline.

In spite of this dramatic and continued decline, the Vatican is continuing its crusade against devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass, releasing further restrictions only last month, with even more expected to arrive in the coming weeks.