Taking a look at the new set of numbers is instructive.
For one thing, the Annuario notes that Catholicism added 16 million new members in 2020, the latest year for which statistics are available. Granted, that meant the church did no more than keep pace with overall global population growth, but it’s still significant at a time when most western perceptions are that the church is shrinking due to the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis, various scandals at senior levels, bitter political infighting, increasing irrelevance to younger generations, and any number of other alleged failures.
For sure, if you live in western Europe or in some parts of the United States, where parishes are closing or consolidating and Mass attendance seems in free fall, those perceptions are understandable. Yet the reality is that on a global level, Catholicism enjoyed the greatest expansion in its history over the past century, more than tripling from 267 million in 1900 to 1.045 billion in 2000 and 1.36 billion today.
Consider that 16 million is more than the entire Catholic population of Canada, and the church added that number of new followers in one year alone, Today, Catholics represent a robust 17.7 percent of everyone on earth.
In other words, the dominant Catholic story today is not decline, it’s breakneck growth.
Second, it’s notable that the vast majority of this growth is outside the western sphere. The Catholic population grew in Africa and Asia in 2020, by 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent respectively. The share of the world’s Catholics who live in Africa has been climbing steadily over recent decades. Africa alone shot up from 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000 and an estimated 236 million today, representing almost twenty percent of the global total….
The above comes from a Feb. 13 article by John Allen in Crux.