The Vatican releases an annual compendium of figures that offers insight into changes in the worldwide Church. Known as the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, it is compiled by the Central Office of Church Statistics in Rome. The 2019 edition, published last week, presents the figures for 2017 – the most recent year available.

The headline news is that the number of Catholics has risen to its highest level in history. There are now 1.3 billion baptised faithful, comprising 17.7 per cent of the global population of 7.4 billion people. But that is not surprising: the number of Catholics is rising largely as a result of broader population growth, rather than because of spectacular successes in the mission field. So the number of Catholics has risen by 1.5 per cent in Asia and 2.5 per cent in Africa. But in Europe and America the increase is below the average annual world population growth rate of 1.1 per cent. While the headcount of Catholics is rising each year, that is a crude measure of the Church’s overall health.

The other big takeaway from the new statistics is that the number of priests worldwide has declined for the first time since 2010. In 2017, there were 414,582 priests, compared with 414,969 the year before. Admittedly, this is only a fall of 387, but the Vatican itself has described the change as “conspicuous”, given that the number has increased throughout this decade. We do not yet know if this is just a blip or whether it is the start of a steady decline. But we should be concerned as there is also a fall in the number of seminarians worldwide. There were 115,328 candidates for the priesthood in 2017, compared with 116,160 in 2016, a decrease of 832.

Full story at Catholic Herald.