The faithful are abandoning the Church in droves!

The number of priests is plummeting!

The number of seminarians is spiraling downward!

The number of nuns has dropped!


Well, the number of nuns has dropped, but the rest of that is just wrong.

I remember back in my Evangelical days, it was a well-accepted fact that the Catholic Church was on its last legs, with people abandoning it in droves, losing more and more ever year.

Funny how things change when you check the facts.

Certainly, there are problems in the Church (always have been; cf. Epistles of St. Paul). The Church did take a big hit after Vatican II. And we’re a long way from where we should be.

But we’re actually growing. Worldwide.

As is the number of priests and seminarians.

The evidence for this—or rather, a summary of it—is found in a work the Holy See produces each year called the Annuario Pontifico (Pontifical Yearbook). Among other things, it collects Catholic statistics from around the world. The newest edition of it came out last Saturday.

So what did it say?

Globally, an increase in the Catholic population of 19 million, for a total of 1,166,000,000 Catholics, or 17.4 percent of global population.

“Yes,” you say sagely, “but 19 million is just a raw number, and the number of Catholics could be going up and yet the Church could still be shrinking in terms of percent of global population.”

But it’s not. The previous year’s Annuario showed the Church at only 17.33 percent of global population, so the increase was not just an increase in raw numbers but in percentage of overall population as well. In other words: The Catholic population is growing faster than the world population.

“Good!” you say, ‘but surely the Catholic population is shrinking here in the U.S.”

Noooo. Though I don’t have numbers from the new edition of the Annuario, according to the 2009 Official Catholic Directory (the Kenedy directory) for the U.S., the number of Catholics in this country increased by a million over the course of the year, maintaining the overall Catholic percentage of the population here.

“What about priests and seminarians?”

They’re up, too, worldwide. According to the new Annuario there were an additional 4,000 priests worldwide between 2000 and 2008 (the most recent year of the Annuario’s data), for a total of 409,166 priests. And in just one year (2007-2008) the number of seminarians jumped by 1,000 (total: 117,024).

The number of consecrated religious, of both sexes, did drop from 2000 to 2008, hemorrhaging 40,000 and dropping the total to 739,067.

There are still lots of problems the Church has to face, but imminent extinction isn’t one of them.