The number of seminarians has fallen amid what a Vatican document calls a “crisis of vocations”.
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of men in seminary training for the priesthood fell by nearly 4,000, to 116,160.
The decline has been especially concentrated in the Americas and Europe. In Africa seminary numbers have steadily increased, with Uganda, Cameroon, Tanzania and Madagascar (an outlier with a 66 per cent rise) providing an especially large number of future priests.
Seminary numbers, the report says, reached “a maximum in 2012 followed by a slow decrease”. This pattern was seen in several places including North America and Mexico.
The figures come in the Vatican’s official statistical record, the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, whose headline figures were published on Wednesday.
They show that the world’s proportion of baptised Catholics stayed around the same from 2010-16: it was an estimated 1.299bn in 2016, more than a sixth of the world’s population.
Africa has the fastest-growing Catholic population: it rose from 185m in 2010 to 228m in 2016.
Europe saw a rise of just 0.2 per cent over the same period – but because the continent’s population growth is itself stagnating, this represented a slight rise in the overall proportion.
According to the new figures, in 2016 there were 414,969 priests: more than two-thirds were diocesan clergy, the rest in religious orders. The overall priest population fell by 0.2 per cent from 2014-16, thanks to a numerical decline in Europe, North America and the Middle East.