The Catholic Church continues to lose followers in Europe, but numbers are booming in Africa and the Americas, according to figures released by the Vatican on Thursday.
At the end of 2019, there were 1.34 billion Catholics worldwide, representing 17.74 percent of the global population, data from the Fides missionary agency show.
This is up 15.4 million on the year previously and an increase from 1.18 billion a decade before.
The number of followers in Europe fell by 292,000 over the course of 2019, to 285.6 million – some 39.6 percent of the population.
But Fides recorded another 8.3 million Catholics in Africa, a continent with rapid population growth, bringing the total up to 251.6 million – some 19.5 percent of the population.
There were another 5.4 million recorded in the Americas with a total of 647.2 million, or 63.8 percent of the population.
In Asia, the numbers of Catholics were up 1.9 million at 149 million in Asia or 3.3 percent of the population, while in Oceania the number was up 118,000 at 10.9 million, or 26.3 percent of the population.
There were 414,336 Catholic priests in 2019 – up 271 on the previous year – but numbers in Europe fell by 2,608 to 168,328 and by 690 to 121,693 in the Americas. They rose by 1,649 to 49,461 in Africa and by 1,989 to 70,254 in Asia.
Ten years earlier, in 2009, Fides also recorded a fall in the number of European priests, of 1,674.
The Catholic Church has for many years been battling revelations over widespread sexual abuse of children by clergy that has shaken many followers – right up to Pope Francis, who has made tackling the issue a priority of his papacy.
The number of seminarians – trainee priests – fell by 1,822 between 2018 and 2019, to 114,058. Only Africa recorded an increase, of 509 over the year.