VATICAN CITY - The number of Catholic priests in Africa and Asia has shot up over the past decade while decreasing in Europe. That matches trends in the numbers of Catholic faithful that helped lead to the election of Pope Francis as the first non-European pope in over a millennium.
The Vatican released statistics on the state of the Catholic Church in the world showing a 39.5 percent increase in the number of priests in Africa and a 32 percent hike in Asia from 2001 to 2011. The number of priests in Europe fell by 9 percent, while remaining stable in the Americas. Worldwide, priest numbers were up 2.1 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of Catholics overall rose from 1.196 billion in 2010 to 1.214 billion in 2011. Given the world's population increase, though, the overall proportion of Catholics remained essentially unchanged at 17.5 percent.
For years, the Vatican has been battling a drop-off in vocations and baptisms in Europe and North America, while seeing a boom elsewhere.
One bright growth spot for the Church in Europe and the Americas is the increase in so-called permanent deacons, who can be married men who can preach: Their numbers rose 43 percent in Europe over the decade, and in the Americas went from 19,100 in 2001 to 26,000 in 2011.