Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Saturday, 28 February 2009

Catholic priest numbers increase

Priests at a mass in the Vatican
Africa and Asia saw the biggest increase in priest numbers

The number of priests in the Catholic Church around the world is slowly rising, the Vatican says.

The Holy See presented a statistical yearbook to Pope Benedict XVI, showing an increase of several hundred priests a year since 2000.

Thanks to large increases in Africa and Asia, the number of Catholic priests rose from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007, the report said.

In the previous two decades, the number of priests dropped markedly.

Stable congregation

Numbers in Africa had risen by 27.6% and in Asia by 21%, the report said.

The figures were "a continuing trend of moderate growth in the number of priests in the world which began in 2000 after over two decades of disappointing results", it added.

The percentage of Catholics worldwide remains stable, at about 17.3% of the global population, the report found. Some 1.147 billion people around the world identified themselves as Catholic, it said.

Worldwide, the number of candidates for the priesthood increased by just under half a percentage point, despite small declines in figures for Europe and North and South America.

The Catholic Church has recently been rocked by several scandals involving sexual abuse carried out by priests, which has prompted a crackdown on standards for potential priests.

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