How Big is the Catholic Church Really?

Contact: Molly Burhans
+39 366 820 3726

GoodLands is opening a library of over 300 maps, applications, and datasets illuminating the Catholic Church’s populations, leadership, institutional footprint, and influence in relationship to the world as part of the launch of our Catholic GeoHub. This is the first time that these maps have been made public since their premier in 2016 among the fresco maps of the Vatican. They visualize GoodLands original data sources, Vatican data sources, and information from public research institutions and private contributors around the world in an easy-to-access manner. The maps shared, when first developed, were the first global data-based maps of a major world religion. GoodLands is a nonprofit organization that uses maps to help religious communities around the world understand their landholdings and optimize their use for environmental, social, and financial impact.

The applications and datasets in the Catholic GeoHub include, but are not limited to:

  • Decades of global demographic data extracted from Vatican sources
  • Climate Change: A global CO2 footprint of Catholics around the world
  • Aid and Disaster Relief: Which dioceses are impacted by natural disasters in real time, such as earthquakes
  • Foundational Data: Ecclesiastical jurisdictional boundaries
  • Leadership Data: The bishops of the world and when they were ordained
  • Healthcare: A Map of Catholic Hospitals from 1980 to 2016 and comparisons of Vatican healthcare data and World Health Organization statistics about the number of hospitals (Catholic and non-Catholic) registered for their Clean Care is Safe Care program.
  • Religious Communities: A comprehensive footprint of religious brothers and sisters around the world


These data lay the foundation for the development of tools that can be used to measure and track information in relationship to the Catholic Church globally, in a coherent, easy to use, and organized manner. They will enable the Catholic Church to be more informed and strategic about how this religion’s 1.3 billion adherents and assets can affect global change. Some applications, such as the Catholic CO2 Footprint provide the first, rough global estimate of how a major world religion is impacting climate change and provide a baseline of information, from which Catholic leadership can improve and measurably encourage emissions reductions in their communities in order to meet the targets outlined in the Paris Accord. Maps, such as a comparison of Population reported by the Vatican vs. Esri Population show where these organizations have data discrepancies and may have data collection and reporting errors. This information will help organizations, such as NGOs and the Vatican, better coordinate data collection efforts and improve their methodologies – improving the quality of information that is essential for key decision-making regarding resource allocation and programs for healthcare and development around the world. Additional maps illuminate where the priest shortage is dire, this helps Catholic leadership make informed decisions about where to place clergy and could contribute to the discussions following the Synod on the Amazon about the priesthood. They also show where, for example, the Catholic Church is an important actor for biodiversity preservation. Many additional maps in the GeoHub show how the Catholic Church relates to a myriad of problems and can potentially influence their outcomes.

Iyad Abu Moghli, the director of the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Faith for Earth initiative says:

“One important aspect to measure progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is provision of data and its accessibility. In her impressive work on Catholic assets, Molly is uncovering one of the largest data sets of the largest faith-based entity. Molly’s work has great potential to be expanded and replicated by other faith-based organizations, and even secular organizations with such assets.”

At GoodLands we believe that maps can change the world – they provide an essential understanding of where we are and enable us to create blueprints to build a better future. In partnership with Esri®, the world’s leaders in GIS technology, we are not only sharing this data but access to GIS software through their educational program


Joseph Kerski of Esri’s education program discusses the power of GIS in educational settings:

“Using GIS in teaching and learning at all levels and disciplines fosters inquiry using real-world data about key 21st Century issues such as water quality and quantity, energy, population change, natural hazards, biodiversity, ocean health, pollution, natural resource use, food security, climate and weather, and others, encourages critical and spatial thinking, problem-solving, and prepares students to be the effective and visionary decision-makers of tomorrow.”

Catholic education serves over sixty-five million students around the world – these students can now use GoodLands data and Esri® tools to learn about their faith, gain valuable technology and leadership skills, and become global changemakers today in their communities. Catholic secondary and elementary schools now have access to billions of dollars in state-of-the-art technology; constituting one of the most significant donations in the history of Catholic education, and the Catholic Church as a whole.

“GoodLands is grateful to share our data with the world. It would not have been possible without our generous partners at the Loyola Foundation, Esri ® , and Catholic Hierarchy. We are looking forward towards how this will help people view the Catholic landscape, and the global landscape beyond this. There has never been a data launch concerning a world religion as significant as this and we hope that it allows people to see and celebrate the value that faith brings to humanity, and realize how we can better live our callings to care for the sick, help the poor, be environmental stewards, and reach out to those on the peripheries and in need.” said Molly Burhans, GoodLands’ Executive Director.