The world's Catholics rose from 1.196 billion to 1.214 billion between 2010 and 2011, an increase of 1.5 percent, according to the Church's annual statistics report.
The gain outstripped the increase in the global population, which rose by 1.23 percent over the same period, the report said.
The biggest rise among believers was seen in Africa (up 4.3 percent) and Asia (up 2.0 percent), while America while numbers in Europe were broadly flat, up 0.3 percent.
Meanwhile, the total number of Catholic priests globally grew from 405,067 in 2001 to 413,418 at the end of 2011.
Again this rise was driven by Africa -- where the number jumped 39.5 percent -- and Asia, up 32 percent.
Over the same period, Europe saw a 9.0 percent drop in priest numbers.
The number of baptised Catholics in the world was stable, at around 17.5 percent of the total population.
The majority of Catholics live in the Americas (48.8 percent), followed by Europe (23.5 percent), Africa (16 percent), Asia (10.9 percent) and Oceania (0.8 percent).