The Catholic Church in England and Wales remains a community dominated by cradle Catholics rather than converts, according to a new study.
The report says that Catholics have the strongest retention rate of any Christian denomination in England and Wales – 55.8 per cent of cradle Catholics still identify as Catholic. But the Church also has the lowest proportion of converts: just 7.7 per cent.
The figures come in the first report issued by the Catholic Research Forum, a new initiative of the Benedict XVI Centre at St Mary’s University. The forum aims to provide “academically rigorous and pastorally useful” research.
The report, by the centre’s director Dr Stephen Bullivant, is based on data from the British Social Attitudes survey (BSA).
3.8 million people in England and Wales identify as Catholic, while 6.2 million say they were raised Catholic.
Dr Bullivant told the Catholic Herald: “However depressing our retention stats are, they’re actually the strongest of the main denominations. To put it a bit crudely, it’s a ‘losing game’ for everyone, but we’re doing something less catastrophic than others.”
The report offers a statistical picture of Catholicism broken down by region, age, ethnicity, frequency of Mass attendance and several other categories. It also provides a broader account of religion in England and Wales, showing that the fastest-growing Christian communities are those outside the Anglican Communion or the Catholic Church, and that nearly half the population (48.5 per cent) say they have “no religion”.
According to the report, the Catholic population has remained steady over the last 30 years, and is now 8.3 per cent of the English and Welsh population. By contrast, the proportion of the population identifying as Anglican has slipped from 44.5 per cent in 1983 to 19 per cent in 2014.
The Catholic population has been boosted by immigration – to what extent is unclear. According to the BSA’s categories, there are more people of “black (African origin)” among the Catholic population than among the general population. The same goes for “Asian (other)”, which includes Filipinos and Vietnamese.
Other findings are less encouraging. There are 10 ex-Catholics for each new convert. Six in 10 cradle Catholics now attend Mass “never or practically never”.
There are also very few converts who were raised as unbelievers: roughly 99 per cent of all converts were raised in another denomination.
According to the report, 60 per cent of adult Catholics are women, and one in four Catholics who attend Mass weekly are women over 65.
The age group most likely to attend Mass weekly or more often is the over-65s (43 per cent). The group least likely to is 18-24 year-olds, at just 14 per cent.
But the trend is not straightforwardly one of older people being more observant. Perhaps unexpectedly, the 24-45 age group (about 27 per cent weekly Mass attendance) is more observant than those aged 45-64 (about 21 per cent).
The survey found that the most Catholic regions of the country are inner London and the North-West.
The report concludes by saying that further study is needed on the trends it reports.
Kirk allows same-sex unions
The Church of Scotland has voted to allow its ministers to enter same-sex marriages.
The Kirk’s general assembly said the ruling did not change its view that marriage was between a man and a woman, but merely offered an “opt-out” for congregations that wished to appoint a minister or deacon in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership. The Kirk is awaiting a report on marriage from its theological forum.
Bishops call for care over extremism Bill
The bishops of England and Wales have urged the Government to exercise “diligence and careful consideration” in preparing its counter-extremism Bill in order to avoid curtailing free speech or alienating minorities.
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