Sunday, 7 April 2013

Going to Mass this Sunday? If so, you are one of less than 12.5% Oz Catholics to do so...

If you turn up at Mass this Sunday, you are likely one of only around 12.5% of Australian Catholics to do so, according to the latest data released by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference's Pastoral Research Office (PRO) for 2011.

By way of comparison, 31% of American Catholics turn up to Mass on an average Sunday according to a the Centre for Applied Research into the Apostolatein the UK in 2010 the figure was 21.9%.

And if you are looking for the shape of things to come, consider the case of Ireland where Mass attendance has plummeted from 40% in 2006 (that in itself a big drop from the 62% who turned up as recently as 2002) , to 20% in the wake of the Inquiry into the Sex Abuse scandal there...

Continuing decline in Mass attendance

The data - from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference National Count of Attendance 2001 – 2011 - shows the continuing decline of Catholic practice in Australia.  As the PRO's fact sheet states:

"The percentage of Catholics who attend Mass every week has been falling more or less steadily since it peaked in the mid-1950s, when two-thirds or perhaps even three-quarters of all Catholics went to Mass every Sunday."

What is particularly alarming is that, unlike the UK and some other countries, the drop off in Mass attendance is still going down - in 2006 the figure was 13.8%; in 2001, 15.3%.

How much does attendance vary from diocese to diocese?  Well, the census data of the number of Catholics (and other religions) by diocese for 2011 is now up on the PRO website, but Mass attendance data by diocese hasn't (yet?) been released publicly.

Will it be?

Certainly in the past there have been significant differences between dioceses, as I pointed out last year on the basis of data painfully reconstructed by me.

Presumably the reluctance in the past to release diocesan and parish level data in the past reflects a desire to avoid invidious comparisons.  But its release would certainly aid transparency and could help promote a healthy debate on what influences Mass attendance, and what works and what doesn't.

That said, the level of analysis currently being undertaken and made public by the PRO is certainly an encouraging sign that things are changing on the transparency front.

Baptisms, marriages and vocations

Nonetheless, some have argued in the past that, notwithstanding that Sunday Mass attendance is a precept of the Church, other measures of faith are more important.  For Catholics though, participation in the sacraments is surely pretty much a defining measure.  Sunday Mass attendance itself might not always be the best single measure, particularly in those places like the Northern Territory and Western Australia where populations are extremely dispersed and priests few and far between.

The problem is, though, that Australia is looking pretty sick on pretty much every measure of practice going.

The recently released Statistical Yearbook of the Church for 2011 shows that Australia's marriage, baptism, first communion, confirmation and vocation rates are all pretty low in absolute terms even by Western standards, and with the exception of priestly vocation rates, falling.

In 2011, for example, it reports that there were 59,446 baptisms of children aged 0-7.  That's a ratio of a sad 9.6 baptisms per 1000 Catholics, compared to a world average of 11.6.  By way of comparison, Great Britain's rate was 13.6, and the US' 11.6.

Even that strong increase in seminarian numbers we've seen over the last few years looks rather less impressive when set in perspective - Australia's priestly vocation rate of 5.05 per 1000 Catholics is actually lower than that of New Zealand (6.89), Great Britain (7.31) and the US (8.19).  And it is still below the average for any regional grouping in the world - Europe's was 7.1; Asia's 26.69; Africa's 14.19 and Oceania as a whole's 11.16.

A rapidly secularising, migrant Church...

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of all of the statistics, though, is just how much Church numbers are being propped up by first generation migrants whose children seem to be assimilating rapidly (courtesy of our 'catholic' schools, 27.5% of whose students, on average, are not actually Catholic?)!

The latest census figures show that 24% of Catholics were born overseas.  In fact, for several decades now most of the growth in the number of Catholics in Australia, courtesy of falling fertility rates and secularization, has come from migrants.

If their children weren't assimilating, we'd presumably see relatively equal numbers of numbers of Australian born and non-Australian born Mass attendees.  In fact, though, migrants are far more likely to attend Mass regularly: 41% of those Sunday Mass attendees were born overseas.  Given that the PRO reports that the average age of Mass attendees is increasing, presumably that means their children are not, in the main, attending Mass.  But maybe we will learn more on this is a future release of the excellent series of fact sheets the PRO is putting out.

Can the New Evangelization succeed?

All of this data points to the tremendous challenge the Church in Australia faces at the moment.

Can it yet be turned around?

Over the next few weeks I plan to look at some of the Australia-wide trends from the Census, Mass attendance and Church Life surveys, and the data our dioceses provide to the Vatican in a little more detail.

I then hope to start updating the diocesan profiles (starting by actually posting on the two diocese I haven't yet looked at, Sydney and Melbourne) I did last year on the state of the Church, and what our bishops are doing to address these challenges.

Accordingly, if there are things about the state of the Church in general in Australia, or about your diocese in particular that you think I should be aware of, please do email me or post a comment here (suggestions from diocesan officials, priests and bishops are welcome too!).  I'd be particularly keen to hear not just the criticisms, but also the good initiatives you know about that deserve to be publicized...  


Joshua said...

Could you also include comparison figures from Ireland - since notoriously Australian Catholicism derives in large part from Irish Catholicism?

Kate Edwards said...

Good point Joshua, I've added it - 20%, a dramatic collapse in the last five years in the wake of the Inquiry there (mind you there are a variety of competing numbers around from different surveys, citing anything up to 35% - methodology has a big impact on these kind of numbers).

Mind you, in Australia these days Catholics of even distant Irish origin are surely a minority - according to the last census, immigrants make up 25.3% and their children another 21.6%. Those born of Australian parents make up
53.2%, but there were a good many Germans and other Europeans in that group of nineteenth century migrants.

And of the current group, Italy, the UK and the Philippines are the largest groups.

Tony said...

Notwithstanding your reasonable caution about methodology, Kate, hard stats are interesting.

Earlier you assert as a caption under a Wangaratta image that this is 'The liturgy young people actually want!'.

I wonder what stats have you to back up such an assertion?

Kate Edwards said...

Actually Tony there are quite a few good ones available, albeit mostly not yet public.

But let's start with Wangaratta - if you follow the link back to the website, you will discover that it is a case of a small country area getting together to do everything necessary to put together a splendid Triduum. The group, currently headed by a 20 year old, found priests, churches, singers (also young, look up the group Prima Luce), several servers, vestments and altar clothes, flowers and more.

And it is a pretty consistent pattern - most TLM communities have large numbers of children and committed young people, way above the norm for other parishes in their dioceses. Indeed, I've been told the stats for one diocese that absolutely proves the point - but as yet of course not even diocesan level, let alone community/parish level data is yet to be released.

It is true of course that these communities are few and far between, and as a result most young people haven't had the chance to experience the traditional liturgy and see if they like it.

But the success of Juventutem at WYD Sydney for example, certainly shows what a great attractor it can be.

Tony said...

I have no doubt that there are pockets of enthusiasm and growth, Kate, but that's a different proposition to 'The liturgy young people actually want!'.

Kate Edwards said...

Well we certainly know about the liturgy they are voting with their feet against, because the stats do show that actual churchgoers are typically older. There is a nice chart in issue 19 of the PRO's fact sheets on the age of worshippers of catholics and other ecclesial communities, and it isn't pretty!

The anglicans are actually doing better than us in terms of the proportion of people aged under 30 who go to church, though the Pentecostals do better than us all by a zillion miles.

Tony said...

Coupla points about the Pentecostals, Kate.

Firstly, I believe they have something of a revolving door in terms of membership. While there's significant numbers heading for the entrances I believe there are also significant numbers heading for the exits.

Secondly, the attraction to Pentecostal-type worship is surely evidence that young people don't actually want traditional forms of liturgy.

Kate Edwards said...

I'm sure you are right about the revolving door Tony, but the only conclusion I think you can draw from their numbers is that young people are looking for something that is not on offer at the typical local parish.

Unfortunately few get any expose to what the Church really does have to offer in its treasure chest, so they wonder off elsewhere to take a look.

Unknown said...

"Secondly, the attraction to Pentecostal-type worship is surely evidence that young people don't actually want traditional forms of liturgy."

Well, if young people don't want traditional forms of liturgy, why are Latin Mass centres filled with young people? And by 'young people' I don't mean children, but young adults who have made the choice to attend the old rite.


Tony said...

As I mentioned earlier, L, I have no doubts that there are pockets of enthusiasm and growth but that's not evidence that traditional forms are attractive to the broader community of young people as, I think, Kate's original statement seems to imply.

The stark reality seems to be that when young people leave, they leave all forms of religious observance or they head towards the more 'enthusiastic' forms.

Unknown said...


I was one of those young people who left for a more 'enthusiastic' form of Christianity, the reason being that I could not stomach the spiritual wasteland I found in Novus Ordo parishes and I suspect other young people leave for the same reason. At least I found biblical teaching among the Protestants, and more importantly, examples of people who were in love with Christ and who were uncompromising in their faith and morals, something that I could not find among the greater part of NO Catholics. The tepidity of Novus Ordo parishes bored and frustrated me. I wanted the faith of the saints, but was served a very palid and anaemic version of it.

However, I would hazard a guess and say that many Catholics who leave for Pentecostalism don't last as they soon start to hunger for something with a bit more depth. That was my experience at least.

Looking at the Catholics I know, and have met, few leave for pentecostal Christianity; most leave the practice of religion altogether, having had very little formation in their faith, and having been subjected to a form of liturgy which is in many cases banal or downright irreverent.

It will be interesting to see what the children raised in Latin Mass communities will do once they hit young adulthood. My guess is that many of them will continue with the practice of their faith as they have been properly formed in it, and have been given the example of a true liturgical and spiritual life.


Tony said...

Again, L, I don't doubt your personal experience and I've read of, or heard of others, who've had similar experiences.

I also don't doubt the experiences of people of my generation who felt 'robbed' by the post-VatII changes.

There are other experiences too. Plenty of people enthusiastically welcomed the changes and, for what it is worth, that was my experience.

I get a little concerned when people extrapolate their experience and make generalised claims based on that experience without the kind of statistical backup that this post began with.

The stark reality of the statistics is that young people tend to leave and those that do come back don't seem to be looking for a more traditional form.

Finally, I think the notion that people -- especially young people -- don't know about traditional forms and when they do, they'll be breaking the doors down, is wearing a little thin.

If young people do have a hankering for traditional forms, finding out more about it is only a few strokes of the keyboard away.

Kate Edwards said...

Give it a break Tony unless you have something new to say.

the reality is that in fact it is you who are the member of the minority and appear to be extrapolating on that basis. I'm not sure how you are, but you said you were retired once, so I'm going to assume 55+!

That's the generation that overwhelmingly walked out the door in the face of the liturgical and other turmoil of the 60s and 70s, and mostly never came back. And those that did stay did a pretty poor job of passing on their faith to their children, hence the current overall statistics.

By contrast what I and others have pointing out is that young people are disproportionately represented in TLM (and the more conservative NO) communities today.

So the few young people who are in the Church (and most in the 15-24 age group are walking out the door pretty fast at the moment) are the more traditionally inclined, a fact that lines up entirely with the current upsurge in priestly vocations and vocations to the more traditional religious orders.

As far as being a mere click of the keyboard away, that is nonsense. Liturgy is something one experiences in the flesh not online.

And most people do not actually know what they are looking for until they experience it for themselves.

Unfortunately, most in Australia at the moment never get exposed to even the Novus Ordo well done, let alone the TLM!