Saturday, 18 May 2013

**The collapse of the English Church as a cautionary tale: is it too late to renew the Church in Australia?

The Vatican has just released its latest figures on the state of the Church, and they seem to continue the now well-established trend of decline in the West, growth in the 'global South'.

Some new data for England and Wales though, illustrates, just how bad the situation in the West really is.

Over the nine days I've posted some suggestions on how to go about reviving the Church here:
But given that Australia seems to be pretty much on the same trajectory as the UK, the new data raises an important question: is it too late to revive the Church in Australia?

In twenty years, there will be more Muslims worshipping in the UK than Christians...

New census data shows that Christianity is declining much faster than previously thought in the UK, while Islam, as a result of immigration and conversion, is rapidly growing: 1 in 10 people aged under 25 is now a Muslim.

Like Australia, many of those who previously described themselves as Christian no longer do.  Like Australia, most Christians in the UK tend to be older, while Muslims tend to be younger.

In short, the latest analysis shows that the United Kingdom really is well on the way to becoming a Muslim nation.

The sad thing is that up until Vatican II, there seemed to be a very prospect that the United Kingdom might once again become Catholic, with conversions ('receptions') running at rates that had a demographic impact.

Conversions in England and Wales, Catholic Directory
Source: Latin Mass Society
Catholic Voices got it wrong...

A few weeks ago, Catholic Voices in the UK made a fairly outrageous claim, namely that there were now more priestly vocations in England and Wales than there had been in the 1950s.  It wasn't even vaguely true: in fact the numbers are far lower.

And to make it worse, Austen Ivereigh (currently in Australia, I believe, helping to train Catholic Voices Melbourne starters) instead of just selling the supposedly good news story, couldn't resist having a dig at traditionalists in the process, claiming on twitter that "some traditionalists finding it hard to accept [the claimed figures] Explodes persistent myth abt post Vat-II 'decline'".

Well it turned out those traditionalists were right, and in fact the situation is much much worse than anyone would have thought.

Catholic Voices apologised, but it stimulated some excellent work by the UK Latin Mass Society into the historical data to establish just how bad the situation really is there.

More Catholic marriages in 1912 than 2012!

In particular, the data, set out in a Latin Mass Society Press release and expanded on in some other posts linked to below shows that:
  • priestly vocations in the UK, like Australia running at a relative high for recent years, are only 36% of the average level they were at in the 1950s;
  • the number of Catholic marriages in 2011 was lower than in 1911, and the decline is even sharper when looked at on a marriages per 1000 Catholics basis.  The number of Catholic marriages collapsed by a third between 1968 and 1978;
  • baptisms halved between 1964 and 1977 and continue to decline;
  • before Vatican II, conversions were running at a rate to make that talk of the conversion of England a real prospect: between 1912 and 1960, well over half a million people were received into the Church.  But the rate of receptions collapsed in the early 70s and hasn't changed much since then. 
The solution?

Meanwhile in the UK, there is one area of growth, and that is in the traditionalist community.  As an article in The Economist noted late last year:

"The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one..."

In sum, as Catholics in the Ozarks has pointed out:

"You can spin the data any way you want, but the facts are the facts, and cannot be denied....
  1. Attendance at contemporary vernacular masses is declining in the Roman Rite.
  2. Attendance at traditional Latin or Anglican Use masses is increasing in the Roman Rite.
  3. Attendance is more stable at vernacular masses celebrated according to to older traditional customs."
The numbers at Latin Masses is, of course, still tiny, and it isn't growing at a fast enough rate to offset the overall decline.

But perhaps the most important demographic fact about those Latin and conservative Masses is that those congregations, in Australia as for the UK and elsewhere, are, like the Muslim community and unlike mainstream Catholic parishes, invariably dominated by young families.


Are the trend lines for the collapse of the faith the same in Australia as for the UK?

I don't know whether the older data exists for this country to make possible a similar analysis (anyone got a pile of old Catholic Directories sitting around on their bookcase?), but certainly the data that is available is absolutely consistent with the UK pattern (albeit not necessarily matching particular years).

Remember that study of the religious orders in Australia done a few years back, 'See I'm Doing a New Thing' ? It showed, for example, that there were more religious in Australia in 1926 than there are now, despite the huge growth in our population since then.

It is true that the UK is still a few steps further down the path of secularisation and Islamisation than we are.   But you wouldn't want to count on that continuing to be the case.  On the secularist side we face the continuing push for same sex marriage, euthanasia and radical abortion laws, and some States and Territories are well down that track.  On the other side, there are parts of Sydney are already heavily Islamic coursey largely of immigration and large families.

It is worth keeping in mind though that we are up against a religion that is having considerable success at making conversions: in the United States, the latest available data shows that 40% of Muslims are converts.

By contrast, the Catholic Church in Australia in 2011 managed only 5,061 adult baptisms.

How many baptised converts were there?  Unfortunately there are no overall statistics readily available, but the numbers would appear to be minuscule: Sydney Archdiocese, one of Australia's stronger ones, this year boasted a whole 44 of them amongst its piddling 238 converts for the year!

The bishop problem

All of which raises the critical question, is it too late, or can a new evangelisation still succeed?

There are reasons for pessimism.

In Australia, as in the UK, the majority of our bishops are outright liberals at worst, or wishy washy middle of the roaders at best, who don't seem to have any interest in reviving the faith as such.

Are the new bishops making a positive difference?

We've had a number of new appointments over the last year or two.

Good things do seem to be happening in Parramatta.

But I'm told that nothing much has changed on the ground in places like Toowoomba and Sandhurst, where the old guard still have de facto control.

In Maitland-Newcastle, the Latin Mass continues to be effectively suppressed (apart from the odd guerilla raid) and the diocese is (understandably given that at least 10% of the dioceses priests seem to have been perpetrators, and many more involved in the cover up) focused primarily on damage control over the sex abuse scandal.

Armidale now at least finally has a website.  But is anything else happening there?  It is true that the latest statistics shows that Armidale is one of most Christian dioceses overall, at 75.8% of the population, but it isn't in the top five in terms of proportion of Catholics, nor were its last publicly available Mass attendance rates that great (12.5% in 2006).

In Perth, I keep hearing that previous positive initiatives are being suppressed, and all that healthy experimentation put a stop to.

Elsewhere the collapse continues: the case of Adelaide

And of course in the ultra-liberal dioceses like Adelaide, the collapse of the faith continues apace.

Consider, for example, the case of the parish of Willunga, located in the rapidly growing areas of Adelaide's southern suburbs.  A reader wrote to me:

"This parish is located in the outer southern suburbs of Adelaide and extends into the Fleurieu Peninsula.  There are 3 x Churches: Willunga, Aldinga (15 minutes apart) and Normanville (35 minutes away from Willunga & Aldinga).

However, our Priests live at Noalunga Centre and are responsible for a large parish there.  Noarlunga Centre is 25 minutes north of Aldinga.

Recently, the Priests also had to take on responsibility for another Parish further south on the Fleurieu Peninsula with 5 Churches.  It is an hour's drive from Noarlunga Centre to Victor Harbor or Goolwa, and at least an hour and a half to Kangaroo Island, not counting the 20km ferry crossing.  Each church on Kangaroo Island is at least an hour apart.

The result is that Mass can only be offered at some Churches once a month.  If you miss Mass, you don't have any other options.

Other Churches have different times on alternate weekends, which is quite confusing when you are trying to plan social events on a Sunday.

My local Church only offers Vigil Mass on Saturday nights.

This lack of choice for Mass is odd considering we are 'only' an hour from Adelaide CBD.  The population of the three parishes is actually increasing due to urban sprawl, and many parts of these parishes would consider themselves urban rather than rural in character.

But this is the reality of a serious lack of priests.  They are completely stretched to the limit..."

Indeed.  According to the latest statistics published by the ACBC Pastoral Research Office, Adelaide is the fifth largest diocese in Australia population wise, with 1.4 million people.  But under Archbishop Philip Wilson's watch it has become the second most secularised (after Hobart), with some 28.1% of its residents claiming no religion, and only 57.1% claiming to be Christian of any kind. And in 2010 the diocese had but 4 seminarians, not even vaguely enough to counter the ever declining number of priests there - in 2001, when Archbishop Wilson was appointed there were 92 diocesan priests; the latest figure from the 2012 Annuario is 73.

The seeds of destruction were sown, in most dioceses, well before the current incumbents took office.  But they have, in many cases, seemingly done their best to hurry things along through both their actions and inaction.

Is it too late?

Change does not, however, have always to be led from above.

I was recently reminded of that great quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen:

“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops and religious. It is to you, the people (LAITY). You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act as priests, your bishops like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” (Address to the Knights of Columbus – June 1972)

That's part of the task of course.

We need to force our bishops to admit that there really is a problem (and not just with the size of the collection plate!) and to step up, and take the drastic action needed to fix things.

We need to encourage our priests to preach truth and take action to create genuine parish communities.

We need to encourage our religious to gt back into their habits, to go back to their convents, and to focus on tasks proper to their calling rather than trying to be political lobbyists.

We need to pray and work for vocations and support new orders.

But more than that, one of the few positives of Vatican II its seems to me, was its emphasis on lay action in its own right.  Contrary to the propaganda of theologians following Yves Congar on the one hand, and some traditional clergy on the other (unduly influenced, perhaps, by an overly literal reading of the pastoral prescriptions of the Council of Trent, but not perhaps aware of the actual practice of the Counter-Reformation and more importantly the thriving lay life that prevailed under Christendom), this emphasis is not counter to the tradition, but rather a revival of the reality that has prevailed through much of the Church's history.  If you look at practice in the middle ages, for example, the laity could and did vote with their feet, establishing guilds and sodalities, putting on miracle plays and  pilgrimages, supporting monasteries, and much more.

That's not to suggest that our efforts can be entirely independent of the hierarchy of course - of course what we do is subject to regulation for the common good.

But it was lay action that established most of the traditional communities in Australia, and lay action that can make the critical difference now if we are but brave enough to open ourselves to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit working within us.


I do hope you've found this series of interest.

It is getting lots of hits, but I'm never entirely sure where they are coming from - those among my targets worrying about what I'll say next, or actual supporters, so I do appreciate the comments I receive on and offlist!

There are of course many other things that could have been included on this list, and are essential to a revival: a return to the confessional and greater use of traditional devotions for example, so please do feel free to contribute your suggestions.

But I do hope I've at least stimulated your thinking, and your prayers.

And to help those along, here is the final day's prayer for the Holy Ghost Novena:

Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's.

You might also wish to say the consecration prayer, and prayer for the gifts:


On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses I offer myself, soul and body to You, Eternal Spirit of God. / I adore the brightness of Your purity the unerring keenness of Your justice and the might of Your love. You are the Strength / and Light of my soul. In You I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve You by unfaithfulness to grace and I pray with all my heart! To be kept from the smallest sin against You. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Your light: and listen to Your voice and follow Your gracious inspirations. I cling to You and give myself to You and ask You / by Your compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds / and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart / I implore You / Adorable Spirit I Helper of my infirmity, so to keep me in Your grace that I may never sin against You. Give me grace O Holy Ghost, Spirit of the Father and the Son to say to You always and everywhere / "Speak Lord for Your servant heareth." Amen.


O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven did promise to send the Holy Ghost to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul / the work of Your grace and Your love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth / the Spirit on Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with You I and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God find know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable / the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord with the sign of Your true disciples / and animate me in all things with Your Spirit. Amen.

**And for a complementary perspective (albeit more pessimistic on the prognosis) on this, do go read Joshua's commentary over at Psallite Sapienter.

***And for a brilliant humorous take on the source of our hope, have a read of Eccles and Bosco is Saved is saved.  Here is the beginning of it:

Church Membership in Decline

Jerusalem, Easter Day, AD 33. Shocking figures in this week's Catholic Herald (editor, Matthew Bar-Alphaeus) indicate that Church Membership, which stood at over 5,000 only a few months ago, has plummeted to around 25 (including 11 apostles, various people called Mary, a centurion, etc.)

Dr Joseph of Arimathea, of the Latin Mass Society, linked the decline to the wrenching changes in the Church produced by the Crucifixion. However, a new initiative, the Resurrection, was announced today; as a result there were predictions that around 500 people might be joining the Church within the next 40 days, with a corresponding increase in apostolic vocations. A further initiative was planned within 50 days....

Of course, the question is whether the year is 33 or AD 70, when the Christians, warned by the spirit and Our Lord's prophesies, fled Jerusalem in advance of its fall.


Maureen said...

I remember Father Jordan saying years ago that we ignore the Muslim threat at our peril,that Australia was well on the way to having Muslim law imposed on us.

I'm afraid it's all too late for my own children, aged in their 30's and 40's now - Catholic schooled post Vatican-2 and lost to the Faith, sadly. As are my seven grandchildren.
I did my best.

Kate Edwards said...

Yes I too have the same problem - my mother and I are the only practising catholics in the family.

But I wonder if it really is too late.

There has to be a way to convert the lapsed and/or never catechised in the first place.

My suggested started point is serious prayer storming (it worked for St Monica!), and I've previously suggested some appropriate psalms for the purpose:

But I'm also reading Shelley Weddell's book on Forming Intention Disciples at the moment, because while I don't agree with a lot of her arguments I do think she has some good insights on the changing demographic challenge, and the conversion process.

When I've finished I'll write a review!

R J said...

As not just the only Catholic convert left in my family but the only non-atheist left in my family, I am perhaps less susceptible than anyone I know to Pollyanna happy-talk from OzChurch about the New Springtime. But every now and then, foreign examples of such happy-talk are capable of genuinely shocking me.

Exhibit A: an increasingly surreal English blogger who operates at such an extreme level of Hibernophobia as to maintain in complete seriousness that there are "more ordinations to the priesthood in England and Wales than there were in the 1950s." To quote American columnist Dave Barry, "I am not making this up":

Said blogger appears to be alleging (his incoherence makes it hard to determine just what he is on about) that before Vatican II most English and Welsh ordinations didn't count, since usually they were of Irish - and by definition naff? - candidates. Since he also appears to have the greatest difficulty in toning down his praises of Obama, one has to wonder whether he is really Catholic at all. Certainly he can't be bothered to acquire any expertise on the topic of the Church's demographics.

Joshua said...

Dear Kate,

I've put my own rather depressing commentary about the state of the Church on my own blog. God save us!

Mac said...

Thanks for the posts Kate. I'm old now and a convert from way back with some Seminary time after that. I can only endorse all the points and comments you make. You manage to put into words the feelings and emotions I feel about the Church and faith, while for me it's just been a "gut" feeling that what's going on does not pass the taste and smell test!
Just in passing; have you considered that the lack of comments you get may be due to the difficulty in getting a post to you through Google? I'm not even sure I can do it since I've changed ISP's.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Mac.

You might be right about google it does seem to cause endless problems.

I've changed the settings so that an id is not required to see if that helps.

jeff said...

We need to think about what we the laity can do. The hierarchy aren't listening and their ignorance to the problem is now bordering on delusional.

I'm trying to get a branch of the Knights of the Southern Cross established in our parish. Lay men being Catholic and rediscovering our Catholic identity together and supporting each other as dads. It is still fragile at the moment but it's initiatives like this that will save the Church.