Thursday, 4 July 2013

Are converts more fervent Catholics? Not in Australia it seems!

The ACBC's Pastoral Research Office has released another of their excellent newsletters with some fascinating data on identification as a Catholic, and beliefs of those who have declared themselves no longer of the faith.

And it suggests, amongst other things, just how different Australia is to the US.

Cultural catholicism?

When Shelley Waddell of the Siena Institute visited from the US recently, for example, she presented a lot of data suggesting that increasingly Catholicism in the US was an adult choice, with people moving in and out of various churches and ecclesial communities.

But data from the 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, albeit from a very small sample, seems to suggest something different might be happening in Australia.

First, it suggests that being raised Catholic does make it more likely that you will continue to identify as one - of those raised Catholic, 64% continued to identify as Catholic, while 27% said they now have no religion.

But the really alarming figure to me at least is Mass attendance rates of cradle catholics compared to converts - because there was virtually no difference between them, with around 64% of cradle catholics and 63% of converts saying they rarely or never attend Mass.  Apparently Australia beats the fervour out of those converts: what a terrible indictment on that RCIA process (not to mention our 'Catholic' schools, but we already know that!).

Who are the five percent now Brian!

Another interesting data point relates to perceptions of and belief in selected Catholic teachings.  The aCatholics, you will recall, let by Brian Coyne, constantly claim that those who view traditional teachings as the remnant '10%', and argue that the Churches teachings on morality in particular should be changed in order to reflect the views of the majority.

But in fact the survey results suggest something quite different:

"Well over half of all Catholics who hold these selected beliefs also see religious teaching about morality as a helpful guide to life, and at least a further quarter see it as important for their personal growth. Very few  (between five and ten per cent) had found religious teaching negative and restrictive. Similarly, only for between seven and eleven per cent of Catholics who hold these beliefs is religious teaching about morality largely irrelevant."

Decline in orthodoxy

That's not to say that the survey's findings offer any comfort in terms of the prevalence of orthodoxy.  In fact surprisingly high numbers of those identifying as Catholics don't seem to sure or don't believe in basics like life after death, heaven, hell, the Resurrection and miracles.

Two-thirds of current Catholics, for example, said that they definitely or probably believe in life after death - but that means that one third don't!  Only 60% believe in the Resurrection as a real historical event, and only just over half - 52%  - when it comes to hell.

One would like to hope that the belief rates are higher among those who actually attend Mass, but you wouldn't want to bet on that.


The really intriguing comparison offered in the newsletter, though, is between the beliefs of those who currently consider themselves Catholic and those who consider themselves ex-Catholics.

In the US, most Catholics desert the Church for a protestant community.  In Australia, it seems they lose their sense of faith altogether.  So where two-thirds of current Catholics belief in life after death, two-thirds of the ex-Catholics don't.  Similarly, 78% of former Catholics don't believe in heaven, and only 8% of them believe in hell (hmm, rude shock coming?).

In short the data seems another reminder that the big threat in Australia is creeping secularism, to which a focus on the recovery of traditional practices and beliefs is the only effective counter in my view!


R J said...

Interesting statistics. And, from an Australian standpoint, dispiriting ones.

Traditionally American Catholicism was always very pro-convert. Or, if not always, then since at least Orestes Brownson's time.

Readers need only examine Thomas Reeves's (admirably researched) biography of Fulton Sheen to observe the fantastically high number of American non-Catholics who were going to Catholic catechism classes - by no means always Sheen's own classes - after World War II. Sheen himself was the main human factor in the conversions of several extremely left-wing American atheists (including the out-and-out communist Louis F. Budenz).

Even today, converts make up a large proportion of American Catholicism's mass-media presence. It might not be a particularly agreeable presence. Few of us will wish for a greater quantity of those YouTube conversion stories from Deep Southern Fried youths who flash before the camera their amazing 32 pearly-whites on each jaw and solemnly intone their autobiographies ("Ah used to be ay Babtist and ay Grand Wizard of thuh Ku Klux Klan raht here in li'l ol' Mississippi, but then Ah became ay Catholic, on account of Ah discovered Pope Jahn Paul Two Thuh Totally Awesome, and Ah em tellin' yew, thuh Catholic Church, like, totally rocks!"). Still, a presence it is.

With few - and welcome - exceptions, nothing comparable by way of "convert infrastructure" (an ungainly but useful phrase) exists in Australia to harness the talents of the painfully few sincere converts now in this country. One would like to hope that Archbishop-Mannix-era delusions about how converts were fundamentally threats and nuisances (because Irish working-class cradle-Catholicism would triumph in saecula saeculorum; famous last words) had, these days, died out. But have they? I wonder.

jeff said...

Most "converts" are doing it to get a job at a Catholic School or to get their kids into a Catholic school. End of story.

My wife was doing the class (she was the only sincere person there) and another woman there invited here to a "Tupperware-style" party except that this "lady" would be selling dildos and other exciting accessories for the ladies....and this woman had just come out of Catechuman class......

America don't have cheap, govt funded catholic schools like they do here.

A Canberra Observer said...

more depressing analysis of the backyard barbie catholic church in our country.