24 May 2016 | by Rose Gamble , Megan Cornwell

The new report shows the number of people identifying as having no religion has increased significantly

Catholic Church in England and Wales is failing to attract new believers, finds report
The Catholic Church is failing to attract new believers and has the fewest number of converts compared to other Christian denominations, a new report produced by St Mary’s University, Twickenham, has found.

Fewer than one in ten Catholics are converts, despite the Catholic population remaining steady over the past three decades, reveals the report published today.

Baptist and Methodist communities are, by comparison, made up of significantly greater proportions of converts, roughly one in five in current Methodist congregations and one in three in Baptist communities. Of these converts, almost all where brought up within a different Christian context as opposed to being former atheists, agnostics or adherents of another religion, the report shows.

The religious make-up of England and Wales has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, according to the report, the first to be published as part of the Catholic Research Forum (CRF), a stream of initiatives based within the new Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s.

Almost half of the adult population now identify as having no religion, more than twice as many as claim to be Anglican (19.8 per cent). In 1983, the Anglican population was 44.5 per cent, so this report shows a dramatic decline. The Catholic population has remained steady at around eight per cent.

Catholics have the strongest retention rate among the main Christian denominations, with over half of people brought up as Catholic (‘cradle’ Catholics), still identifying with the faith, says the report. For every one Catholic convert, however, ten cradle Catholics no longer identify with the faith. This compares to Anglicanism where, for every one convert, twelve cradle Anglicans now no longer identify with the faith.

These statistics go a long way to explaining the growth of those who identify as having ‘no religion’ within England and Wales, concludes the report.

Other interesting findings included: two in every five Catholics in England and Wales say that they rarely or never attend church and almost a quarter of all weekly-or-more Mass goers are women over the age of 65.

Catholics exhibit distinctive patterns of racial and ethnic diversity, with black people over-represented, and those of Asian origin underrepresented. The report also notes considerable geographic variation in numbers of Catholics; Catholics make up more than one in ten of the populations of the North West, Inner London, and Outer London, whereas in the East Midlands and the South West, the Catholic community accounts for fewer than one in twenty of each region’s inhabitants.

According to the report’s authors, the research was published to meet an “often expressed need” to provide statistical data on the overall state of Catholicism in England and Wales.

“The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,” said Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, who analysed data collected through British Social Attitudes surveys over three decades.

“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion,” he told the Guardian.

The report is based on publicly available data collected as part of the British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) and administered by NatCen Social Research.

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  1. Urgent action is needed to improve evangelisation in England and Wales

    A report on the state of Catholicism in England and Wales makes for worrying, if not surprising, reading

    by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
    posted Tuesday, 24 May 2016

    Statistics are always interesting, but the real question is how they are to be interpreted and the use we make of them. The Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, based at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, has produced a report on the state of Catholicism in this country derived from the British Social Attitudes Survey, which makes fascinating reading. But it is not always heartening reading, though it contains a few pointers in it to a brighter future.

    A lot of what the report tells us we already knew, though it is good to have a sound basis for what previously may have only been a hunch. For example, though many people who are brought up Catholic remain Catholic, an awful lot do not: the rate of lapsation is terrifyingly high, and these are people who are not simply “lapsed” in the classical sense, Catholics who do not go to Mass, but baptised Catholics who now deny that they are Catholics at all.

    And why does it help to know this? Because, quite simply, it is an antidote to all those who tell us that everything in the garden is rosy, and that what we are doing at present is working and we should continue doing it. Well, it isn’t rosy, and it isn’t working: we need to make profound changes in the way we do things. People who argue for the status quo have, thanks to this report, just had their position seriously undermined, and every Catholic who cares about the Church should rejoice at this.

    So it is not all bad news. Moreover, the report points us in the direction we need to take. To quote our report on the report:

    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).

    Why are people between 24-45 more likely to go to Mass than people in the 45-64 age group? Is it because the younger generation have been better catechised that their seniors? My guess is that it is so. There may of course be other reasons, such as the availability of places in Catholic schools. But the truth is that people go to Mass because they see a reason to do so; and that reason is made real to them through effective catechesis, and it has long been acknowledged, in some circles at least, that Catholic catechesis has been in the doldrums. That is where the difference needs to be made, and can be made.

    The other revelation is that we make so few converts. This too raises questions. Is RCIA too much of a big ask? Again, it is interesting to see where the converts come from: it is very discouraging to see that only a tiny proportion are from “no religion”. Given that we spend so much energy (or so it seems to me) trying to engage with unbelievers, it is very disappointing that our efforts have born to so little fruit. Yet there are places where the Catholic Church makes converts in considerable numbers. One example is South Korea [see comment below]. So what are they doing that we are not?

    In the end we need to face up to the fact that our efforts at evangelisation are not as effective as we would wish them to be. This means we need to change. This report is a timely reminder of that, and should be a spur to action.

  2. The Church is growing fast in South Korea

    The Confucian kingdom sought to exterminate Catholics but now the whole country admires the Church

    by Mark Greaves
    posted Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014

    Last month it emerged that the South Korean pop star known as Rain had become a Catholic. The 32-year-old hip-wiggler, Asia’s answer to Justin Timberlake, is one of tens of thousands of people being baptised Cathol-ic each year in South Korea. The Church there has been growing rapidly for decades. In the early 1970s the faithful numbered less than a million; now there are over five million, about a tenth of the population.

    Pope Francis will be visiting the country for four days next week, and is unlikely to face a hostile press. The Catholic Church has a good image among South Koreans – according to a recent survey it is the most trusted institution in the country.

    The Church’s vitality is evident at the Korean chaplaincy in Sutton, south London, where 300 people gather every Sunday. The community saved up over decades to buy its own church rather than borrow diocesan buildings – it is the only expat group in Britain apart from the Poles to have done so. When I visit during the week volunteers are putting out flowers and statues of the Virgin Mary for a Legion of Mary meeting.

    Sister Maria Yu, who is based at the parish, hands me a thick sheaf of paper – a print-out of the history of Catholicism in Korea produced by the bishops’ conference. It explains that the Church in Korea was founded by Koreans themselves. Confucian intellectuals became attracted to Catholic ideas in the 18th century; one member of the elite was baptised during a trip to Beijing in 1784 and the faith spread quickly on his return. A priest was sent from China after the community realised it could not nominate its own priests.

    For the next century Catholics in Korea faced terrible persecution. The Confucian authorities saw them as a dangerous challenge to the social order – officials in 1801 wrote that if Catholics were not exterminated the land would “fall into ruin and become fit only for savages and wild animals”. In several waves of persecution more than 10,000 of Korea’s faithful were killed. The commitment shown in those early years is remarkable. An official record states: “Though it is normal for human beings to love life and fear death, when [Catholics] are brought to the execution ground they look on it as a comfortable place to lie down and take a rest.”

    Over the following decades Catholics were pushed to the margins. They lived together in isolated villages and became potters, a trade at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Most of those killed were Korean, although in 1866 a handful of French priests were executed too.

    The persecution stopped in 1885 after a different faction of the Korean elite gained power and opened the country up to the outside world. Yet the Church did not experience its extraordinary growth until almost a century later. According to Korea experts, the widespread respect the Church has gained has much more to do with its actions in the late 20th century than its persecution in the 19th century.

    From 1961 to 1987 South Korea was ruled by a dictatorship. During those years the Catholic Church had a central role in the movement calling for democracy. Nuns and priests were on the frontline of protests; a bishop was among those jailed.

    At the time the Church was led by Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, a giant on the national stage who was regarded as a moral authority by all sections of society. Donald Baker, a professor of Korean history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, explains that politicians seeking to be elected as president would meet him before announcing their candidacy. At his funeral in 2009, Prof Baker says, the country’s most prominent Buddhist leader bowed before his coffin.

    Prof Baker, in his essay “From Pottery to Politics”, notes that from the 1960s the Catholic Church also began founding colleges, universities and hospitals. He argues that the era marked a turning away from a “ghetto mentality” caused by persecution to an “awakening of Catholic social conscience”. In this the Church was actually following the example of Protestant missionaries who had set up hundreds of schools and hospitals in the late 19th century. It was through these institutions that Protestantism, and later Catholicism, became associated with modernity. In South Korea in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, says Prof Baker, “to be Christian was to be modern”.

    Prof Baker, a Catholic and the leading authority on Catholicism in Korea, lives for part of the year in the South Korean city of Gwangju. There, he says, “people brag about being Catholic”. Joining the Church “marks you as serious”, he says. Catholics, in contrast to the born-again Protestants, are associated with “emotional reserve”.

    He also explains that there is a strong sense of community. People come early to Mass to sing hymns and stay for lunch for two or three hours afterwards. His parish is split into small neighbourhood groups that meet regularly and look after each other.

    This sense of community is apparent in Sutton. The priest, Fr John Kwon, who only arrived in November, is visiting the homes of all his parishioners – photographs of him with different families cover the doors of the church. When I visit I am treated to a banquet of squid, pancake, spiced cabbage and all kinds of meats.

    Albert Chun, the parish secretary, explains that going to Mass involves more than “just saying hello”. “We hug together and have personal relationships and take part in small group activities,” he says.

    Fifty parishioners are members of the Legion of Mary, who meet in groups of 10 throughout the week. Mr Chun says the popularity of the lay group, founded in Ireland in 1921, reflects the deep respect mothers have in Korean society. Members meet in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, pray the rosary and are heavily involved in volunteer work.

    Not all Korean Catholics, however, are confident about the future direction of their Church. Fr Denis Kim SJ, a member of the social science faculty at the Gregorian University in Rome, says only a third of Catholics now go to Mass. He also notes that the average age of congregations is rising. “The red light is blinking,” he says. His hope, he explains, is that the visit of Pope Francis inspires younger Catholics and “gives a sense of direction” to Church leaders”.

  3. Faith cometh by hearing.

    And the ambient, heretical noise of the past 50+ years wouldn’t draw flies to an English picnic. Simple as that. English NO bishops have uniformly taken as their model their 16th century predecessors who apostatized under Henry VIII. In fact, that applies to American, Canadian, German, Swiss, etc bishops, too, since the 60s.

    I recall one English SSPX priest (Fr. Black) who was most impressive, years back.

    Even Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to England to beatify the very liberal John Henry Newman accomplished diddly squat.

    A friend who is a Sergeant Major in the US Army Chaplain Corps served multiple tours in SoKo and has personally told me of the spiritual vibrancy of Koreans, albeit NO types.

  4. Firstly, in the UK since Vatican II, at least, the hierarchy have ceased preaching that Catholicism as the “One True Church” and have eschewed conversions – on the basis that all are equal. We also have the ‘square peg in the round hole’ syndrome of ARCIC [demised and now resurrected] – though NOM and ASB to the average person are identical. Catholicism is not taught in schools, nor the necessity/obligation to hear Mass on Sundays and Holydays [Mass Registers] and Confessions.

    Secondly, in mixed marriages there has been no attempt to convert the non-Catholic partner – strangely such conversions carried great Graces for the converting partner.

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