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Increased flock isn't at mass

Sydney priest Fr Paul O'Donnell has told The Australian newspaper neither the rising number of Catholics reflected in the 2001 Census, nor the high-profile conversion of public figures such as Malcolm Turnbull and Mike Willesee (pictured), has not caused an increase in mass attendance.

Fr O'Donnell is national director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre, based at Maroubra in Sydney.

While the number of Catholics rose to 5 million in the recent Census, from 4.8 million in 1996, only 14% to 15% of them attend weekly mass, according to the national Church Life survey.

About 17% attend monthly mass. Commentators attribute the rise in Catholic numbers (while Anglicans, Presbyterians and Uniting Church all fell) to the lasting impact of Catholic baptism, education, and welfare, and the fact that Catholics tend to have larger families.

Sydney Jesuit priest Paul Coleman warned against concluding that the conversion of Turnbull or Willesee, both of whom have long-standing Catholic family connections, is part of a sudden upsurge in Catholicism. "People are overestimating that the church is on an up. It's in a holding pattern. Talk to any Catholic priest and he'll say attendance is falling, and we're losing young people."

Fr O'Donnell says the bad publicity about sexual abuse by priests appears to have had little visible impact in parishes. "People are disappointed in certain aspects of the leadership and institutional aspects of the church but their faith is still strong."

The Australian (payment required)

Catholic Enquiry Centre
National Church Life Survey
Willesee looks at Eucharist miracles and Last Supper in documentary (Catholic Weekly 28/7/02)

27 Sep 2002