Study says British Catholicism facing "pastoral catastrophe"

A bracing 260-page report on the state of the Church in Britain has found that mass attendance has slumped by 40 per cent and Catholic marriages by 60 per cent over the last 30 years.

Unison reports that the study also shows the number of adult converts fell by 55 per cent and first communions by nearly 40 per cent, describing the crisis as the "greatest pastoral and demographic catastrophe" since the 16th century Reformation.

The study by Anthony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre covers the period from 1963 to 1991. But more recent figures, from 2004, indicate little improvement.

In 1991, Mass attendance in England and Wales stood at 1.3 million, compared with 960,000 in 2004. Deaths among congregations rose by 40 per cent between 1963 and 1991, reflecting the growing elderly profile. However, the Catholic population of England and Wales increased by six per cent.

According to the study the number of "late baptisms", of children aged one to 14, also increased.

But Mr Spencer said that this was sometimes believed to "reflect the desire of parents who are no longer active members of the Catholic community to get their children enrolled in popular Catholic schools."

Mr Spencer collated the figures from statistics gathered by parish priests and dioceses, and published by the Church since 1911.

The Australian reports that in a separate publication, entitled The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain, a former senior press officer for the Catholic Bishops' Conference called for strategic thinking to fix the crisis.

In the report, Tom Horwood says: "The church in Britain is suffering from a terminal decline in membership, irregular commitment among the remnant, and in the wake of persistent child-abuse scandals, a leadership of bishops and priests that has toppled from its pedestal with a mighty crash."

Mr Horwood's book draws on management theory to outline an approach aiming at "fundamental changes of attitudes and behaviour."

Mr Horwood calls for more effective leadership from British bishops, accusing them of inability to set a clear direction, and emphasises the need for "straight-talking honesty".

He sums up: "It is clear that if the Catholic Church in Britain is to successfully communicate its messages and persuade an increasingly secular and cynical audience, it must change its approach.

"Reactionary, defensive tactics have failed," he says.

British Catholics facing crisis as numbers plunge (Unison 4/7/06)
British Catholics desert church (The Australian 4/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in England and Wales
Future of the Catholic Church in Britain

Pell blames Sunday sport for decline in mass attendance (CathNews 17/12/03)
5.9% decline in Mass attendance in Chicago last year (CathNews 2/1/04)

5 Jul 2006