Rorate Caeli

The Springtime of the Church: a statistical reckoning

Following on from my earlier post on Rorate Caeli about the strange, and optimistic, statistical comparisons being made on the internet about the number of ordinations to the priesthood in England and Wales, I and a number of Latin Mass Society volunteers have spent a lot of time among dusty tomes extracting statistics on a whole range of things which have appeared in the Catholic Directory over the years. Various articles have appeared on statistical measures of Catholic life in England and Wales over the years and it is clear that the researchers didn't have these numbers. They have lain uncollected in successive volumes of the Catholic Directory, and very few places have a complete set of old Directories.

Readers in England will see a good-sized article on our research in the print edition of the Catholic Herald out today, on p3.

So we now have numbers for Catholic baptisms, marriages, and conversions, as well as ordinations, numbers of priests, and numbers of places of worship. Some of the series go back to 1912 or 1913; others go back into the 19th century. Here I am going to talk about marriages; I've written on conversions on my own blog; you can download the raw data here, and see the press release here.

We all know the numbers of pretty well everything good in the Catholic world went south in the 1960s and 1970s. Here's a typical graph, recording the number of marriages in the Church in England and Wales, 1913 to 2010 (the latest date for which numbers are available).

Catholic Marriages in England and Wales (1913-2010)
Yes, you read that right: fewer Catholic weddings took place in 2011, in England and Wales, than in 1912. Since the population of the whole country has increased hugely in the meantime, the numbers per 1,000 Catholic makes for an even more dramatic graph.

Marriages per 1000 of the Catholic population of England and Wales (1913-2010)
The estimates of the Catholic population published in the Directory are necessarily a bit subjective. In 1993 they started to collect numbers for weekly Mass-goers as well, and it turned out that only a 28% of the 'Catholic Population' bothered; in 2011 is was 22% of a smaller total. However, if the liberals want to say that the number of Catholic marriages remained stable as a proportion of a sharply dwindling band of zealous Catholics, that would simply replace one depressing graph with another.

Now, what a lot of people will say, looking at these graphs, is that marriage declined across the whole population since about 1970. And it's true, it did: you can even see some of the same kinks in the graphs above in this one, for the population as a whole, published by a conservative British newspaper, The Daily Mail.

So, does the general decline of marriages, and similarly of religious commitment, the birth rate, and other things of that sort explain what happened in the Church? Was the Church in the 1960 and 1970s just a victim of social change?

No. We can adjust for this, at least where marriages are concerned, with the help of the same statistics from the UK's Office of National Statistics which the Daily Mail used.

Catholic marriages as a percentage of all marriages in England and Wales (1913-2010)
This shows Catholic marriages as a percentage of all marriages. The growth of the first half of the 20th century is replaced by a steep decline, a decline to a level unprecedented since these records began. You've never had it so bad.

If you want an explanation for the levelling off at the end, incidentally, it is largely thanks to the Poles and other Catholic immigrants who have arrived in the UK in increasing numbers since 1997. Christian immigrants have masked a catastrophic fall in the percentage of people identifying as Christians of any kind in the UK between the 2001 census and the 2011: at least, that was the headline in the papers yesterday. (Numbers of Muslims are up, of course.)

The Catholic Church in England and Wales can still be viewed as a victim of course: the social changes of the 1960s and after were very negative, they invaded the Church and had a disproportionately bad effect on her, to the extent that she had been a safe haven from them up to then.

They called it 'opening the windows of the Church to the values of the world.'

(Nb the gaps in the graphs in the early 1970s is because for two years the Catholic Directory was not published; statistics weren't published for a small number of other years as well. We are going back to the archive to complete some of the series of numbers going back into the past, so look out for more historical statistics and analysis.)


  1. We must be thankful to Dr Shaw for this. There can be few Catholics alive who have not subconsciously recognised the trends which he has shown.
    It's perhaps good to ask whether Pope John XXIII would have opened those windows in 1962 had he been able to see the results which would ensue.
    Sadly, there are those in the church, Cardinals amongst them, who don't recognise these statistics as being meaningful. In 2001, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor "responded to accusations that the Church was in decline in England and Wales, 'I do not believe this. The strength as a Church, as the Body of Christ, is not based on numbers. Jesus never talked about numbers, rather, He said: Tear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom.'"
    Denial will get us nowhere. Let us repent and believe in the Gospel.

  2. And priestly ordinations are at sub-1860 levels?

    1860 was during a vehement "No Popery" era, just 10 years after the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England.

  3. These statistics used in this article represent the "institutional" Church in the UK and like in the West it is tired and stagnating. However as Mr Voris points out in the Church Militant TV commentary, there is a smaller but GROWING "mustard seed" Church that is more faithful and Traditional and Benedict mentioned it in the early 1070's. The Creative Minority Church spearheaded by mostly young people.

  4. The "new springtime" is one of those phrases that make you reach into your back pocket to make sure your wallet is still there.

  5. We have reached a point now, I've noticed, where even a fair number of progressive Catholics are grudgingly willing to confront the grim evidence of collapse within the Church. Unwilling in most cases to admit that their project was in error, however, they usually resort to extrinsic explanations: Society at large was changing radically, and the Church was simply part of that.

    This is why the second part of Dr. Shaw's analysis is so valuable: It shows that while societal upheavals in the UK were undoubtedly part of the problem, they simply are not sufficient to explain all of the collapse. Not even close. Something else was going on.

    There is, of course, one other progressive response to this collapse, one that actually seeks out intrinsic causes - and these are invariably ones that support their own agenda. Humanae Vitae really started the collapse, and it was compounded by (fill in the blanks), misogyny, clericalism, homophobia, and sex scandals. Never mind that the collapse began years before Humanae Vitae, or that some of the refugees ended up in conservative evangelical sects. There's just no way, it seems, the radical accommodations to modern secularity in liturgy, music, and catechesis could have had anything to do with these mass disaffections from the Church. And the even more rapid collapse of liberal Protestant denominations which eagerly embraced all these liberal moralities is simply ignored.

    Had there been no Council, and no post-conciliar revolution, we should not kid ourselves that the Church - in the UK and elsewhere - wouldn't have been buffeted by strong cultural winds. The Church wasn't sealed off from Western society, and the evidence of decline seems to be visible even beginning in the late 50's, in certain quarters. But would the collapse have been this bad? It could hardly have been much worse, after all.

    Thanks to Dr. Shaw for doing the hard digging into this data.

  6. Nineteen Sixty Four is a good Catholic statistics blog.

  7. "The Vatican II Renewal: Myth or Reality" by Kenneth C. Jones is another excellent pre- vs. post-Vatican II Church statistics article. So is Dr. James Lothian (2000 October). "Mass of Paul VI: The Record After Thirty Years". Homiletics & Pastoral Review (1): 26-31, which argues against "correlation doesn't imply causation" objection of many Vatican II optimists.

    Basically, all Catholics must at least know the following facts:
    Compared to before Vatican II, there are, per Catholic, now

    half as many priests
    quarter as many nuns
    half as many infant baptisms

    And we're in a "springtime"? This is a cold, hard, dead winter!

  8. Thanks for the hard truth. And, the seminarian rates are simply not replacement. Far from it. But, let us not blame the clergy, but ourselves, the laity, who have not formed our own children into priests, nuns and the type of Catholic who would only marry another Catholic.

  9. Anonymous4:53 PM

    Let's also focus on a main problem: the mortal sin of contraception and wrongful use of NFP for anything other than grave reasons.

    No one should expect to get a priest or nun out of one or two children.

  10. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Malta, this is your LAST warning: if you try even one more time to post profanity on this blog you will be banned from all commenting. If you really are Catholic this shouldn't be this hard for you to understand.

  11. Supertradmum,

    But, let us not blame the clergy, but ourselves, the laity, who have not formed our own children into priests, nuns and the type of Catholic who would only marry another Catholic.

    I can't help but think of parishes facing closure or "clustering" due to a lack of priests available to staff them - especially if they're dwindled in size anyway (super-sized suburban parishes always seem to be deemed worthy of a full-time pastor, after all).

    And yet when that same parish has not produced so much a single vocation in 40 years or more, one has to wonder if it isn't time for them to start looking in a mirror. They've done nothing to foster vocations in their own midst, yet they expect to be taken care of by parishes and families, in effect, who have.

    I prescind from "Goodbye Good Men" situations, of course, where a sound parish or family actually did produce a vocation, only to be squelched by lavender modernists at seminary. But it's obvious when a parish has families with 1.8 children (or none!) and no one seems to take the formation in faith that's a prerequisite to vocations seriously, it's inevitable that vocations aren't going to follow.

    It is all of piece. Vocations are down, and so are marriages and baptisms. With the latter in collapse, it's inevitable that vocations will collapse, too.

  12. My experience is that some priests wallow in the low numbers. I have known more than one university chaplain who disliked parish life and got their kicks from small house Masses where I guess the novus ordo comes into its own.

  13. Conversions here in the United States are literally a fraction of what they were in 1960. Many parishes don't have one convert on Easter. Some go years! Yet, I also think potential converts with sense recognize that instruction and the attentiveness of priests is more polarized and less uniform than it once was. Creates the odd phenomenon of one parish in a small town having 10 converts on Easter and the other four churches having none.

    Either way, this committee-managed "New Evangelization" has yet to present a compelling reason for anyone to convert. As long is that is the case, these numbers will persist, in England, in my country, and in any country.

  14. I watched an interview with an old Cardinal from England on television a few years ago. He spoke of a fact after the end of the first session of Vatican Council ll. He stated that Bl. John XXlll called his closest Cardinal collaborators together, and he was one of them. Bl. John XXlll called on them to think of a way to gracefully end the Council as he saw trouble ahead, the Holy father died before it could be done. St. Padre Pio is said to have begged a Cardinal who visited him, to end the Council as soon as possible. St. Padre Pio did not like what was happening at the Council. Story's abound that it was Traditionalists vs Liberals ect... I believe the Church should stop ignoring these facts. Many in the Church have said that the Holy Spirit guided the whole Council, this I do not deny. But the fact is that the Council has been replaced by Church Leaders and others with their own idea of what V2 is or should have been. The whole Council has been ignored and replaced with the "spirit of Vatican ll" imaginary Council. I do not doubt that the Holy Spirit had the final word at V2. But too many progressives have attempted to "tame the Holy Spirit". The Council Documents, like the Novus Ordo Missae needs a new translation more in line with the Latin. Then if the Holy Spirit truly guided the Council then put it into effect to the letter, and stop the misinterpretations, or rather the reinvention of the Council by progressives. Among the progressives there has been far too much "hard headedness, stubbornness and foolishness", to quote the Holy Father Pope Francis l.


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