Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: Catholic Collapse in Australia Even Worse Than It Looks -- and Bishops are to blame

By an Australian Priest

The headlines did not exaggerate: "Christian heritage fades''; "Australia’s rapidly-changing population is more godless'' and "Atheists demand political influence as record numbers choose 'no religion on census'.''

Results of Australia's five-yearly Census, a detailed snapshot of how Australians live, where they come from, what they earn and what they believe were released this week. For those who value the nation's Christian underpinnings the picture was bleak.

The proportion of Australians who marked "no religion'' on their Census form was 29.6 per cent __ in stark contrastto 1966 when just 0.8 per cent of the population ticked that box. That year, 88 per cent of Australians identified as Christian; now it's a bare majority -- 52 per cent. Come the next Census in 2021,nominal Christians could be a minority, for the first time in the nation's history.

The overall trends have been influenced by immigration from non-Christian nations. Beneath the headlines, however, a few deeper trends are clear Soft-liberal interpretations of Christian teaching don't resonate with the young.The Anglican (Episcopalian) Church, which accounted for 40 per cent of the nation a century ago and remained the largest denomination for many years has now dwindled to 13 per cent.The proportion of Australians identifying as Catholic has also taken a tumble, to 22.6 per cent from 27 per cent in 2001.

Church attendance, as opposed to nominal adherence, is measured in Australia through National Church Life Surveys. An updated picture is pending, but in 2011, the latest available figure, Mass attendance among Catholics had dropped to 12.2 per cent – less in many dioceses. So much for the fact that Catholic schools educate more than one in five Australian children.

That abysmal figure, which has probably plummeted further, compares with a Mass attendance rate of 75 per cent in 1954, 55 per cent in 1962 and 25.9 per cent in 1986.

Should we be concerned? Some senior members of the Catholic hierarchy, evidently are not. Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge responded to the Census with a confusing Pollyanna impression. "Our task may be to discover how these seemingly unfriendly facts are friendly, or at least no cause for panic,” he told his Archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Leader. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that people, young or old, are less religious than they were; but it does mean that they’re religious in very different ways than in the past. And the Church needs to look carefully at that, lest the communication gap between believers and non-believers grow even wider.”

Huh? What about looking carefully for a better way to pass on and teach the faith?

Or is that too "unfriendly''?