Surviving the Australian Catholic Apocalypse – Church attendance

My husband went to a meeting last week of concerned Catholics and he came home with some very interesting statistics which I have been mulling over for the past week.  I often wonder if we are the only ones in Australia who practice our faith, or if there are other like-minded people out there.  Sometimes it is a very lonely ride.  Other times we have wonderful connections with those who have similar values to ours.  So, it is interesting to get the cold, hard numbers sometimes to see just how special we really are!

In 2011:

Total Population: 21,507,719

Catholic Population: 5,439,267

Catholics make up 25.3 per cent of the total population Source

Mass attendances have been in a more or less constant state of decline since the 1950s… Between 1996 and 2011, a fifteen-year period, typical weekly attendance in Australia fell from approximately 864,000 to 662,376, a net average fall of more than 13,000 people per year… up to 26,000 Baby Boomers stopped going to Mass between 1996 and 2011.  Source

That means if over 5 million people say they are Catholic, only around 660,000 (12%) actually practice their faith each week.

Knowing the great benefits of regular confession to my own and our family’s faith life, my husband mentioned that the issue of going to confession was also raised at the meeting he went to.  The lady who spoke quoted a statistic that 0.5% of Catholics go to confession in Australia, but I was unable to find any data on Australians who participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I did, however, manage to find the information below from a U.S. study which may be fairly similar.

 Two percent [of Catholics] report that they participate in Reconciliation at least once a month. Source

Taking the view that 0.5%-2% of Australian Catholics go to Confession at least once a month, that makes only between 3,300 and 13,000 people in our entire nation of 21 million people.


Another feature about our Australian church is the number of ethnic members who bolster our numbers at mass.  It was interesting to read how even though those born in Non-English speaking are a very small percentage of the overall numbers who tick “Catholic” on our census, they make up a huge proportion of those who actually go to Mass each week.

In 2011, about one-third of Mass attenders had been born in non-English speaking countries. In particular, respondents born in India, Sri Lanka or the Philippines accounted for much larger proportions of attenders compared to their proportions in the Catholic population as a whole…but it cannot be assumed that the situation will remain the same; for one thing, the religious composition of immigrants might change at any time, resulting in fewer Catholic immigrants. Furthermore, although we do not have enough data to be certain, indications are that the Mass attendance behaviour of second generation Australians, that is, the children of immigrants, is more like that of third and later generation Australians than it is like that of parents. In other words, the beneficial effects on Mass attendance of immigrants from non-English speaking countries tends to last only one generation. Source p.5

The last sentence was a bit chilling for me, that the good effects of their inherited faith tends to last only one generation… what is our toxic culture doing to these good people’s children??  Just recently having celebrated the great gift of the Vietnamese martyrs to our Church, what does this mean for the children of those who have now made Australia their home?

Another interesting aspect was the fact that Mass attenders are generally from more educated backgrounds.  This surprised me as my experience at University was of an environment that sought to eliminate God from the conversation altogether.  It also surprised me as those with faith in Australia are portrayed as a bit “dumb” and the really clever people should all be atheists (so they say).

We know that high percentages of Mass attenders have university degrees and were born in non-English speaking countries. …  Source p.6

I began to wonder.. what if these rates of spiritual death were compared to rates of survival of physical death?

I discovered – an Australian who identifies themselves as Catholic in Australia today has less chance of practicing their faith than a person in one of the towers at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

The survival rate for 9/11 was 85%.  During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed: 2,977 victims and 19 of the perpetrators…Estimates of the number of people in the Twin Towers when attacked on September 11, 2001 range between 14,000 and 19,000. Source


They also have more chance of surviving the sinking of the Titanic.  Titanic.. 710 survived (32%).  1514 died(68%).  Source


And of surviving stage IV Ovarian Cancer.  Most women diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer have a five-year survival rate of approximately 18%.Source

The closest I could find to our terrible Catholic stats was if you were a crew member on the notorious German U-boat submarines in WW2.  Of the 1,155 U-boats Germany sent into combat, 725 had been sunk in the longest battle of the war. Lasting nearly six years, over 35,000 German sailors had put to sea, with 28,744 never returning – a death rate of 82 percent, the highest casualty rate of any armed forces of any conflict in the history of modern war.Source



And the only one I could find worse than the state of the Catholic Church was the recent Russian plane disaster.  “Unfortunately, all passengers of Kogalymavia flight 9268 Sharm el-Sheikh — Saint Petersburg have died.”  Source

My husband and I strongly believe that there will be no renewal in the faith without strong, stable, holy families who live and breathe their Catholic faith and identity.  This was confirmed in one of the documents:

The majority of households in Australia are family based households. As such, faith-sharing within the family context is of extreme importance as a significant avenue to propagate the faith. Source p. 3

It is of particular importance that Catholic families take up this challenge, as our general population and the Catholic church population in particular, are ageing.

Almost a third of Mass attenders (32.1 per cent) are aged between 60 and 74 years, and attenders on the whole are ageing.Source p.4

If you have children and you wish to see them grow up still practicing their faith, then the time to act is now as there will be no brighter tomorrow if we do not take up the call to holiness and live lives of heroic virtue and courageous witness.  There can be no fruit without sacrifice.  If you think it is hard to live out your faith in this nation, you’re right!  If you see the culture around you invading your home with greater ferocity than the icy waters that engulfed the Titanic, then don’t just rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship, find some of the other 3,000 souls in our country and do all you can to foster relationships with them.  God loves a challenge, so join the team, get on the bus (or the boat).. your rates of survival are better!







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