A quick glance at the ‘religion’ section of the UK’s most recent census, 2012, makes interesting reading. It would appear that for years we have been underestimating our Catholic population in Scotland.
Our Catholic community has of course been enlarged by immigration over the years, we knew that. What we didn’t know was that in an age of declining membership – so we thought – the numbers of Catholics had been rising steadily. How are we to understand this?
The experience of most of us is that Mass attendance seems to be declining. Perhaps recently they have bottomed out but the numbers of those going to Mass doesn’t seem to be increasing to any great extent.
Of course, depending on our criteria for membership of the church: through baptism, Mass attendance, Christmas and Easter Mass attendance, attendance at weddings and funerals, etc., we could get wide ranging estimates.
For the past number of years we’ve been constantly scaling down our numbers to match what we see in the pews.
But this leads us to a massive deception. Because the 2012 Census figures give us the real number of those who still regard themselves as Catholics in spite of not going to Mass. In other words the numbers of those going to Mass is an indicator to the numbers of Catholics we are reaching and touching with the Gospel, but nothing more than an indicator. Because those who regard themselves as Catholics are far more in number than we realised.
This reality is both good news and scary at the same time.
There for all to see in the Census figures are the following numbers:
And this trend repeats itself right across Scotland: number of self-declared Catholics in Scotland (2012)= 841,053
While it is true that the figures for Fife and Stirling areas are estimated propor- tionally, because the diocese does not have the whole of Fife and only a small part of the Stirling area, the trend is clear.
The scary side of this discovery is not so good and ought to be a wake-up call to us. The 2013 Catholic Directory for Scotland, the year corresponding to the Census figures showed an estimated Catholic Population as 30,000. That same year the official Mass attendance figure for the Diocese was 8,964. The baptismal and marriage statistics were very low with Baptisms at 271 and Marriages at only 77.
While it is possible that these figures are not totally accurate, they won’t be widely out. Various conclusions therefore flow from these figures.
1. Those Catholics who are still regarding themselves as Members of the Church are far more numerous than we have been estimating (almost 100% more).
2. The Mass attendance, even al- lowing for errors, shows that our Mass-going population is only about one seventh (about 14.5%) of the total. Our diocese is therefore severely lapsed from practice of the Faith and yet these people still regard themselves as Catholics. And so should we. Frequency of Mass attendance is not the only criterion of Membership of the Church. This is highly significant.
3. The Marriage figures speak for themselves; most couples do not appear to be getting married in the Church.
4. Our schools which are still widely supported by our people may be our only remaining direct link with these families.
5. This realisation is one that ought to spur us on to use any means of re-evangelisation. We must try anything that will reconnect us with our people. Our people are still there and we can’t abandon them just because they aren’t going to Mass! How can we welcome them back? Why is there such a fall-off in practice of the Faith? How can we reconnect and welcome and re-integrate those of our people who still regard them- selves as Catholics but who don’t feel they can stand visibly with us?
￼Plenty of questions but no answers yet! But we must do something. Even realising there is a problem is a good start.