By Anthony Barich
THE latest survey of Mass attendees in Australia shows they are older, better educated and more likely to be female, married and born overseas than Catholics in general.
Among Mass attendees aged 20 or more, 36 per cent were born overseas compared to 29 per cent of the Catholic population, according to the 2006 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), released last month. The NCLS was based on a random sample of around 70,000 Mass attendees from 229 Catholic parishes from every Australian diocese.
These findings of rising numbers of overseas-born Catholics were consistent with the 2006 Census, which revealed that over a fifth of Australian Catholics – 22.7 per cent – were born overseas, including 17.6 per cent who were born in non-English-speaking countries.
The percentage of Catholics attending Mass every week dropped slightly from 2001 to 2006.
Among Mass attendees aged 15 and up, 28 per cent had a degree or higher qualification.
Sixty-eight per cent of Mass goers aged 15 and over were married, 10 per cent were widowed, five per cent were separated or divorced and one per cent were in a de facto relationship.
Noting that overseas-born Catholics are more than taking the place of Australian-born Catholics at Mass, Archbishop Barry Hickey said: “We can never be satisfied with just getting children baptised.
“We must find ways and means of offering them a means of coming closer to Christ.”
He said that while the ages of those not practicing are not specified by NCLS, he suspects that “fewer of the young are attending Mass than used to”.
“That might explain why the overseas-born percentage of practising Catholics is much higher than Australian-born practising Catholics,” the Archbishop told The Record.
Archbishop Hickey also said it “may be true” that foreign-born Catholics are more enthusiastic about their faith than Australian Catholics, “but one can’t be happy about that”.
He said the fear is that the more ‘Australian’ the overseas-born people become, the less they’ll go to Mass.
“I think the main factor in the decline of people going to Mass is that Australia is a secular society with values out there in the mainstream that don’t sit comfortably with the Catholic faith, and Catholics are affected by it.
“It’s a matter of concern if enthusiastic foreign-born Catholics come to this country, and within a generation or two settle in like everybody else and don’t go to Mass.”
The NCLS survey also showed that 61 per cent of Mass goers aged 15 up were female, compared to 53 per cent of the same age group among Catholics as a whole.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Pastoral Projects Office conducted a national count in May 2006, which showed that the total number of people at Mass on a typical weekend was 708,600, or about 14 per cent of the Census Catholic population.
This was down from a little over 15 per cent, or 764,000, in 2001.
While the Census showed Catholics remain the largest religious group in Australia, with 5,126,884 – 25.8 per cent of the total population of 19,855,288 – it declined slightly as a proportion of the total population from the 2001 figure of 26.6 per cent.
The Catholic population also grew up 125,260 between 2001-06, while the next two largest groups in terms of religious affiliation were Anglicans and those who said they had no religion, with both accounting for 18.7 per cent of the population.
Australian Catholics are also getting older on average.
The median age of Australian Catholics in 2006 was 36.6 years, slightly younger than that of other Australians (37.2 years).
Five years earlier, the median age of the two groups had been 34.7 years and 36.0 years respectively, so the gap in median age between Catholics and the rest of the population is narrowing.
The Australian Census also reflected the NCLS survey, revealing that 15 per cent of Catholics aged 15 and over had a university degree or higher qualification. This was a considerable increase over the 2001 figure of 12 per cent.
Some things remained the same, though.
The percentage of Catholic primary students and Catholic secondary students who attended Catholic schools – 52 per cent – remained the same as in 2001.
Non-Catholics made up 21 per cent of the students at Catholic primary schools and 28 per cent at Catholic secondary schools, up from 19 per cent and 26 per cent respectively in 2001.
The 2006 Census also revealed that WA is ranked fifth in the proportion of its population who are Catholics behind New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and Queensland, with 464,357 out of a population of 1,961,062, according to the 2006 national Census.
An extended profile of Australia’s Catholics can be found on the ACBC website at http://www.acbc.catholic.org.au/org/ppo/20080605608.htm or at www.ppo.catholic.org.au.