British Catholic news magazine The Tablet has honed in on what it means to be a Catholic in the UK today.
The results obtained are very interesting indeed. The Tablet found that while “over-60s fit a model closer to that officially promulgated by the Vatican,” “under-50s believe, behave and belong in different ways.”
Obedience to Catholic doctrine and practice generally generally declines.
But rather than completely abandoning the faith, many faithful tend to switch to a more personal practice of the Catholic faith.
The percentage of Catholics in the country remains constant at 8-10%; when the 2011 census revealed a fall in the number of people who call themselves “Christian” – from 72 per cent to 59 per cent over a decade – it was Anglican, rather than Catholic, losses which were responsible. 70% of those who call themselves Catholics say they believe in God. This figure is higher among the over-60s (80% and lower among other age groups (75%).
But only 30% of twenty-year-olds claim they are certain of God’s existence, compared to 57% of over-60s.
How often do British Catholics attend mass?
“Catholics are now split roughly 50:50 between those who go to church and those who never go or hardly ever attend, except for events like weddings and funerals.”
Over-60s are slightly more likely to attend than under-60s, but the most dramatic difference is in the pattern of attendance. Among churchgoers aged over 60, nearly 60 per cent retain a pattern of weekly attendance, whereas only around a quarter of under-60s churchgoers do so.
At least once a year, not every month, once a month: these are the three most common churchgoing patterns.
But Catholics do pray: “Over 40 per cent say they have prayed during the past month, a fifth that they have visited places which feel sacred or holy, the same number that they have taken regular time to be alone and still the mind, and 8 per cent that they have meditated.
More than one in 10 read sacred and spiritual writings on a monthly basis, and the same number report “feeling a deep connection with nature/the earth,” The Tablet reports. And these figures are all higher than the averages recorded for the general population.
Catholics are also generally less obedient towards the Church’s teaching. When asked where they go to seek guidance in their lives and in making decisions, over 50% of Catholics say they “their own reason, judgement, intuition or feelings and another fifth say family or friends.”
“More narrowly religious sources of authority are much less popular, even with churchgoers. The most cited is “tradition and teachings of the Church” (8 per cent), followed by God (7 per cent), the Bible (2 per cent) [and] the religious group to which a person belongs (2 per cent).”
This and the importance given to social justice help explain why “younger Catholics are more likely than older ones to be broadly in line with Catholic Social Teaching.”
“Four-fifths invoke the principle of equality to explain why they disagree with the Church about its permissibility ... Catholics are now in favour of allowing same-sex marriage by a small margin, and the margin increases with every generation – though churchgoers are less favourable than non-churchgoers.”
Catholic attitudes towards such matters are not as influenced by the teachings of “natural law” as other Christian denominations are. “Fewer [Catholics] give as a reason that it’s “unnatural” than do opponents from other Christian denominations.”
According to The Tablet, “the result is a Britain in which “faithful Catholics”, according to official teaching, are now a rare and endangered species.”
This analysis seems to fit in with what the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said in a recent statement. In his opinion, Christianity has one more generation to go before it becomes extinct, unless, that is churches don’t turn things around to attract young people to the faith.
Clergy are now gripped by a “feeling of defeat”, congregations are worn down by “heaviness” while the public simply greets both with “rolled eyes and a yawn of boredom”, he said.
The joy of faith has been lost and replaced with a feeling of heaviness.
Carrey is calling for a campaign aimed at the “re-evangelisation of England,” starting with the young and trying to bring them closer tot he faith. “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves,” he added.