Catholics are to become the largest church-going community in Scotland
Publication Date: 2017-04-21
Census shows number of Christians attending services in Scotland is falling, but Catholic drop is smaller than other churches
The Catholic Church is set to become the largest active church in Scotland—but new figures show Christianity on the retreat across the country.
Figures from the 2016 Scottish Church Census, compiled from results submitted by hundreds of churches, show that the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland both make up 35 per cent of the church going population—but the Catholic share is expanding.
Across the country the number of Christians attending church every Sunday has halved in the past three decades. The report found 135,600 weekly Catholic Mass attenders compared to 136,910 attending Church of Scotland services. The report found a total of 389,510 weekly attenders of Christian Churches.
Peter Brierley, who compiled the study, said he expected the Catholic Church to have the most Sunday Mass-goers if trends continue.
“The Catholic Mass attending population has dropped,” he said. “If you look at Glasgow it was 48,000 in 2002; it’s now 38,570, but not as much as the wider Christian population. The numbers have gone down, but not as much as other populations.”
Across all denominations just nine per cent of the Scottish population now attend church each Sunday, with the greatest decline coming in the Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church. That decline may well continue, as the average age of regular church attenders is 53. The average age of Church of Scotland attenders is 60 and for Catholics it’s 47.
Mr Brierley said he suspected that the Catholic Church had not declined as fast as other Churches because of its adaptability.
“A lot of immigrants have come into Scotland in the last 10-15 years and the Catholic Church has reached out to them, putting on Polish Masses and so on,” he said. “That’s especially apparent in Aberdeen, where the Catholic population went up in the last five years—the only place in Scotland that happened, largely because of the incoming Polish population.”
Fr Thomas Boyle, the Catholic Church’s representative on the panel that commissioned the report, said it reflected the fact that ‘Scotland is a very different place from 50 or even 30 years ago.’
“On a simplistic level there are many more different things which people can do on a Sunday than they could decades ago and that has had an effect,” he said. “The traditional Scottish Calvinistic Sabbath observance just doesn’t exist anymore. Social changes mean that there isn’t the same proportion of the Scottish population which professes the Christian faith or belongs to a Church.”
He said that the ‘continuing hostility of the liberal consensus to religious belief and organised religion has its effects, particularly on younger generations,’ but that ‘from a Catholic perspective the residual loyalty of many means that they continue to have their children Baptised and send them to Catholic schools.’
“This is best exemplified in the 2011 census where the figure for people self-identifying as Catholic was recorded as 100,000 higher than what the Church had registered,” he said. “This could be seen as tribal, but equally it can be seen as people who are religious or spiritual but simply don’t attend Church. Non-attendance at Church doesn’t mean that people don’t pray or live a Christian life with the values that inspire them.”
He also acknowledged that ‘recent scandals’ must have had some effect on the commitment of individuals to Church attendance. “The Catholic Church has reinforced its commitment to Safeguarding by public apology, external scrutiny and a transparency which few other organisations can match,” he said.
“The perception of Scotland as a place that values education, strives for social justice and cares for the weak and the marginalised such as refugees or asylum seekers didn’t happen in spite of Christian faith but because of Scotland’s rich heritage of Christianity,” he added. “Caring Christian values aren’t on the decline in Scotland however many people manage to make it to Church on a Sunday.”
The survey also found that the Scottish Catholic Church is considerably more ethnically diverse than Scotland as a whole, with only 88 per cent of Mass-goers identifying as white. At the last census in 2011, 96 per cent of Scots said they were White.