by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — Catholics are New Zealand’s largest Christian denomination according to 2013 Census data on religious affiliation released by Statistics New Zealand on December 10.
The number of census respondents who identified as Catholic was 492,324, whereas the next largest Christian denomination was the Anglicans at 459,771.
But that isn’t reason for the Church to celebrate, as the Catholic figure was down from 508,812 in the 2006 census.
The drop in the Anglican number was much worse, dropping from 554,925 in the previous census.
The census was taken on March 5, a few days after Pope Benedict XVI resigned, and about 8 days before Pope Francis was elected.
There was also a stunning rise in the number of people declaring “no religion” in the census, compared with 2006. This number rose from 1.297 million in 2006 to 1.635 million this year. About 3.9 million answers were given to the religious affiliation question.
Information sent to NZ Catholic from Massey University Associate Professor of History Peter Lineham shows that in this census, the number of census respondents who identified as “no religion” or who didn’t answer the religious affiliation question was more than the total number who identified as Christian.
This is believed to be the first time this has happened in New Zealand census history. In 1956, more than 90 per cent of New Zealand census respondents identified as Christian.
It is expected that this will spark debate as to whether New Zealand can still call itself a Christian country.
There were also increases in the number of Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems from their 2006 numbers, reflecting New Zealand’s increasingly multi-cultural population.
The total New Zealand population on census night was 4.24 million.