by PETER GRACE
WELLINGTON — The decline in the Catholic population shown by the 2013 census “is quite alarming”, according to history professor Peter Lineham of Massey University.
Statistics New Zealand released its latest batch of 2013 census figures on February 14, including those relating to religion.
The census results show that the number of self-identified Catholics fell in every diocese from 2006 to 2013 — except Auckland.
In the 2006 national census, 508,761 people identified themselves as Catholic. By the time of the 2013 census that had fallen to 492,111.
Professor Lineham said the Auckland figure slowed the decline — an effect of migration.
“I think if I had the age figures to put against those I think what we will see is . . . that the Catholic Church is not holding younger people, so what’s happening is that the age structure is becoming lopsided,” Professor Lineham said.
Auckland’s Catholic population was reported as 188,865 in 2006 and grew a little by census night 2013, to 189,561, or 0.4 per cent.
The Catholic population of the five other dioceses fell by an average of about 5.4 per cent in the seven years.
Professor Lineham said there are good reasons to expect that trend to not only continue, but perhaps extend to Auckland. The reason, he said, is that once migrants have been here for 10 years or so, their pattern of loyalty or joining falls away.
“The big problem we have in the churches in New Zealand is that people are struggling to pass on the faith.”
New Zealand society is relatively hostile to faith and church, but the main problem is that our society tends to be made up of individuals who do not feel strong connections to communities, “and the Church is deeply dependent on its community connections”.
From 2006 to 2013, the total number of people going regularly to Sunday Mass fell from just over 90,000 to 86,750.