Professor notes Pakeha flight from the Church


Although Catholics have been less affected by religious decline than other denominations, it is certainly happening among the New Zealand-born, according to a leading commentator on religion in New Zealand. 

Peter Lineham

Peter Lineham

Massey University Professor of History Peter Lineham said this will not be surprising to many Kiwi Catholics who have seen the decline in the past few decades.

“Pakeha Catholicism is not holding the young people. [The Catholic Church is] losing them at the end of schooling, and so the Pakeha who are regular church attendees are mostly old,” he

Professor Lineham said that between 2001 and 2013, the number of New Zealand-born Catholics dropped from 382,047 to 345,408. The total number of Catholics in 2013 was 492,324, according to Statistics New Zealand.

In 2001, New Zealand-born Catholics made up 78 per cent of the Church. It dropped to 70 per cent in 2013.

“Looking at this more closely, a very interesting story emerges of the locations of non-Maori
Catholics born in New Zealand,” he noted.

In 2013, only the West Coast recorded non-Maori NZ-born Catholics to be more than 15 per cent of the population. They formed 16.9 per cent of that area’s population.

Professor Lineham observed that the two other places that showed a relatively strong non-Maori NZ-born Catholic presence were the Taranaki and Wellington regions, although those areas recorded significant declines in the past 12 years.

“Out of Auckland, Catholicism is weak in the Tasman and Nelson regions, but on the West Coast an ageing Catholic population is still very significant. Yet in these areas there is
evidence of decline in attendance and ageing of the Church,” he said.

“Nowhere are deficiencies more apparent, and nowhere is the weakening of religion so apparent, although not quite as strongly as in the large Protestant denominations,” he added.

Statistics show the proportion of non-Maori NZ-born Catholics, including second generation Pacific Islanders, was 13.2 per cent of the population, or 313,476, in 2001. In the last census, this dropped to 281,412, or 11.8 per cent of the population.

“In effect this shows that while Catholics have been less affected by religious decline than other denominations, it is certainly happening among the New Zealand born. Few New Zealand Catholics can be surprised by this,” he said.

Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn earlier said this is the “elephant in the room” and there is a need to examine this reality.

He said there is a need to constantly nourish one’s faith in order to keep it alive.

Bishop Dunn also added there is a need to recognise the importance of the Church as an institution. “Will Auckland be better off without the Church? I don’t think so,” he said.

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Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions


  1. Rohana Ulluwishewa says

    What Professor Lineham has noted is a trend in many part of the world. Young people are getting away from religious institutions everywhere. They think critically, they seek scientific explanations. They are not prepared to accept blindly what they are told by religious preachers. Most traditional religious institutions have so far failed to provide what the young people seek–rational and scientific explanations for God. Faith based on clear understanding is stronger than the faith based on blind faith.

  2. Francis says

    If the young people were taught the genuine Catholic Faith in Catholic Schools, and in sermons during Mass etc then this massive decline would not exist. The experiment over the last few decades made by the hierarchy in the Church to water down the Faith and strip the Mass of Traditional Catholic elements to please the world and Non-Catholics has been a disaster and the results are there for all to see.
    The revival of the Church can only come about through bringing back the teachings of the Church and the Saints from the previous 2,000 year history of the Church and the return of the Traditional Mass. All the Churches and groups in the Church all around the world that have kept the Traditional Latin Mass and all the Traditional Catholic teachings are thriving and are retaining a lot of their young people, while their vocations increase.

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