The collapse of British Catholicism

The collapse of British Catholicism

A new report claims that the practice of the Catholic faith in Britain is collapsing, declining radically over the past three decades. The independent study says that Mass attendance has declined by 40 percent in that time. I’m not sure, but I think that tracks with similar figures in the US. In fact, it may be worse here. But the other figures for the sacraments are much worse in the UK: Baptisms, down by 50 percent; marriage and confirmation, down by 60; first communions, down by 40; adult conversions, down by 55 percent.

An important point to keep in mind is that the study only covers 1963 to 1991. How much worse have things got in the past 15 years?

So what is to be done? The article quotes another book with suggested remedies, including some things I’ve suggested for US bishops. Among other things, I think the Church needs to stop being reactionary and defensive, responding to crises and scandals only after they’ve hit the papers and even then in the most cursory way, as if they hope that by ignoring it the problem will go away.

In The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain, Tom Horwood says: “The church in Britain is suffering from a terminal decline in membership, irregular commitment among the remnant, and in the wake of persistent child-abuse scandals, a leadership of bishops and priests that has toppled from its pedestal with a mighty crash.”

Horwood’s book draws on management theory to outline an approach aiming at “fundamental changes of attitudes and behaviour”. Horwood calls for more effective leadership from bishops, accusing them of inability to set a clear direction, and emphasises the need for “straight-talking honesty”. He sums up: “It is clear that if the Catholic Church in Britain is to successfully communicate its messages and persuade an increasingly secular and cynical audience, it must change its approach.

Another concrete step may be to look at parishes that are wholly orthodox and exploding with devotions and orthodoxy like St. Patrick’s parish in London’s Soho, whose pastor is Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke.

What we can’t do is try to emulate the world around us. That is not the way of Christ and is not the measure of spiritual success. Some people claim that priestesses, like the Church of England, is the way to go, but the CofE is in even worse shape, if that’s possible. In the US, despite our problems we still remain an essentially spiritual people. The trick is to convince people that amorphous spirituality is not enough, but that they need a personal sacramental relationship with the God who loves them. Unfortunately, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, they’ve lost even that little bit of spirituality. It has become a vast wasteland, a vacuum that will be filled, if not by Christianity, then the next most vigorous faith: Islam.

The survival of the Church in Britain and Europe is inextricably linked to the survival of Europe as a whole.

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