Catholic Church in Australia

People who identify as Catholic as a percentage of the total population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census
Mary MacKillop, co-founder of the Josephite Sisters became Australia's first canonised saint in October 2010.

The Catholic Church in Australia is part of the worldwide Catholic Church under the spiritual and administrative leadership of the Holy See. The religion arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, and since the 1960s, has remained stable at around one quarter of the Australian population. In 2016, there were 5,439,268 Australian Catholics, representing 23% of the overall population, and the church was the single largest non-government provider of education, health, community and aged care services.[1][2][3] Australia has 32 dioceses and 1,363 parishes. It has more than 180 congregations of sisters, brothers and religious priests, working in diverse vocations ranging from education, to health care, poverty alleviation, social justice, and cloistered contemplation. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the national episcopal conference of the Catholic bishops of Australia,[4] is headed by the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, and there are two living Australian cardinals: the current Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, George Pell, and the retired Edward Cassidy. One Australian has been recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church: Mary MacKillop, who co-founded the Josephite religious institute of sisters in the 19th century.

Catholicism arrived in Australia with the establishment of a British colony at New South Wales and the first Australian Catholics were mainly of Irish origin. British authorities initially suppressed the religion, but priests were permitted to stay from the 1820s and the colony gained its first Catholic church in 1836. The first nuns arrived in 1838 founding a strong tradition of women religious working in health, education and prison chaplaincy. Australia gained diocesan status in 1846, and the church flourished through the 19th century with the establishment of dioceses, parishes hospitals and schools across the continent. The diversity of Australian Catholics increased greatly with 20th century post war immigration, with large numbers coming from Italy, the Mediterranean, Asia and later Africa. Catholics have been prominent in Australian political and cultural life, and religious in public life today straddle the political divides - from advocating on "social conservative" causes such as opposition to abortion, euthanasia and marriage redefinition, to working in "social justice" causes such as advocacy for refugees, indigenous people, and workers.[5]

In the late 20th and early 21st century, Catholicism in Australia has been growing numerically, while remaining relatively stable as a proportion of the population and facing a long-term decline in numbers of people taking vocations to the religious life. In 2016, the Catholic education sector ran 1,738 schools, accounting for some 20.2% of Australian school students.[6][3] There were also two Catholic universities - University of Notre Dame Australia and the Australian Catholic University and Australia played host to World Youth Day 2008. Catholic Social Services Australia, the church's peak national body for social services, had 52 member organisations providing services to hundreds of thousands of people each year.[7] Catholic Health Australia was the largest non-government provider grouping of health, community and aged care services.[8] The church was among the secular and religious institutions examined at the 2013-2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which reported that abuse cases by Catholic personnel had peaked in the 1970s, with around 4400 cases and alleged cases over the 6 decades prior to the inquiry. In 2017, there were 5.5 million Australian Catholics.[9][10][11]

Demographics and structure

Major religious affiliations in Australia by census year[12]

The 2011 Australian National Census enumerated there were 5,439,257 Catholics in Australia. This represented 25.3% of the overall Australian population and the largest single Christian church (being slightly larger than the Anglican and Uniting churches combined).[13] At the 2016 Census, the enumerated Australian Catholic population had fallen to 5,291,839.

Until the 1986 census, Australia's most populous Christian church was the Anglican Church of Australia. Since then Catholics have outnumbered Anglicans by an increasing margin. One rationale to explain this relates to changes in Australia's immigration patterns.[14] Before the Second World War, the majority of immigrants to Australia came from the United Kingdom and most Catholic immigrants came from Ireland. After the war, Australia's immigration diversified and more than 6.5 million migrants arrived in the following 60 years, including more than a million Catholics from Italy, Malta, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Croatia and Hungary.[14]

At the 2016 Census, the ancestries that Australian Catholics most identified with were 'English' (1.49 million), 'Australian' (1.12 million), Irish (577,000), Italian (567,000) and Filipino (181,000).

Catholicism is now the largest church tradition in Australia and the Catholic population continues to grow, although weekly Mass attendance has declined from an estimated 74% in the mid-50's to around 14% in 2006.[15][16]

There are seven archdioceses and 32 dioceses, with an estimated 3,000 priests and 9,000 men and women in institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, including six dioceses which cover the whole country: one each for those who belong to the Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite, Syro-Malabar and Ukrainian rites and one for those serving in the Australian Defence Forces. There is also a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans which has a similar status to a diocese.[17] [18]

State/Territory [19] % 2016 % 2011 % 2006 % 2001
Australian Capital Territory 22.3 26.1 28.0 29.1
New South Wales 24.7 27.5 28.2 28.9
Northern Territory 20.0 21.6 21.1 22.2
Queensland 21.7 23.8 24.0 24.8
South Australia 18.0 19.9 20.2 20.8
Tasmania 15.6 17.9 18.4 19.3
Total 22.6 25.3 25.8 26.6
Victoria 23.2 26.7 27.5 28.4
Western Australia 21.4 23.6 23.7 24.7