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. From origins as a suppressed, mainly Irish minority in early colonial times, the church has grown to be the largest Christian denomination in Australia, with a culturally diverse membership of around 5,439,268 people, representing about 23% of the overall population of Australia according to the 2016 census.[1]

The church is the largest non-government provider of welfare and education services in Australia.[2] Catholic Social Services Australia aids some 450,000 people annually, while the St Vincent de Paul Society's 40,000 members form the largest volunteer welfare network in the country. In 2016, the church had some 760,000 students in more than 1,700 schools.[3][4][5]

The church in Australia has five provinces: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. It has 35 dioceses, comprising geographic areas as well as the military diocese and dioceses for the Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite and Ukrainian rites.[6] The national assembly of bishops is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), headed by Brisbane's Archbishop Mark Coleridge.[7] There are a further 175 Catholic religious orders operating in Australia, affiliated under Catholic Religious Australia, headed by Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ.[6][7] One Australian has been recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church: Mary MacKillop, who co-founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart ("Josephite") religious institute in the 19th century.[8]


Major religious affiliations in Australia by census year[9]

Since the 1980s, Catholicism has been largest Christian denomination in Australia constituting around one quarter of the overall population becoming slightly larger than the Anglican and Uniting churches combined. Up until the 2016 census, adherents had been recorded as growing both numerically and as a percentage of the population, however the 2016 census found a fall in both overall numbers and the percentage of Catholics as a proportion of Australia: with 5,291,839 Australian Catholics (around 22.6% of the population) in 2016 down from 5,439,257 in the 2011 census (25.3% of the population).[10][11]

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. The change is partly explained by changes in immigration patterns.[12][13] 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.[13]

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).

Despite a growing population of Catholics, weekly Mass attendance has declined from an estimated 74% in the mid-'50s to around 14% in 2006.[14][15]

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.[16][17]

State/Territory[18] % 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