We tried to order the 2014 edition in late November, but could not get its
ISBN. We got that in early January, and ordered it a few days later, before it was
published in mid-January. Despite many reminders we were still waiting for it on 31
May. Do four-and-a-half months of failure to deliver a newly published reference
book qualify for the Guinness Book of Records? We have asked the Competition &
Markets Authority to give a ruling.

The Catholic population estimates are the main focus of attention in Part I of
this assessment. Part II, which will follow, will assess the figures for Mass attendance,
baptisms, receptions and marriages. To facilitate comparison, the revised Pastoral
Research Centre (PRC) figures for 2012 can be found here.  Table 1. 2011 & 2012. RC Pastoral & Population Statistics (6th Draft)

We will first define the problem, examine the sources of the problem, set out
the evidence on which our conclusions are based, and then suggest solutions. This
blog offers neither analytical data nor comments on the implications of the figures.
The problem

Two dioceses failed to send in their figures, so no national totals are given.
Substituting the revised PRC figures as at 31 December, 2012, the Catholic Directory
(CD) total would be 4,190,187, compared with the revised PRC total of 4,066,700. So
this CD total is ‘only’ 3.0% more than the PRC total. But the devil is in the detail:
there are huge differences between the two sets of population figures at diocesan
level, as described below.

Incomplete returns
So the pastoral statistics problem has two aspects. The first is long standing.
For a century dioceses have failed to send their complete figures before the deadline
to the editor of the CD. Their cooperation has been erratic, incomplete and unreliable.
They seem to be unconcerned about sending the editor an untruthful statistical
account, or no account at all. The other side of the coin is the copy deadline that many
dioceses cannot meet - because many of their parish priests (PPs) are late in sending
the bishop their annual returns, or don’t send them at all. The dioceses are caught
between a rock and a hard place, but it seems that neither they nor the CD publishers
have ever shown any interest in negotiating a perfectly reasonable - and statistically
acceptable - solution, described at the end of this blog.

A highly dysfunctional statistics regime
The second aspect is the statistical regime adopted by the Catholic Bishops’
Conference (CBC) in 2000-1. Its background and origins are described below. In
short, the very effective statistical regime – that had operated satisfactorily from 1958
to 1991 - collapsed in 1991-2 when the Catholic Education Council (CEC) was
superseded by the Catholic Education Service (CES).

In 2000-1 the CBC decided to revert to the highly dysfunctional regime that
the Hierarchy had scrapped in the mid-later 1950s, on the advice of the Newman
Demographic Survey (NDS). The dysfunctional character of this, the current regime,
is described below.

An impossible task
For Catholic population estimates there is, however, a third problem. The
ecology of the Catholic community in England & Wales was transformed by the
1939-45 War. The bishops have never faced up to the statistical implications of that
change, and since the War they have continued to ask their PPs to do the impossible,
or to tell lies.

The sources of the problem of Catholic population estimate
None of the revisions of the detailed pastoral and demographic figures sent
annually by dioceses to the CBC – revisions that the PRC has made for most of the
years 2001-12 - can be regarded as definitive. The system was established on the
advice of the NDS in the mid-1950s, and was implemented quickly and successfully.
When the Hierarchy withdrew its support in 1963-4 the NDS pastoral and
demographic statistics system – like its Catholic school census system – was taken
over by the CEC, which operated them both satisfactorily until 1991, when it in turn
was taken over by the CES. Both these systems then collapsed. No Catholic school
census statistics have been published for any of the years 1992-2006 – other than
those based on tables prepared by the PRC on the basis of copies of the secret tables
that were leaked to the PRC. No detailed pastoral and demographic statistics were
prepared for any of the years 1992 to 1996, or 2000.

The CBC reorganised the system in 2000-1, reverting to the chaotic
arrangements found before the NDS rationalisation in the mid-1950s, i.e. leaving the
22 individual dioceses to collect, edit and tabulate their own figures, and then send
them to the CBC Secretariat for collation. In some dioceses the work is done to a very
high standard. In one or two the results lack any credibility at all. Most dioceses lie
somewhere in between, dependent on the commitment and skill of whoever is charged
with the work in a particular year. The result is that no figures can be trusted: all have
to be checked carefully, year by year, to establish whether they can be accepted as
true. And they have to be revised continuously as new evidence comes to hand. This
applies to all the statistics collated annually by the CBC Secretariat, which the
Secretariat kindly copies each year to the PRC.

However, the problem is much worse for Catholic population estimates. Their
main weakness was described very clearly by Zbyszewski in The Tablet, (6 March,
1948: 144): i.e. the incompetence of those who prepared the figures. But no one paid
any attention.

But there was another source of weakness that Zbyszewski did not address.
Prior to the War the Northern dioceses placed a lot of emphasis on the maintenance of
the Liber Status Animarum, and much parish visiting was done to keep these records
up-to-date. This did not happen in the Midlands, Wales and the South.
These arrangements did not survive the disruption of the War, and the rehousing
that followed it. Yet the Hierarchy brushed aside all the suggestions of the
NDS that the problem of estimating Catholic population should be taken seriously,
and competent professional demographers invited to make recommendations.
In the 1960s, before the demise of the NDS, a number of different methods
were developed to estimate Catholic population. These were further developed by the
PRC while it remained in England, and continued after its re-location to N. Ireland in
1970. Since its re-establishment in England in 2002 it has submitted five reports to the
CBC on the need to reconsider the regime re-established in 2001-2, and examine
difficulties about specific topics, especially Catholic population estimates. But these
reports have been ignored..

The difficulties are illustrated below by particular reference to the
Archdioceses of Westminster and Liverpool, both mainly metropolitan in their
ecology. But they are also illustrated by the ecologically very different parish of
Boston in the Diocese of Nottingham.

The consequences of the existing regime of Catholic population statistics
The Catholic population figures published in the CD are the only ones
available to the Faithful, the media, academia and Local and Central Government.
Like those sent by dioceses to the CBC they are not just meaningless and useless –
they are utterly misleading, because some people (especially in the media) take them
seriously. The figures have to be collected because the Roman Curia demands them.
Useful figures could be collected from parishes in this country. They could be studied
here, and sent to Rome. The NDS and PRC together elaborated some ten different
methods of estimating Catholic population. Some, like regular sample surveys at
diocesan level, would be impossibly expensive. Others could be introduced at
reasonable cost. But that will not happen until the CBC starts – after seventy years –
to seek and heed expert advice.

The evidence

Westminster (434,232)
The PRC estimate is 624,000, 43.7% above the CD estimate. In 2006 the PRC
began reviewing all the detailed statistics sent to the CBC by the 22 dioceses for each
of the years from 2001. The Catholic population estimates for Westminster lacked any
credibility, and all have been rejected by the PRC. They have been replaced by
estimates derived from two sets of data. The first is the Sacramental Index (baptisms
+ receptions + Catholics married with the rites of the Church), computed for each year
for each of the three London dioceses. The second is, for each year, the revised PRC
Catholic population estimates of Southwark, and Brentwood. The latter are then
expressed as multiples of the relevant Sacramental Index (SI). The relevant multiples
for Southwark and Brentwood are then applied to the SI of Westminster to obtain a
very crude estimate of its Catholic population in the relevant year.

The source of the problem was the generally low (and erratic) response rate of
parish priests (PPs) in Westminster to requests for their annual pastoral statistics
returns, combined with the failure of the Chancery Office to prepare estimates for
missing data. This was accentuated in the case of Catholic population figures by the
widespread view among PPs that they were expected to do the impossible, and their
reluctance to submit what were in effect pure guesses.

Liverpool (574,150)
The same procedure was used to replace the official Catholic population
figures. Again large numbers of PPs had refused to submit blind guesses, but the
Chancery Office had inflated the figures to match changes in the total population.
This had quite extraordinary unrecognised consequences. The figure sent to the CBC
for 31 December, 2012 – and rejected by the PRC, like all the earlier figures – implied
that Mass attendance was only 9.5% of Catholic population. This becomes15.2%
when the revised PRC population estimates are used, still well below the PRC’s
corresponding national figure of 20.9% - but probably not low enough to persuade the
Roman Curia to put the Archdiocese of Liverpool into ‘special measures’.
The PRC used the same methodology as that used for the Archdiocese of
Westminster, the comparator dioceses being Lancaster, Salford and Shrewsbury. The
result was a revised estimate of 361,000 in place of the 574,150 reported to the CBC.

For half of the years 2001 to 2012 the PRC rejected the figure sent to the CBC
and accepted instead that published in the diocesan Yearbook (YB), corrected for
missing returns. The figure sent to the CBC for 2012 was confirmed in the YB, and
accepted by the PRC. But one estimate for 2012 – that of Boston, Lincs - illustrates
the problem of the PP who is asked to do the impossible.

The Polish PP at Boston (who had no curate, but two permanent deacons)
reported that at 31 December, 2008, there was a population of 4,500 ‘baptised
Catholics normally resident in the parish’, and Mass attendance of 648. A year later
he reported a population of 8,000 (and Mass attendance of 688). For December, 2010,
he reported a population of 20,000 (and Mass attendance of 642. The next year he
reported no figures at all, and for December, 2012, he reported a population of 20,000
(and Mass attendance of 450). The whole of the horticultural and canning industry of
the area is hugely dependent on having scores of thousands of Eastern European
migratory workers, most of them Catholics. How can a PP in such a situation possibly
do more than make a blind guess at ‘numbers of baptised Catholics normally resident
in the parish’ as at 31 December? The impossible task given to the PP at Boston can
be replicated for many hundreds of parishes across England & Wales.

Arundel & Brighton (174,700)
The diocese reported 170,313 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted.
Population estimates are not published in the diocesan directory (DD).

Birmingham (438,675)

The diocese reported 280,048 to the CBC. For eight of the previous eleven
years the PRC had accepted the figure published in the Birmingham DD. But for 32
December, 2012, the 2014 edition reports a sudden increase of 55.8% to 438,675. The
explanation is that the latter figure is ‘based on the latest Census [2011], a total of all
the Enumeration Districts within the Archdiocese ….it seems realistic given the large
number of Catholics from Eastern Europe and other countries who have arrived in this
country over the last decade ….’ The method used by the editor of the DD seems to
be similar to that used by the NDS in 1955, but it has not been accepted by the PRC as
it is not remotely connected to the sum of PPs’ estimates of ‘baptised Catholics
normally resident in their parishes’ on 31 December, 2012. Like the decision of the
Liverpool Chancellor to prepare an estimate related to changes in the total population
of the diocese, it reflects the recognition of diocesan staffs that the official Catholic
population statistics are useless at best, and mendacious at worst.

Hallam (60,188)
The same figure was sent to the CBC, and published in the Hallam YB. But all
the Hallam population estimates for the years 2001 to 2012 included the two
university chaplaincies. These are not territorial parishes, have no boundaries, and can
have no resident population. The PRC therefore subtracted their ‘populations’, leaving
a diocesan total of 56,700

Hexham & Newcastle (174,640)
The diocese reported 181,193 to the CBC, and published the same figure in its
2014 Calendar, which the PRC accepted.

Plymouth (61,756)
The diocese reported 68,885 to the CBC, which the PRC accepted. It
published a total of 58,752 in its diocesan YB, but this had no figures for six parishes.
Estimates for these would have raised the PRC total to 68,659. As this was within +/-
1% of the CBC figure the latter was allowed to stand.

Portsmouth (117,344)
The figures reported to the CBC have girated wildly over the years 2001-12,
being 126,274 for 2012, which the PRC accepted. The diocese published no figure for
2012 in its 2014 DD.

Salford (267,938)
This is close to the figure sent to the CBC. The diocese does not publish a
figure in its Almanac. But by going through 43 pages of parish information the PRC
was able to get an independent total of 283,290, which was adopted.

Southwark (357,152)
The Southwark DD repeats the same figure in its summary, but its list of
parish estimates totals 385,560, which the PRC has accepted.


A solution to the problem of the present highly dysfunctional statistics regime,
suggested in 2004 and repeated many time since, is to set up a mixed advisory
committee of experts and users of the Church’s statistics, to recommend changes to
the regime, and revise the information that PPs are asked to report every year on the
pastoral statistics form that they send – or don’t send – to their bishops.
The solution of the particular problem of estimating Catholic population could
likewise be referred to the advisory committee. But the starting point has to be pilottesting
of alternatives that are promising, having been worked out since the early
1960s. This could be started at once for one or two dioceses, provided the bishop and
the chancellor (or other official charged with preparing the statistics) were supportive,
and half-a-dozen PPs could be found willing to cooperate.

PRC assessments of other statistics reinstated in the Catholic Directory
The next blog on the PRC website will assess the statistics of Mass attendance,
baptisms, receptions and marriages published in the 2014 edition of the Catholic
Directory. A later blog will assess its statistics of clergy, convents, churches &

The PRC is currently working on a Report to Parishes on the Pastoral and
Population Statistics, 2001-12, to follow up the report published in 2004 on the
statistics for 1958-2002, available here. After that it will publish its detailed revision
of all the statistics sent by dioceses for each of the years 2001-2012, in two parts. Part
I will give the revised figures, without explanation, analysis or commentary. Part II
will explain the methodology and report on the sources used, but include neither
analytical measures nor commentary on the figures. Much later, the PRC will publish
Vol. I of its Supplement, 2001-12 of its Digest of Statistics of the Catholic Community
of England & Wales, 1958-200, with explanations, some analytical figures, but no

AECWS 3.6.14