The Catholic Directory began to publish national statistics with its 1913 edition, which gave

numbers, diocese by diocese, of clergy, churches, schools and their pupils, Catholic population,

children’s baptisms, marriages, burials and conversions. Getting the figures was always a difficult

job. Dioceses often missed editorial deadlines, because parish priests missed their Bishop’s

deadlines. The diocesan totals were often incomplete, or missing altogether (so that the previous

year’s figures were re-published, with or without explanation). In time the diocesan year books,

going to press much later, were able to publish better data. Over almost a century the Catholic

Directory figures acquired a reputation for inaccuracy, unreliability and inconsistency. But they

were the only national figures routinely published, quoted widely by the media – both Catholic and


When the editor was working on the 2013 edition she finally threw in the sponge. In recent

years the Catholic Directory’s once regular, detailed and very useful statistics about the clergy,

churches and convents had gradually withered. The school statistics had been abandoned – because

the Catholic Education Service wouldn’t, couldn’t or just didn’t supply them – and with the 2013

edition the Church authorities in England and Wales, for the first time in a century published no

national statistics at all about the Catholic community and its pastoral institutions. The statistics had

often been little better than rubbish, but in 2013 there wasn’t even rubbish to offer the media,

academia, Government, the voluntary sector, or the general public

On the publication of the 2013 edition of the Catholic Directory the Pastoral Research

Centre Trust (PRCT) put aside other urgent work and started two new jobs. The first was a report to

the CBC’s Dept of Evangelisation and Catechesis entitled Statistics, Evangelisation, and the

Statistics of Evangelisation. Sent to the Bishops in August this was the fifth PRC report in ten years

recommending a rationalisation of the arrangements introduced in 2000-1 for collecting, editing and

tabulating the parish register statistics. The previous four had been ignored: the dialogue did not

even start. The fifth provoked one response, and there the dialogue ended.

The second new job was the preparation of a table that the editor of the Catholic Directory

could incorporate into its 2014 edition, providing statistics that were derived from those

summarised by the CBC Secretariat - using the figures sent in by the dioceses for 2011 and 2012 –

and kindly copied each year to the PRCT. The role of the PRCT would be to edit these statistics,

investigate questionable figures, as has been done for over a decade, and put them into a table in

which readers could reasonably have confidence. Unfortunately, several dioceses were late in

sending their totals to the CBC Secretariat, and we missed the editor’s deadline. Instead, we have

continued to sort out implausible and non-credible figures, and we are putting them onto this

website so that they can be read and downloaded.

An account of how the PRCT has edited the annual CBC summaries, 2001-12, should be

published early in 2014. The PRCT also plans to publish in 2014 two other reports on the detailed

pastoral and population statistics of the Catholic community in England and Wales. The first is an

analytical report comparing the figures for 2001, 2011 and 2012, similar to Pastoral and population

statistics of the Catholic community in England & Wales, 1958-2002. A report to parishes. Link.

The second is an edited version of all these diocesan statistics summarised by the CBC Secretariat

for the years 2001-12. Much of this work had already been done in preparation for the Supplement,

2005-12 to Vol. I of the PRCT’s Digest of Statistics, 1958-2005, published in 2007.



The broad categories used in the table – like baptisms, receptions, marriages and deaths –

obscure the most important details. These detailed figures will be published early in 2014, but in

some cases their national totals – not set out in the table – will be referred to in these comments.

And to provide perspective over time some comparable national totals for the year 2001 will also be

cited. Most of these were published in the PRCT’s Digest of Statistics, 1958-2005.

A warning

Although much of the PRCT’s work in 2013 has been focussed on revising and editing the

detailed statistics that the 22 dioceses send annually to the CBC for summarisation, none of these

figures can be treated as definitive. The reversion in 2000-1 to the system model that operated up to

the mid-1950s resulted in 22 different approaches to the collection, editing and tabulation of the

data sent (or not sent) to the diocesan Bishops. The character and quality of the work by curial staff

varies from diocese to diocese and from year to year. The PRCT is constantly having to revise

figures already revised, and this uncertainty about them will continue until the system

re-established in 2000-1 is rationalised.

Entry into the Catholic Church in England & Wales – Big fall in 2012.

In 2001 this had been 67,724. By 2011 it had recovered to 74,767. It then fell 4.5% in 2012,

to 71,380. The main component was the baptisms of babies under one, which fell 2.6% from

44,130 in 2001 to 42,986 in 2011, and then 2.4% to 41,937 in 2012. The baptisms of babies

indicated a birth rate of 11.0 per thousand Catholic population in 2001, 10.6 in 2011 and 10.3 in


Late baptisms had been 19,528 in 2001, rose 36.2% to 26,601 in 2011 and then fell 5.25 to

25,225 in 2012. The receptions of converts (already baptised) had been 4,066 in 2001, rose 27.4%

to 5,180 in 2011, and fell 18.6% in the next year, to 4,218.

Marriages with Catholic rites in England & Wales – Number of Catholics married up 1.0%

These had been 12,056 in 2001, and fell 19.0% to 9,763 in 2011, and 9,784 in 2012. These

figures include mixed marriages, which fell 23.2% from 8,039 in 2001 to

6,174 in 2011, and then by 1.5% to 6,080 in 2012. Marriages between Catholics were 4,017 in

2001, fell 11.9% to 3,589 in 2011, and then by 1.5% to 6,080 in 2012. Marriages between Catholics

had been 4,017 in 2001, fell 11.9% to 3,589 in 2011 and then rose by 3.2% to 3,704 in 2012. They

accounted for 33.3% of all marriages with Catholic rites in 2001, 36.8% in 2011 and 37.9% in 2012.

The number of Catholics marrying with the rites of the Catholic Church was 16,073 in 2001,

fell 16.9% to 13,352 in 2011, and then rose by 1.0% to 13,488 in 2012. In 2001 the marriage (with

Catholic rites) rate of the Catholic community in England and Wales had been 4.0 per thousand. In

2011 and 2012 it was 3.3%

Deaths – Numbers continue to fall.

Recorded deaths had been 47,553 in 2001, fell 16.1% to 39,885 in 2011, and then by 0.9%

to 39,507 in 2012. The Catholic death rate was 11.8 per thousand in 2011, fell to 9.9 in 2011 and

9.7 in 2012.

Mass attendance – Further fall

This had been 985,600 in 2001, fell 12.3% to 864,700 in 2011, and a further 0.7% to

858,800 in 2012. Mass attendance was equivalent to 24.6% of Catholic population in October,

2001, 21.4% in 2011 and 21.1% in 2012.

Catholic population – An impossible task results in very questionable figures

As long ago as 1948 the official statistics of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking

world were being criticised as unfit for purpose. Over the next sixty-five years increasing numbers

of parish priests have refused to provide estimates, but the Roman Curia has continued to require

these figures each year. Some dioceses have given up: one reported a fall of 41.5% in its Catholic

population between 2002 and 2003, and a fall of 51.0% between 2005 and 2006. Another has sent

Catholic population figures to the CBC throughout this millennium which suggested alienation rates

far higher than its neighbours – and then raised them arbitrarily, making the diocese look like a

Catholic disaster area. A third arbitrarily raised the figure by 30% to 100,000 for two years, let it

drop by 17%, raised it arbitrarily again by 69% to 140,000, and then let it drop back 44%.

Parish priests are instructed to include in their estimate of Catholic population “all baptised

Catholics normally resident within the parish, whether practising or lapsed”. It is their estimate, not

the Bishop’s. Given the arbitrary decisions of some dioceses, and the failure to deal with this long-
standing issue, the PRCT has had to devise a method for substituting defensible estimates based on

independent data. The method will be explained in detail in the PRCT’s forthcoming report on its

revision and edit procedures. What can be said here is that the method is based on comparisons with

neighbouring dioceses and the Sacramental Index, an objective measure derived from entries in

canonical parish records (Baptisms+Receptions+Catholics married+Deaths) and not on guesswork

in the curial office.

Bearing in mind the qualifications set out above, the parish clergy estimated the normally

resident Catholic population at 31 December, 2001, at 4.014 million. By the end of 2011 it had

apparently recovered 3.5% to 4.155 million, but in the next twelve months it apparently fell another

2.2% to 4.064 million. What were the factors involved? Natural increase had been -3,423 in 2001,

+3,101 in 2011 and +2,430 in 2012. Late baptisms and receptions added 23,594 in 2001, 31,781 in

2011 and 29,443 in 2012. And for most of the period there was heavy net immigration of Catholics

from the European Union. Yet the Catholic population apparently fell by c.50,600. So that there

must have been considerable alienation among baptised Catholics, and probably much statistical

error, plus and minus. In 2012 natural increase, late baptisms and receptions should have added

31,873, but the Catholic population apparently fell by c.91,000.



Anthony Spencer