First, I want to follow Jody in congratulating Tony Blair, who has been a good friend to this nation, on his conversion to Catholicism.
I am also happy to congratulate Mr. Blair’s country, the United Kingdom, on its conversion to Catholicism. Yes, you read that correctly. What I mean is that, according to this story in the Telegraph , “Britain has become a ‘Catholic Country’” because “Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans as the country’s dominant religious group. More people attend Mass every Sunday than worship with the Church of England.” Hence, “the established Church has lost its place as the nation’s most popular Christian denomination after four centuries of unrivaled influence following the Reformation.”
When you read more carefully, however, it turns out the picture is not quite so rosy, even for the Catholics. It turns out that 861,000 persons in Britain attend mass every Sunday while only 852,000 turn up for Anglican services. The population of Britain is about 60.7 million souls, so even the combined weekly attendance of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church aggregates only 2.8 percent of the population.
Moreover, the Catholics numbers have surpassed the Anglican ones only because, although attendance at Anglican services has fallen 20 percent since 2000, attendance at mass has fallen only 13 percent. The difference seems to be explained by an influx of Catholic immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe; this has reduced the rate of decrease in the Catholic numbers. So attendance at both churches is declining rapidly; it’s just that Anglicans are even worse off than the Catholics.
The Rt. Rev. Crispian Hollis, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, has a curious take on this. He says that “these figures are encouraging. It shows that the [Catholic] Church is no longer seen as on the fringes of society, but in fact is now at the heart of British life.” Well, sure, if an organization with committed members totaling 1.4 percent of the population (and many of these recent immigrants who may not remain in the country for long) can be at the heart of a nation’s life.
The Anglican clergy, too, seems to misunderstand the significance of these numbers. Says the Church of England’s Rt. Rev. Graham Cray, “It isn’t a competition. I’m delighted to see all the Christian denominations flourishing.” I appreciate the ecumenical sentiment, but that’s quite a strange definition of flourishing you got there, Rt. Rev.