Belfast Telegraph

Just 16% of Belfast Catholics go to Mass, says diocese survey

Mass attendance has fallen along with the number of priests in recent years
Mass attendance has fallen along with the number of priests in recent years

By Joanne Sweeney

Only one in five Catholics is regularly attending Sunday Mass in the Down and Connor Diocese, a new report has revealed.

And attendance at Mass in the greater Belfast area has been recorded as low as 16% of all Catholics who live in the area, according to the diocesan report.

Figures from an audit taken last year in Down and Connor, the second largest diocese on the island, showed that based on the 2011 census figures of a potential 356,585 Catholics, only 72,818 were recorded as attending weekly Mass over a two-week period when the count was taken.

The findings also show a situation of an aging church population against the backdrop of an aging priest population.

There were 27 priests aged under 50 in 2014 and 54 aged between 51 and 65, while a third of all Mass-goers were aged 61 and over.

The report further estimates that by 2019, 104 priests will be aged under 75.

A spokesman for the diocese said that the situation of a declining church population and serving priests were just two of the issues that will be considered during a consultation process announced by Bishop Noel Treanor as the Catholic Church seeks to restructure its local administration to meet changing needs,

The beginning of the consultation process involving the laity was announced last Sunday at churches throughout the diocese as to how best to organise over the coming years.

The Diocese of Down and Connor Creating Pastoral Communities Consultation document gives detailed breakdown on the attendance numbers per church, as well as the type of parishioner who is keeping up their faithful obligation.

Women were more likely to attend Mass than men - 56% to 46% - and while the numbers of weddings and funerals stayed basically the same from 2012-13, baptisms in 2013 were down to 4,961 from 5,354 in 2012.

However, the spokesman added that the attendance figures were on a par with attendance in Catholic churches across Europe.

"The benchmark in churches in Europe would also be about an average of 20% of people who attend Mass regularly.

"The figures are based on numbers that were actually counted in church over a two-week period last year as opposed to people who would self-declare.

"The first part of the consultation process has already been undertaken with the clergy and now the laity are being consulted."

Down and Connor is the only diocese in Northern Ireland currently going through this consultation process.

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