Friday, October 06, 2006

Kiwi Katholics

Catholics to become NZ's dominant religious group

By Anna Claridge, www.stuff.co.nz , 05 October 2006

Catholicism will become the most practised denomination in New Zealand within five years – and the Catholic Church is already wielding political power, an expert says.

Peter Lineham, head of Massey University's School of Social and Cultural Studies, says current trends show Catholics will overtake Anglicans as New Zealand's most dominant religious group by 2011, with total numbers reaching 489,000.

The prediction, based on a 20-year trend in census figures, shows the Catholic Church has survived a Christianity crisis that has seen other religions bleeding adherents at a rate of almost 12,000 worshippers a year.

"The number of Catholics isn't really increasing much at all, it's just that the number of Anglicans and Presbyterians is dropping so dramatically," Lineham said.

"(The Catholic) religion instills a social identity. In Catholicism you live it through schools and social networks. It is very strong and it is almost like once a Catholic, always a Catholic. You always identify with it."

Based on Lineham's predictions, Anglican numbers would have dropped to 452,000 by 2011 and Presbyterians to 357,000. The number of Anglicans has dropped by an average of 66,000 between each census, while the number of Presbyterians has dropped by 30,000 every five years.

Lineham said assuming the position of the most dominant religious order meant the church would naturally become a powerful political force – something that was already being felt.

It does mean that the Catholic Church will have to be clear about its views because from now on people, politicians and media, will begin approaching them and asking them to speak on issues.

"And the church will have to be careful because its dominant position may mean that they end up speaking on behalf of not just Catholics, but Christianity as a whole."

Lineham said Cardinal Tom Williams, the Archbishop Emeritus of Wellington, was already heavily involved in Government processes and the church would continue to be a significant political force.

In a recent statement, Williams said two factors had contributed to the church's ability to maintain numbers – the unity of the church and the Catholic school system.

Lineham said while only about 25 per cent of Catholics attended church regularly, the figure was still above many other denominations.

About 20% of New Zealanders attended church regularly but the overall number of churchgoers was likely to drop in coming years, following trends in Australia.

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