Religion in Australia

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has begun releasing information gathered from the 2016 census. It affirms that Australia remains a Christian nation as 52 per cent of the population profess to be Christian, though the number of those declaring that they are Christian is declining. Of those professing to be Christian, Catholics are the largest religious body and account for 22.6 per cent of the population. Almost one quarter of Australians are Catholic. However, there has been a slight decline in the percentage of Catholics.

What is significant is that now one third of Australians claim that they have no religion. This number has grown significantly and it is an accelerating trend. Over the past decade (2006 to 2016) the percentage of those who report having no religion has grown from 19% to 30%. They now account for the largest single grouping in the religion category.

This statistic is possibly assisted by the fact that the census form had this category as the first box, whereas as in previous forms it was the last category. It is also true that many people who have come from families of a Christian background, though were not practicing, possibly feel more free to dissociate themselves from their religious heritage. Of course, many in the 18-34 age bracket identify as having no religious affiliation, some may find their way back to religious allegiance in later life.

What is of particular interest is that while New South Wales has the highest religious affiliation (66 per cent of people reporting a religious affiliation), Tasmania (53 per cent) was the lowest. It appears that Tasmanians are the least religious of all Australians, but perhaps not the least spiritual. We can see in the strange and sometime blasphemous events in “Dark Mofo” a search for spiritual meaning to life.

Census results often tell us what we know from our experience, but the figures put our sense of things in clear data form. The census information also provides us with an opportunity to assess the movements within Australian culture. The census reveals that we are becoming a less religious nation. This is an important consideration for the mission of the Church in our society.

While our census numbers are decreasing, we know all too well that the numbers of those identifying as Catholics have no real engagement with the life of the Church. It is possibly true that the desire for their children to receive education at a Catholic school is one of the main reasons for identifying as Catholic.

As a Church the census figures cause us to reflect on the priorities of our life and mission. We are aware that the Lord entrusted his Church with the task of proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples. The census results challenge us to examine how we can be more effective at this task. While the Church is responsible for many good works in the community in the areas of education, social welfare, health and aged care, our essential role is one of mission, bringing people to a living faith in God as revealed by Jesus Christ. This faith in God if it is to achieve its full richness and beauty must be lived sacramentally. Catholicism is not a loose spiritual orientation, but a living faith that finds concrete expression through the sacraments of the Church celebrated within the context of a parish community, most especially through the celebration of Sunday Mass.

Parish communities need to become what Pope Francis has referred to as ‘missionary disciples’, and become centres of evangelisation. The census results should strengthen our resolve to reach out to our society. It should encourage us to find the ways in which we can convey the beauty of the Catholic faith 

The Church has something of immense value to offer people. It is something that every person finally seeks: fullness of life which can only be found in relationship with the living God as revealed by Jesus Christ.