How Many Catholics?

As part of its coverage of the papal visit, the BBC has compiled a webpage entitled ‘How many Catholics are there in Britain?’ This will be found at:

It brings together disparate data from several sources, in particular:

  • Clerical vocations since 1982
  • Professing Catholics since 1983 (British Social Attitudes Surveys)
  • Mass attendance since 1990
  • Ethnic composition of Catholic population in 2008 (CAFOD/Ipsos MORI poll)

The Catholic Church has had somewhat of a chequered history in its collection of quantitative data, and, despite its relative strength, it still has no dedicated and professionally-staffed central statistical unit.

There are various shortcomings in the most frequently-cited British Catholic statistics, those appearing in the Catholic Directory for England and Wales and its equivalent in Scotland, and in the two Vatican publications, Annuario Pontificio and Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae.

Much less well-known is the work of the unofficial Pastoral Research Centre, notably Digest of Statistics of the Catholic Community of England & Wales, 1958-2005, Volume 1, edited by Tony Spencer (2007). This can be obtained from the Pastoral Research Centre, Stone House, Hele, Taunton, Somerset, TA4 1AJ.

For an overview of the development of Catholic statistics, see sections 2.7 and 2.8 and appendix 7 in Clive Field’s Religious Statistics in Great Britain: An Historical Introduction, available at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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