Reflecting on the Papal Visit

More than three months afterwards, the state and pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England last September continues to engender mixed views. That is the core finding of two recent online surveys released by ComRes on 1 January and conducted on behalf of Premier Media.

One poll was undertaken among a representative sample of 2,017 adults aged 18 and over throughout Great Britain on 15 and 16 December 2010. The detailed computer tabulations are located at:

31% of this sample of Britons thought that the papal visit had been successful, 29% disagreed and 39% could not make up their minds on the matter. The over-65s (37%) and Scots (48%) were most likely to rate the visit a success, with men (35%) more disposed to disagree than women (24%).

A smaller proportion (21%) considered that the Pope had correctly addressed serious problems facing society during the course of his visit, the highest figures again being recorded among the over-65s (30%) and Scots (31%). 39% disagreed with the statement (with a range of 30-45% across the various demographic sub-groups) and 40% expressed no opinion.

Notwithstanding their answers to the previous question, a majority (53%) agreed with the Pope’s assessment that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is being marginalized in Britain. The proportion taking this position was especially high among the over-55s and the AB social group, which might have been anticipated. More surprisingly, it was also greater among men (59%) than women (48%). Just 17% of the whole sample took issue with the Pope’s verdict, with 30% uncertain.

A final question to the general public sought reactions to the Government’s plans to exclude religious education (RE) from the list of core GCSE humanities subjects for the new English Baccalaureate. 30% of respondents wanted RE to be a core subject, but 56% were opposed, the remaining 14% not knowing what to think.

The greatest support for RE (36%) was among the youngest cohort, aged 18-24. This is in line with another recent poll of young adults ( and perhaps reflects the growing popularity of RE as a GCSE subject in recent years. The figure also stood at 36% for the over-65s. The strongest opposition to RE came from the 25-44s, skilled manual workers, and Scots.

The second ComRes/Premier Media survey was carried out among 600 UK churchgoing Christians between 17 November and 10 December 2010 via the ComRes CPanel. The unweighted sample included only 37 practising Roman Catholics, so too much should not be made of variations by denomination or churchmanship. Tables are available at:

As might have been expected, this religiously committed sample took a more positive view than the general public of the success of the papal visit (63%) and of the Pope’s handling of serious problems facing society (64%), with dissentients numbering 9% and 18% respectively.

But there was a little less consensus on two other issues. 57% deemed the visit relevant to them personally (with 38% saying it had been irrelevant). 53% disputed that the Pope had represented all Christians, not just Catholics, when he came to Britain, with 39% agreeing.

Churchgoing Christians overwhelmingly (93%) endorsed the Pope’s comments about the marginalization of religion in contemporary Britain. This was 40% more than among adult Britons as a whole. Moreover, 81% believed that such marginalization of Christians was increasing in the media, 77% in public (meaning not defined), 66% in the workplace, and 59% in Government. 

A final question to churchgoing Christians enquired into the use of new media by their local church in order to communicate its message. The most pervasive technology was a website (82%), followed by worship song projection (64%), videos during services (36%), podcasts/online sermons (33%), email newsletters (26%), and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs (20%). One in ten churches were said to make no use of any of these media.

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

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