Sunday, December 23, 2007

Roman Catholicism’s “Popularity” in Britain

While surfing the internet earlier this evening, the following headline caught my eye: “Catholicism Now Britain’s ‘Most Popular’ Faith”. Of course, as is often the case, this particular headline doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the actual story.

Also, by bringing into the mix the recent conversion to Roman Catholicism of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the article, at first glance, seems to imply that Catholicism has become Britain’s “most popular faith” as the result of an increase in converts.

Well, sorry to disappoint the
Uncle Vinces of the Roman Catholic family, but that’s not the reason for Catholicism’s “popularity” - a popularity ascertained, reports the article, by comparing the number of Anglicans and Roman Catholics who attend church on Sundays!

Such a suspect measure of “popularity” hardly warrants the gloating declaration of one
Uncle Vince-like blogger, who writes: “This means that the established Church [of England] has lost its place as the nation’s most popular Christian denomination after more than four centuries of unrivalled influence following the Reformation.”

Yes, well, popularity is one thing, Uncle Vince, influence is quite another.

To get a broader perspective, check out the excerpts below. (And have you ever heard of the term “poped”? I haven’t. Oh, and I do appreciate the perspective of Richard Harries at the conclusion of the article.)

A survey by the group Christian Research published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper show[s] that around 862,000 worshippers attended [Roman] Catholic services each week in 2006 exceeding the 852,000 who went to the Church of England.

The release of the figures followed news that former prime minister Tony Blair, who was raised an Anglican, had converted to [Roman] Catholicism, joining his wife and four children who are devout Catholics.

While attendance figures for both Catholic and Anglican services are declining, Catholic numbers are slipping by less as new migrants arrive from east Europe and parts of Africa, boosting Catholic congregations.

Catholic leaders were buoyed by the figures, and Blair’s high-profile conversion, seeing a resurgence of Catholic popularity in a country which once spurned the religion.

“When a former prime minister becomes a Catholic, that must be a sign that Catholicism really has come in from the cold in this country,” Catherine Pepinster, the editor of Catholic weekly The Tablet, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “I would hope that my fellow Catholics will welcome Tony Blair into the Church as they welcome other converts.”

Blair, now a Middle East peace envoy, is not the first high-profile Briton to convert to Catholicism.

The author Evelyn Waugh, the son of an Anglican churchman, converted in the 1930s, and novelist Graham Greene was a noted convert, although his books often explored doubts over faith.

Blair’s conversion was long expected but it has not come without a degree of criticism.

While in office, he frequently championed stem-cell research, was in support of civil partnerships for gay couples and has voted in favor of abortion, all issues on which the Catholic faithful hold strong [and, let’s face it, wide-ranging] positions.

Politicians, including some who have converted themselves, didn't question the sincerity of the conversion, made in a private ceremony on Friday, but wondered what it said about the stances he had taken on issues while in office.

Mostly though, the reaction was muted.

“In the 19th century when someone ‘poped’ it caused great scandal,” wrote the Right Reverend Richard Harries, a former bishop of Oxford, in the Observer newspaper. “But in recent decades a fundamental shift has taken place . . . If someone shifts their allegiance, well, as Jesus said, ‘there are many dwelling places in my father’s house’.”

Image: Pope Benedict XVI poses with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair(R) during their private audience at the Vatican in June 2007. Blair has become a Roman Catholic, church officials said Saturday, ending widespread speculation that he would switch to the faith of his wife and four children. (AFP/OR-HO/File)

Recommended Off-site Link:
Europe and the Failure of Orthodox Christianity


crystal said...

Heh - England, the land of the Act of Settlement :-)

Merry Christmas, Michael.

Michael J. Bayly said...

And Merry Christmas to you too, Crystal! And all the best for 2008!