The diocesan statistics which I have are all out there in the public domain; they have been collated by Leo Darroch from the diocesan year book, The Northern Catholic Calendar. Unfortunately, for a few years, no stats are available; and before 1970 there are no figures for Sunday Mass attendance. If anyone can supply the missing figures, then we would be delighted to have them.
The earliest figure I have for the estimated Catholic population of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is 181,199 in 1905; there were 128 parish churches and chapels, and the number of clergy working in the diocese in that year was 217. This perhaps means that there was one priest for every 835 lay people. That was over 100 years ago. The latest figures, for 2008, as published in this year's Northern Catholic Calendar, show that the estimated Catholic population of the diocese is 185,500, there are 181 parishes and the number of active secular priests in the diocese is 135 ( there are also 21 religious order priests and 54 retired priests -- a number of the religious order priests work in the parishes and many of the retired priests help out at weekends). This immediately shows that there are not enough active priests to cover the existing parishes unless one priest runs two or even three parishes. And even if we include active religious order priests with the secular clergy and, say, for the sake of argument, that we have about 150 active priests in the diocese, then there is now one priest for every 1237 lay people. After one hundred years of diocesan life, this is very depressing. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of other dioceses have a similar statistical look!
But it wasn't always so depressing during those 100 years. No, indeed!
The figures are missing from 1905 to 1945, but in 1945 the estimated Catholic population had jumped to 227,286. Each year after this the number rose fairly steadily until 1970; in that year we had a total of 283,587 Catholics (estimated) in the diocese. And the wonderful thing about that year is that we know that 119,115 Catholics practised their Faith, that is, 42% of the population (of course, that means that 58% were not practising -- but then that is not really surprising -- read on!). I wish we had the corresponding attendance figures for 1905. In 1970, we had 12,000 Baptisms and 2,700 Marriages.
After 1970, the Catholic population began, very slowly, to decline, so that by 2008 the number of Catholics in the diocese is given as 185,500, a loss of almost 100,000 souls in 30 years. But the even more dreadful fact is that the number of Catholics attending Sunday Mass fell each year by two to three thousand people each year from 1970, until in 2008 the Mass attendance for that year is given as 40,820. That is, only 22% of Catholics came to Mass in 2008. There were 3,100 Baptisms and 571 Marriages. What a turnaround in just 38 years!
A recently retired bishop of the diocese made two prophecies about the future. In 1999, he said, "We live in an exciting and demanding time when the vision of the Second Vatican Council is beginning to be realised in the Church." He also gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph in which he said that the Church in Hexham and Newcastle Diocese would be finished by 2020.
If you were a betting person, which of these two prophecies would you put a bet on? (Of course, the Good Lord may have something special up his sleeve!)
My next post will be in a couple of days, probably with the title: Why Did I Let It All Go Wrong?