Where 'no religion' is default, a look at Europe's young Catholic minority

Where ‘no religion’ is default, a look at Europe’s young Catholic minority

Where ‘no religion’ is default, a look at Europe’s young Catholic minority

World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016. (Credit: Jeff Bruno via CNA.)

Young Catholics in Europe live in a culture where religious affiliation, church attendance, and regular prayer are generally at low levels, according to a sociological study of their demographic across most of the continent.

LONDON – Young Catholics in Europe live in a culture where religious affiliation, church attendance, and regular prayer are generally at low levels, according to a sociological study of their demographic across most of the continent.

“Twenty-three percent of French young adults identify as Catholic, compared to only ten percent in the U.K.,” said the report, which classifies 16- to 29-year-olds as young adults.

“Notably, however, in both France and the U.K., Catholicism is the dominant Christian identity,” the report continued. “Both countries have a significant minority – around one in every ten 16-29 year-olds – of members of non-Christian religions, with Islam being the largest contributor. Yet overall, ‘no religion’ is the default identity of French and British young adults alike, accounting for around two-thirds of each.”

Catholics have a few strongholds in the young adult demographic: they make up 82 percent of young Poles, 71 percent of young Lithuanians, 55 percent of young Slovenians, and 54 percent of young Irish.

The report, “European Young Adults and Religion”, primarily aims to inform the Synod of Bishops, which in October will hold a general assembly on the theme “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Its author is Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, a suburban town of London. He is director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, which issued the report jointly with the Catholic University of Paris.

The report uses data from the European Social Survey to consider religious affiliation and religious practice in 22 countries for those aged 16-29. It considers religious practice and affiliation among Catholics and other young adults across Europe, specifically examining religiosity among young adults in France and the U.K.

Young Polish Catholics report relatively high weekly Mass attendance, with 47 percent of these Catholics going to Mass each week. This compares to 27 percent in Portugal, 24 percent in both the Czech Republic and Ireland, 17 percent in Britain, and seven percent in France. Weekly Mass attendance ranged from 2-6 percent among young Catholics in Belgium, Hungary, Austria, Lithuania and Germany.

In the U.K., 21 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including seven percent who are Anglican. Another six percent are Muslim. In France, 26 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including two percent who identify as Protestant. Ten percent identify as Muslim.

Youth with no religious affiliation make up a super-majority in the Czech Republic, where 91 percent are unaffiliated. In Estonia, the figure is 80 percent, in Sweden 75 percent. U.K. young adults are 70 percent religiously unaffiliated, while in France their proportion is 64 percent.

In Lithuania, only 25 percent state no religious affiliation, while the figure is 17 percent in Poland and only one percent in Israel.

Among the non-affiliated in France and the U.K., four-fifths reported growing up with no religion. Among the 20 percent who grew up with a religion, most come from a Christian background, with former Catholics making up much of this section in France.

French women were significantly more likely to identify with any religion than men, with 55 percent professing no religion; about 72 percent of French men profess no religion. The divide by sex was present in the U.K., but not nearly so significant. Similarly, about 60 percent of young French churchgoers who attend once a month or more are women, while the numbers are somewhat more even in the U.K.

Religious attendance was also considered in the report.

“In only four countries do more than one-in-ten 16-29-year-olds claim to attend religious services on at least a weekly basis: Poland, Israel, Portugal, and Ireland,” said the report. “Our other eighteen countries are distinctive, despite significant variability in their numbers of religious affiliates, by their relative uniformity of (non) practice. All rank in the single digits, within a narrow range between two and nine percent.”

“With only three exceptions, ‘never attenders’ account for between a tenth and a quarter of all Catholic young adults across our sample of countries,” the report continued.

In France, one in four young Catholics say they never attend religious services, compared to one in five for the U.K.

Two-fifths of Spanish Catholic youth do not go to church, a very high proportion compared to self-identified Catholics in other countries. In Belgium, 31 percent of young Catholics never attend church.

The report noted a high level of weekly prayer among young Catholics in the Netherlands and the U.K., about 43 percent of whom reported praying at least once a week — similar figures to those in Ireland. This percentage was exceeded only by Czech and Polish young Catholics.

One third of French Catholics say they never pray, and under 40 percent say they pray once a month or more. In the U.K., only 14 percent never pray, and close to 60 percent say they pray at least monthly.

Affiliated believers are not necessarily the only ones praying. About five percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they pray at least monthly.

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