GUEST COLUMN BY TERRY SANDERSON
July 8, 2009
A long-serving Church of England bishop has predicted that the Church of England will cease to exist within a generation. In an article in the Sunday Telegraph, the Right Reverend Paul Richardson said declining church attendance and the rise in multiculturalism meant that "Christian Britain is dead".
The Church is rapidly declining, with attendances at its services in freefall, a proposal on the table at the next General Synod meeting to cut the number of bishops, and huge holes in its finances due to the economic downturn and a lack of congregants to donate to the collection plate.
Richardson said that the Church had lost more than one in ten of its regular worshippers between 1996 and 2006, with a fall from more than one million to 880,000.
"At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility," said Richardson.
While seven in ten people described themselves as "Christian" in the last census, the fall in church marriages and baptisms confirmed that the census could not be taken as a true guide to the situation. Britain was no longer a Christian nation.
The number of babies being baptized has fallen from 609 in every 1,000 at the start of the twentieth century to only 128 in 2006/07 and church marriages have also dropped.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said,"Bishop Richardson says that the Church should start the process of disestablishment before politicians get there first. We couldn't agree more. In fact, the only real prospect that the Anglican Church has of surviving is to free itself from the state's shackles. Its claim to speak for everyone in the country – including Muslims and non-believers – ring more hollow every time it is uttered. It is time for the Church and state to go their separate ways."
Irish people want Catholicism's influence to be removed from the Republic
A fascinating new poll conducted by the Irish radio station Newstalk has found that attitudes to Catholicism have shifted significantly since the publication of the Ryan report into child abuse in Catholic-run institutions.
Of the 1,108 people questioned, 51 percent said they would not welcome a visit to Ireland by the Pope. This stands in stark contrast to the euphoric response the previous Pope received on his visit there in 1979 when practically no opposition was expressed to the visit.
Just four percent of those who responded to the poll said they had actually changed their Mass-going habits since the publication of the Ryan Report, but changing attitudes towards the Catholic Church's involvement in the day-to-day life of the country are evident in the 70 percent who said all primary schools should be run by the State.
Just over half (52 percent) believe religion has no place in schools, as they say religious instruction should only take place outside the classroom, but the majority don't believe children in school should be exposed to the details of the Ryan Report, with 68 percent opposing religious teaching incorporating lessons on clerical abuse. The poll was conducted last week, illustrating that feelings about the report are not abating, even a month after publication.
Those in favor of the State taking control of all primary schools made comments such as: "It's about time that Ireland became a secular state. Theocracy has had its day here" and "The Church can run schools if they want, but they should receive zero funding from the State."
Meanwhile, the Church is bracing itself for the release of another report within the next few weeks. This one is about the handling of sex-abuse allegations against priests of the Dublin archdiocese.
It is thought the independent report will approach 1,000 pages in length, and will include the names of priests who have faced abuse charges. The report will assess the handling of abuse charges under four past archbishops of Dublin. It may also report on the involvement of more than a dozen bishops who have served as auxiliaries in the Dublin archdiocese.
Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on June 26, 2009. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.