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But rather than turning away from the Church, recent surveys show that people are developing new patterns of Catholic belonging.
“What it means to be a Catholic has changed,” says Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University and director of the Westminster Faith Debates, who designed the surveys made earlier this year.
“British Catholics have moved further from a Vatican-approved model of a faithful Catholic with every generation,” she writes in The Tablet this week. “This doesn’t mean that most have become secular, atheistic, or even non-Catholic – it means that they have become Catholic in a different way.
“The result is a Britain in which ‘faithful Catholics’ are now a rare and endangered species. Catholics have come adrift from Roman Catholicism. The latter holds fast to a model it believes to be endangered and unchanging, while the former have forged a new way of being Catholic in the conditions of contemporary culture.”
Professor Woodhead argues that there is a significant disparity between older and younger believers, saying: “Over-60s fit a model of ‘What it is to be Catholic’ closer to that officially promulgated by the Vatican in the ‘Wojtyla-Ratzinger’ era, whilst under-50s believe, behave, and belong in different ways.” Professor Woodhead created the three surveys to discover more about the beliefs of British Catholics. She found that while belief in God remains high, regular churchgoing among younger Catholics was declining.
Just over a third of all Catholics hardly or never attend services and only a fifth see themselves as “religious”. Her findings also show that zero per cent took guidance from religious leaders, national or local.
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