Catholicism in Australia is on the decline and many young people say it is the Church’s slowness to adapt to changes in society that is driving them away.

Data from the Australian 2021 Census shows a decrease in Christians from 52.1 per cent of the population in 2016, to just 43.9 per cent in 2021, and Australia’s biggest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has especially struggled as more and more young people choose other options.

Cormac O’Donovan, 17, a student at St Patrick’s College in Strathfield, doesn’t remember the last time he attended mass.

“Even though I go to Catholic school, I don’t go to mass outside of whatever the school makes us go to,” he told Central News.

And the data suggests he is not alone.

In 2011, Australian census data reported almost five and-a-half million Catholics, 25.3 per cent of the total population. By 2021, that number had gone down to just 20 per cent. Additionally, research from the National Centre for Pastoral Research shows a continual increase in the median age of Catholics, as overall followers decrease.

The NCPR’s social profile put the median age of Catholics at 33 in 1996. This number had increased to 40 by 2016.

In 1996, 10.9 per cent of Catholics were over the age of 65 compared to 16.6 per cent in 2016. Catholics aged 14 and under made up 23 per cent of followers in 1996 versus only 19.8 per cent in 2016.

There are various reasons for young people choosing to leave the Church. For Cormac, it was a feeling that the religion just wasn’t progressive enough.

“I think they’re behind the times on a lot of things,” he said “like women priests still aren’t allowed, they don’t support LGBT rights, and other stuff like that.”

The Catholic Church has a complex history; and several factors could have contributing to a decrease in followers, but according to Cormac the main issue isn’t the Church’s past, but its future;

“The Church is very traditional, and I don’t think they’ll ever really change,” he said.

“That’s the real problem.”

Photos by Ailish Dwyer.