+ Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
16 Jun 2013

The number of religious people especially Christians and Muslims, is steadily increasing around the world.

Devoted secularists cannot find much pleasure in these world-wide statistics, but believe that the story in Australia is quite different.  But we still find surprises.

The first surprise is that the number of Australian Catholics has increased in each of the last two censuses of 2006 and 2011.  In 2011 there were 5,440,000 Catholics in Australia, an increase of 314,000 over 2006, which represented a 125,000 increase over 2001.  The increase came from births and migration despite the fact that 100,000 ceased calling themselves Catholic between 2006-2011.

The total Australian population continues to grow, outpacing Catholic growth so that the percentage of Catholics has dropped 1.3 per cent to 25.3 per cent in 2011.

No one is too surprised that the Muslim population in Australia has increased by almost 70 per cent in ten years to 476,000 in 2011.  Overall the percentage is still low at 2.2 per cent, but the Muslim population in Australia is probably their fastest growing national group in the Western world, coming as they do from different nations reaching from Turkey to Fiji.

In the U.S.A. Irish Catholics congregated especially in the Eastern cities of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, while the Irish in Australia spread across the country, nearly everywhere a minority with fewer in Tasmania and South Australia.

A second surprise is that different religious groups and the irreligious are tending today to reside together in different suburbs, more than in the past.

In Horsley Park in Western Sydney three quarters of the population are Catholic, half of them of Italian or Maltese heritage (42 per cent against 4 per cent nationally).

Nearly 60 per cent of Cabramatta's population is Buddhist with the same percentage of Jews in Dover Heights and a slightly lower percentage of Muslims (57 per cent) in Lakemba, which appears more Islamic than many Middle Eastern cities.

Those who disclaim any religion gather more in suburbs like Newtown, while 40 per cent of those in Harris Park are Hindus, replacing the Maronite Lebanese who once lived there.

No one attending a Catholic Church, especially in Western Sydney, would be surprised that nearly one in four Catholics is overseas born, with one in six coming from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Unsurprisingly the number of regularly worshipping young Catholics is much reduced, but they are more orthodox than in 1996, except on the resurrection, where one in three believes in reincarnation!