Catholic church moves into Pole position

SCOTLAND has become more Roman Catholic than Protestant, with its congregations now outnumbering the Kirk for the first time since records began.

Figures compiled by the independent group Christian Research reveal that in 2005 the number of Catholics who went to Mass surpassed those who attended Church of Scotland services.

A total of 215,000 Catholics went to church, compared with only 208,400 attending the Church of Scotland.

Attendances at both churches – and all other Christian denominations – are falling however, and the group predicts that by 2010, the number of Scots going to church on a Sunday will fall below 10% of the population for the first time from 751,100 in 1990 to 457,600 in 2015.

The change is due to the huge numbers of Catholic Polish immigrants who are boosting church attendance, raising numbers by some 50,000 people since the last time figures were published in 2002.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "There are now more masses being said in Polish than in Gaelic in Scotland. At St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, there are two Polish masses every Sunday. It has made a significant difference."

He claimed that the Polish-inspired revival was now boosting the Church in other areas. "In terms of vocations to the priesthood, we hit rock bottom a few years ago when we had only about four or five men training to become priests. Now there are 15 or 16."

Meanwhile, without such outside support and with an increasingly ageing membership, attendance at the Church of Scotland is now declining rapidly, Christian Research suggests.

It concludes that by 2015, only 145,700 Scots will go to church on an average Sunday. As recently as 1990, that figure would have been 320,800.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland said: " We have half a million members and returns from congregations provided prior to last week's General Assembly found that there are at least 100,000 people involved in the life of the Church who are not included within the formal membership. Throughout the country, individual members and congregations as a whole continue to play an essential part in their local communities.

"If the attendance figures reported are accurate then it appears the wide tradition of Christian worship in Scotland is set to remain strong – continuing to dwarf the combined attendance of weekend football matches for example."

Christian Research is part of the Bible Society and its research is recognised as the most authoritative snapshot of religious observance in the country. The figures were part of a major UK wide survey of Church attendance, which found that pews are emptying at an accelerating rate around Britain as a whole.

Benita Hewitt, director of Christian Research, said: "The figures in Scotland have been changed since 2002 to reflect the numbers of Poles coming into Scotland."

The figures show that the total number of people attending a Christian place of worship is in decline. In 1990, 14.7% of Scots went to church. By 2015, Christian Research expects that figure to have dropped to 8.9%. However, Scotland is still the most religious part of the UK. While total church attendance in Scotland for 2010 will be 9.9%, in England it will be only 5.5%. In Wales, the figure will be 5.8%. Figures for Northern Ireland were not available.

Attendances at other Presbyterian churches are set to fall from 20,300 in 2015 to 18,000 in 2015. Baptist church attendance will fall from 24,000 to 23,200 over the same period. Episcopal church attendance will fall marginally from 18,500 to 18,000.

The only churches to witness an increase in attendance will be independent churches, which include the popular evangelical wing. Attendance will rise from 45,800 in 2005 to 49,700 in 2015.