Kōrero: Catholic Church

Whārangi 6. The Catholic Church in the 21st century

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Numbers of Catholics

In the 2013 census just over 492,000 people in New Zealand, about one-eighth of the population, identified themselves as Catholic. The proportion of the population who are Catholic has changed very little in the past hundred years, but the nature of the Catholic congregation has changed considerably, especially since the 1980s. The number of Pākehā Catholics, who are mainly of Irish descent, dropped sharply as a result of the general secularisation of New Zealand culture (the trend away from organised religion). Over the same period, changes in government immigration policy meant that the Catholic Church took on a more Pacific identity. By the 2010s there were also many more Korean, Indian, Filipino, Iranian and Burundian faces in the pews.

Between 2001 and 2006 Catholic numbers grew by 23,000 (4.5%) to exceed half a million (508,400) for the first time. However, New Zealand’s population grew by 7.8% in this period. Though numbers dropped to 492,000 in 2013, Catholics overtook Anglicans as the largest religious group. 

Dioceses and parishes

In the 2010s the Catholic Church in New Zealand was divided into six regions, called dioceses, each made up of a number of parishes, or local districts. There were 271 Catholic parishes throughout the country: the Diocese of Auckland had 67, Hamilton 37, Palmerston North 33, Wellington 47, Christchurch 50, and Dunedin 37.

Training for priests

Since the early 21st century, instead of mainly white, often Irish, priests, the Aotearoa Catholic clergy have been more multicultural. New Zealand has two seminaries for training priests – Holy Cross and the Marist Seminary – and also the Good Shepherd national theological college, all in Auckland. In 2016 there were 22 seminarians training at Holy Cross Seminary. Most were New Zealanders, with others from South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Africa and India.

Ethnicity and origins

Most Catholics in New Zealand are Roman Catholics – members of the church founded in Rome. However, there are also Catholics from other branches of the church such as Maronites (who first came to New Zealand from Lebanon over 100 years ago), Byzantine or Greek Catholics and Chaldeans (Iraqi Catholics).

Bishop Pompallier would be happy to know that since his original conversion of the Māori people, Māori and people of many nations worship together. The links with the original Catholic mission were acknowledged in 1988 with the appointment of a Māori bishop, Max Mariu. In 2002 the bones of Bishop Pompallier were brought back to New Zealand and reburied at Motuti, near the place on the Hokianga Harbour where he had landed 164 years earlier.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Rory Sweetman, 'Catholic Church - The Catholic Church in the 21st century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/catholic-church/page-6 (accessed 8 December 2019)

He kōrero nā Rory Sweetman, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 17 Jul 2018