The Catholic Church in Australia is part of the worldwide Catholic Church which, inspired by the life, death and teachings of Jesus Christ and under the spiritual and administrative leadership of the Pope and Curia in Rome, is the largest Christian church in the world.
Australia is a majority Christian but pluralistic society with no established religion. There are approximately 5.1 million Australian Catholics (26% of the population). Catholicism arrived in Australia with the British First Fleet in 1788. The first Australian Catholics were mainly Irish, but Australian Catholics now originate from a great variety of national backgrounds. The Church is a major provider of health, education and charitable services: Catholic Social Services Australia's 63 member organisations help more than a million Australians every year; and the Catholic education system has more than 650,000 students (21% of student population).
Mary Mackillop, who founded an educative order of nuns in Australia in the 19th century is due to become the first Australian canonised saint in October 2010. The mother church of Australian Catholicism is St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney; there are 32 dioceses and 1363 parishes. The senior Australian church leader at present is the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell.
Demographics and structureEdit
According to the 2006 Australian National Census, there were 5,126,900 Catholics in Australia. This represented 25.8% of the overall Australian population, and was the largest single Christian denomination (being slightly larger than the Anglican and Uniting churches combined).
Until the 1986 census, Australia's most populous Christian church was the Anglican Church of Australia. Since then Catholics have outnumbered Anglicans by an increasing margin. One rationale to explain this relates to changes in Australia's immigration patterns. Prior to the Second World War, the majority of immigrants to Australia had come from the United Kingdom - though most of Australia's Catholic immigrants had come from Ireland. Post WW2, Australia's immigration program diversified and more than 6.5 million migrants arrived in Australia in the 60 years after the war, including more than a million Catholics from nations like Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia and Hungary.
While Catholicism is now the largest church tradition in Australia, and the overall Catholic population continues to grow, active participation in weekly church attendance has been in decline. The National Church Life Survey of weekly attendance, found that between 1996-2001 Catholic attendance at weekly services dropped by 13% to 764,800.
In the Catholic Church, a province is a grouping of several neighbouring dioceses. The senior diocese is known as metropolitan, while the others are known as suffragan. The bishop of the senior diocese is also known as the metropolitan and has certain limited functions, but no powers of governance outside his own diocese. A bishop is the head of a diocese and dioceses are divided into parishes, each headed by a parish priest appointed by and accountable to the bishop. In Australia there are five provinces: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. These roughly correspond to state boundaries which, among other considerations, enables the bishops to co-operate in matters involving that level of secular government.
In Australia there are seven archdioceses and 32 dioceses, with an estimated 3,000 priests and 9,000 men and women in religious orders. A diocese usually has a defined territory and comprises the Catholics who live there. That is the case with 28 of the Australian dioceses. There are also five dioceses which cover the whole country: one each for those who belong to the Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite and Ukrainian rites and one for those who are serving in the Australian Defence Forces.
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