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Canada census shows 2 million fewer Catholics, as disaffiliation grows

October 27, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government officials held bilateral meetings with Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin on July 27, 2022, during the pope’s trip to that country. / Credit: pool VAMP

Denver Newsroom, Oct 27, 2022 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic population in Canada has declined by almost 2 million people in the last 10 years, the Canadian census has found in a report that indicates the religiously unaffiliated now outnumber Catholics.

The latest census figures, compiled in 2021, show the Catholic Canadian population has declined to 10.9 million. Catholics now make up about 29.9% of the country’s people. According to the 2011 census, the Catholic population that year was 12.8 million.

Just 53.3% of Canadians, 19.3 million people, now identify as Christian, a decline from 67.3% in 2011 and 77.1% in 2001. Statistics Canada, Canada’s national statistical office, presented the latest figures in an Oct. 26 report.

Catholicism is still the most popular religious affiliation in all provinces and territories except for Nunavut, the sparse population of which has a large Anglican component.

Quebec is the only majority Catholic province, but Catholic numbers declined “considerably,” Statistics Canada said. In 2011, 74.7% of Quebec residents reported that they were Catholic. The 2021 figures indicate 53.8% of Quebec residents identified as Catholic.

CNA contacted the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Quebec for comment but did not receive a response by publication.

Among other Christian identities in Canada, the most numerous are the 7.6% of Canadians who identify as Christian without specifying a denomination. This is double the proportion from 2011.

About 3% of Canadians are adherents to the United Church of Canada, a mainline ecclesial community, and another 3% belong to the Anglican Church. Orthodox Christians, Baptists, and Pentecostal and other Charismatic Christians make up the remainder.

Among Christians, only the Orthodox Christian population and the non-specific Christian population grew in the last decade.

Religious practice has also declined. A separate Canada Statistics summary, released in October 2021, said that in 2019 only about 20% of Canadians attended group religious activities at least monthly. This compares to 40% of Canadians who reported the same in 1985. Women were more likely than men to declare a religious affiliation, as were people born in older generations.

The religiously unaffiliated now make up 34.6% of the Canadian population, according to Statistics Canada’s latest report.

Some regions are less affiliated than others. Almost 60% of the people in Yukon are religiously unaffiliated, as are 52% of those in British Columbia.

Non-Christian religious adherents make up 12.1% of Canada’s population.

About 5% of Canadians are Muslim. Their population has doubled in size since 2011. About 2.3% of Canadians are Hindu and 2.1% are Sikh. The Jewish population numbers about 335,000, a slight increase over the last decade, but their proportion of Canadians has declined to 0.9%. They are slightly outnumbered by self-identified Buddhists.

Non-Christian religious adherents disproportionately live in large urban centers and their numbers have increased largely due to immigration. They make up 16.3% of the population in Ontario, with Muslims and Hindus the most populous. About 16.7% of British Columbia residents adhere to non-Christian religions and Canada’s Sikhs have their largest presence there.

Canada’s 1.8-million indigenous people are largely unaffiliated, with 47% reporting no affiliation. About 26.9% identified as Catholic. Only 81,000 people overall, about 0.2 percent of the total Canadian population, reported adhering to a traditional Indigenous spirituality.

Catholic involvement with government-subsidized residential schools for Indigenous Canadians has come under scrutiny in recent decades because of these schools’ efforts to eradicate indigenous culture and assimilate children to the dominant culture. Many of the schools were poorly run and poorly funded, while staff could be negligent or even abusive towards children. Thousands of children died of injury, neglect or diseases like tuberculosis, often at a rate far higher than other children in Canada.

In 2021, reports suggested there were several hundred unmarked graves at two former residential schools. Though the suspected graves have not been exhumed, the reports led to a wave of protests and burnings and vandalism of churches, including churches that still serve Indigenous communities.

The number of hate-based incidents targeting Catholics increased by more than 260% between 2020 and 2021, according to crime figures from Statistics Canada.

Pope Francis visited Canada in 2022 to apologize for Catholics’ role in the residential schools.

In addition to abuse scandals, Canadian law and culture continue to diverge from Catholic belief on abortion, euthanasia, and LGBT issues. There are also disputes over the identity and effectiveness of Catholic schools, some of which are state-funded but supervised by elected lay Catholics, not Church officials. These could be other factors in the decline of Catholic numbers in Canada.


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Canada’s bishops apologize for abuses at residential schools

September 24, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kamloops, Canada, in February 2015. Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Ottawa, Canada, Sep 24, 2021 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of Canada issued a formal apology to the Indigenous population of the country for the abuses of the residential school system, and said they would request that Pope Francis make a pastoral visit to the nation.

“We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary this week, take this opportunity to affirm to you, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools,” said the statement, which was issued Sept. 24 following the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual plenary assembly. 

“We commit ourselves to continue accompanying you, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land,” said the apology. “Standing in respect of your resiliency, strength and wisdom, we look forward to listening to and learning from you as we walk in solidarity.”

The bishops noted that “many Catholic religious communities and dioceses” were involved in the residential school system, “which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples.”

“We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual,” said the bishops. “We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day.”

The residential school system was set up by the Canadian federal government, beginning in the 1870s, as a means of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children and stripping them of familial and cultural ties. Catholics and members of Christian denominations ran the schools, although the Catholic Church or Catholics oversaw more than two-thirds of the schools. The last remaining federally-run residential school closed in 1996.

While many Catholic dioceses and religious orders in Canada that were directly involved in the administration of the residential school system have already apologized, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wished to “express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.” 

The bishops said they “are fully committed to the process of healing and reconciliation” with the Indigineous population, and pledged to “undertake fundraising in each region of the country to support initiatives discerned locally with Indigenous partners.” The Diocese of Calgary has already announced one such fund. 

“Furthermore,” said the bishops, “we invite the Indigenous Peoples to journey with us into a new era of reconciliation, helping us in each of our dioceses across the country to prioritize initiatives of healing, to listen to the experience of Indigenous Peoples, especially to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools, and to educate our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality.”

Additionally, the bishops said they will assist with the work of identifying those who were found buried in unmarked graves at the sites of the former residential schools by providing access to documents and other records. 

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Canadian body set up to investigate abuses in the schools, at least 4,100 children died from “disease or accident” at the schools. That number was called into question this summer following the discovery of numerous unmarked graves at the sites of former schools throughout the country. It is unclear who was buried in the graves, as well as their manner of death. 

One of the commission’s calls in its 2015 report was for a formal papal apology for the Church’s role in the residential school system. Pope Francis has repeatedly refused to offer this apology, but will meet with a delegation of Indigenous Canadians this December. 

“Having heard the requests to engage Pope Francis in this reconciliation process, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders/knowledge keepers, and youth will meet with the Holy Father in Rome in December 2021,” said the bishops. 

“Pope Francis will encounter and listen to the Indigenous participants, so as to discern how he can support our common desire to renew relationships and walk together along the path of hope in the coming years,” they said, pledging to work with both the Holy See and Indigenous partners “on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey.”