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Rockhampton diocese shows small growth in Catholic numbers as others shrink

Pastoral needs: Rockhampton Bishop Michael McCarthy joined 170 delegates for the Rockhampton Diocesan Assembly 2019.

ROCKHAMPTON is one of the few dioceses in Australia that has seen an increase in Catholic numbers in recent years, while Brisbane numbers have dropped slightly in line with a national trend.

Drawing on Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 2016 Census, new reports prepared by the National Centre for Pastoral Research provide insights into the demographics of the Catholic population in all 28 geographical dioceses. 

The reports show that the lives of Catholics, individually and collectively, can vary widely in different parts of the country.

Overall, Australia’s Catholic population fell – both numerically and as a proportion of the overall population – between 2011 and 2016,

Rockhampton bucked the trend with an overall Catholic population of 108,566 in 2016, nudging above the 2011 figure of 107,707. 

There were also increases in Wollongong, Sale, Perth and Bunbury dioceses.

In Brisbane numbers dropped by about 8000 from 2011 to 2016, reaching 708,701.  

Catholics make up 20.7 per cent of the total Brisbane population and the median age for Catholics is 39 years.

Brisbane has 281,392 Catholic families, while 58,407 live alone.

Among the wider population of Brisbane, Catholics make up 11.4 per cent of  single parents, 62 per cent of married Catholics live with a partner from another religion, and 19 per cent are living in de facto relationships.

The median annual family income of Catholics in Brisbane in 2016 was $99,484, slightly below the national median figure of $100,270.

While more than three quarters of all Brisbane Catholics were born in Australia, the makeup of those born overseas proves interesting reading.

The top five birthplaces of Catholics overseas are New Zealand, United Kingdom, Philippines, Ireland and other Oceania. 

However in most recent times the top five birthplaces list has shifted to Iraq, Brazil, Columbia, South Korea and other middle east and north African countries.

The reports compare the 2016 statistics with previous Census data, dating as far back as 1996 in some categories. 

Professor Gabrielle McMullen, the chair of the Australian Catholic Council for Pastoral Research, said the reports are “a valuable tool” for a diocese’s pastoral planning. 

Profiles for individual parishes are expected to be available in early 2020. 

“That will continue our work of helping our Church, at all levels, to understand their people better and therefore be more responsive to their needs – in many senses of the word,” National Centre for Pastoral Research director Dr Trudy Dantis said. 

“Knowing information about the median income of people in the local community, for example, can help the parish and the diocese consider how they might reach out to families that are finding life difficult. 

“If a community has a large proportion of people for whom English is their second or third language, the diocese may need to utilise multiple languages to meet that community’s pastoral needs.” 

The diocesan social profiles have been published on the National Centre for Pastoral Research website at

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