The Church has the highest retention rate of any denomination, but the lowest rate of conversions

English and Welsh Catholicism in 2016 is a religion mainly of cradle Catholics, according to a new study.

The report finds that 3.8m people in England and Wales identify as Catholic, while 6.2m say they were raised Catholic.

This means Catholics have the strongest retention rate of any Christian denomination in England and Wales – 55.8 per cent of cradle Catholics still identify as Catholic. But the Church also has the lowest rate of conversions: only 7.7 per cent.

The figures come in the first report issued by the Catholic Research Forum, a new initiative of the Benedict XVI Centre at St Mary’s University. The forum aims to provide “academically rigorous and pastorally useful” research.

The report, authored by the centre’s director Dr Stephen Bullivant, is based on data from the British Social Attitudes survey (BSA).

Bullivant told the Catholic Herald: “However depressing our retention stats are, they’re actually the strongest of the main denominations. To put it a bit crudely, it’s a “losing game” for everyone, but we’re doing something less catastrophic than others.”

It offers a statistical picture of Catholicism broken down by region, age, ethnicity, frequency of Mass attendance and several other categories. It also provides a broader account of religion in England and Wales, showing that the fastest-growing churches are those outside the Anglican Communion or the Catholic Church, and that nearly half the population (48.5 per cent) say they have “no religion”.

According to the report, the Catholic population has remained steady over the last 30 years, and is now 8.3 per cent. By contrast, the proportion of the population identifying as Anglican has slipped from 44.5 per cent in 1983 to 19 per cent in 2014.

A common theory is that this is down to immigration. The report finds that, according to the BSA’s categories, there are more people of “Black (African origin)” among the Catholic population than among the general population. The same goes for “Asian (other)”, a category which includes Filipinos and Vietnamese.

Other findings are less encouraging. There are 10 ex-Catholics for each new convert. Six in ten cradle Catholics now attend Mass “never or practically never”.

There are also very few converts who were raised as unbelievers: roughly 99 per cent of all converts were raised in another denomination.

According to the report, 60 per cent of adult Catholics are women, and one in four Catholics who attend Mass weekly are women over 65.

The age group most likely to attend Mass weekly or more often is the over-65s (43 per cent). The group least likely to is 18-24-year-olds, at just 14 per cent.

But the trend is not straightforwardly one of older people being more observant. Perhaps unexpectedly, the 24-45 age group (about 27 per cent weekly Mass attendance) is more observant than those aged 45-64 (about 21 per cent).

The survey found that the most Catholic regions of the country are inner London and the North-West.

The report concludes by saying that further study is needed for some of the facts and trends it reports.

The full report can be read here.