HISTORIC cases of sexual abuse, and the subsequent Royal Commission inquiry, has impacted the number of believers, Bathurst’s religious leaders say.
The number of Bathurst people who say they are not religious has tripled compared to 15 years ago, recently-released 2016 Census data shows.
In Bathurst, 22.4 per cent (9532 people) of the population said they have ‘no religion’ on the form, this has spiked dramatically compared to the 9.6 per cent (3435 people) who selected this answer in the 2001 Census.
Catholicism has recorded the biggest fall in Bathurst believers – from 35.4 per cent in 2001 to 31.1 per cent last year.
The percentage of Anglicans in Bathurst has also dropped – from 26.3 per cent to 19.2; while Presbyterian and Reformed has fallen from 5.2 to 4.2 per cent.
Dean of the Catholic Cathedral of St Michael and St John, Father Paul Devitt, said people are often more honest in today’s society about their lack of belief.
He said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has had a negative impact on all churches.
“There’s a genuine suspicion about any organisation and the church will also come into that,” Fr Devitt said.
There’s a genuine suspicion about any organisation.Father Paul Devitt
“Soul-searching needs to happen within churches.”
Fr Devitt said right across Western society there has been a decline in religious practice.
Deacon of All Saints’ Cathedral Reverend Rosie Wynter said she was not surprised by the decline in believers.
She said there are complex reasons why people no longer believe, including busy lifestyles, disillusionment and “bad stewardship” by some church leaders.
“The abuse that’s gone on in the church is a disgrace. There’s been a lot of damage done,” she said.
Rev Wynter said in modern society there was also a lack of emphasis on teaching religion in homes and schools.
“The Bathurst Diocese is looking at it very deeply and how we can change, how we can move forward and be relevant,” she said.
Rev Wynter said encouraging people back to church would be a slow process.
“Healing has to take place from the [community’s] disillusionment,” she said.