The number of Spaniards self-identifying as Catholics and attending Mass regularly has fallen to a new low, as the Church in the country is also being forced to close convents and monasteries due to a decline in the ranks of active and contemplative religious and a lack of new vocations.

– Number of Catholics drops five percentage points in two months: survey

The data was contained in Spain’s Centre of Sociological Research (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, CIS) social barometer for June 2020, in which 61% of the Spanish population declared themselves to be Catholic.

Although still a significant percentage of people, the number of Spaniards self-identifying as Catholic is the lowest ever recorded in the CIS survey since it began in 1978.

At that time, 90.5% of Spaniards considered themselves to be Catholic.

The data from all the CIS barometers since May 1978 reveal the slow but steady decline in the percentage of the population which identifies as Catholic, whether practicing or not.

There has also been a significant drop in self-declared Catholic identity with respect to April 2020 when the number of Catholics hit 66.8% of the population, as opposed to 61.6% in June.

This collapse of five points in a single quarter may be due to the way the CIS surveyed during the coronavirus crisis, but in any case does not alter the apparently unstoppable downward trend in the number of Spaniards who consider themselves Catholics, which in the early 80s fell below 90% for the first time and since then has not stopped plunging.

The outlook indicates that the number of Catholics in Spain will continue to slump, because in the 18-34 age group, the percentage of agnostics, atheists, non-believers and people who declare themselves to be indifferent to religion now exceeds that of Catholics.

Among those aged 25-34, 62.5% identify as belonging to one or other of the non-religious categories, compared to the 36.1% who identify as Catholics, while in the 18-24 age bracket the percentage of agnostics, atheists, non-believers, and people indifferent religion is 57.2%, compared to the Catholics at 39.4%.

Among Spaniards aged 34 and upwards, there is a majority of Catholics vs. non-believers, but the differences are getting smaller: up to 44 years old, 54% vs. 41%, up to 54 years old, 63% vs. 33%, and up to 64 years old, 66% vs. 31%.

Only among Spaniards aged 65 and older is the percentage who declare themselves to be Catholic in line with the data of the 20th century: 80.4% as opposed to 15% who consider themselves atheists, agnostics or indifferent.

The CIS social barometer also reflects the fact that among those who consider themselves believers, attendance at religious events has also fallen to historic lows.

In March 2020, for example, 65.3% of those surveyed said they “never” or “almost never” attended Mass, compared to 22.2% in 1983.

– Church closed 32 monasteries and convents in 2019, lost 1,828 active and contemplative men and women religious

In a further sign of Spain’s increasing secularisation, the country’s Bishops’ Conference announced early June that 32 monasteries and convents in Spain closed in 2019, leaving the total number of cloistered religious houses at 783, 748 for religious women and just 35 for religious men.

According to Bishops’ Conference figures, the number of cloistered monks and nuns in Spain fell last year by 420 on the previous, making for a total at the end of 2019 of 8,731 religious men (458) and women (8,273).

In the case of the active religious orders, there was also a decrease last year in the number of their members, with the sum total dropping by 1,408 in 2019 to a total of 38,688 – 29,170 religious women and 9,518 religious men.

In other statistics reflecting the state of consecrated life in Spain, the Bishops’ Conference reported that there are 409 religious institutes active in the country (an increase of 2 – one male and one female – on 2018 numbers), divided up into 1,359 men’s communities and 3,426 women’s communities for a total of 4,785 communities (a decrease of 159 compared to 2018 due mostly to the restructuring of orders’ provinces).

40 secular institutes with 2,419 members are also operative presently in Spain, as are 4 institutes of pontifical right with 390 members and 30 associations of diocesan right with 1,400 members, along with 225 consecrated virgins in 43 of the country’s 70 dioceses,

(With reporting by agencies)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.