Common Questions About Catholics

Catholic Population

How many Catholics are there in Australia?

According to the 2016 Australian Census, the Catholic population was 5,291,817 or 22.6% of the total Australian population.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of Catholics decreased, and the proportion of Catholics in the population also decreased.. In 2011, the Catholic population was 5,439,267 or 25.3% of the total Australian population. In 2006, the Catholic population was 5,126,884 or 25.8% of the total Australian population.


Mass attendance

How many Catholics go to Mass on Sundays?

In 2016, about 623,356 people, or 11.8% of all Australian Catholics, attended Mass on a typical Sunday. We know from the 2016 National Church Life Survey that most people (about 85%) who attend Mass go every Sunday and the percentage of Catholics attending Mass two or three times a month is 8%.

In 2011, about 12.2% of Catholics attended Mass on a typical Sunday.


Dioceses and Parishes

How many dioceses are there in Australia?

There are 34 dioceses in Australia. (A diocese is a section of the Church entrusted to the leadership of a bishop.) There are twenty-eight dioceses based on territorial divisions, five dioceses of Eastern Catholic Churches and one military diocese, where the bishop’s responsibility is the pastoral care of Catholic members of the Australian Defence Forces and their families.


How many parishes are there?

The 2020-21 Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia lists 1388, including 93 belonging to Eastern Catholic Churches.

What are Eastern Catholic Churches?

Almost all of Australia’s 5.3 million Catholics belong to what is called the Latin Rite or the Western Catholic Church, but there are also around 1.1% of Catholics who belong to Eastern Catholic Churches, often called Eastern Rites. The five largest Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia are the Maronite, Melkite, Ukrainian, Chaldean and Syro-Malabar, each of which has been established as a diocese (or eparchy), with a bishop (or eparch) who is a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. As well as these five Eastern Catholic Churches, there are also four others that have clergy resident in Australia. These are the Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Russian Catholic Churches. There are probably Catholics belonging to other Eastern Rites as well, but they do not gather as distinct, organised Churches (Dixon 2005, p. 49).



How many priests are there in Australia?

The number of priests in Australia in 2020 was 2,896, made up of 1,892 diocesan and 1,004 priests belonging to religious orders (Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia 2020-21, p.761). (Diocesan priests belong to a locality called a diocese and are responsible to the bishop of the diocese or archdiocese, while religious order priests belong to groups such as the Jesuits, Franciscans or Salesians, and are responsible to the leaders of their order. There are about 40 orders of priests in Australia.)

How does this number compare with the past?

The number of priests in Australia peaked at 3,895 in 1971, and was above 3,800 from 1968 till the early 1980s. There has been a decline of around 25% since 1971.

What is the age profile of priests?

There is no complete profile on the age of Australian priests available. A 1996 study found that the average age of diocesan priests working in parishes was 56 years. Figures published by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia’s largest diocese in terms of number of priests, showed that the average age of diocesan priests on appointment (i.e., not including retired priests) had risen from 44 in 1977 to 60 by 2001.

How many men are training to be priests?

In 2020, according to the Official Catholic Directory (p.762), there were 235 men training to be priests in Australia’s diocesan seminaries (i.e. not including those training to be religious order priests). In contrast, there were 546 in 1969. By 1991, that figure had dropped to 172, and then rose again in interceding years since, although fluctuates somewhat from year to year.

What is the ratio of Catholics to each priest in Australia, and how does that compare with the rest of the world? 

The 2020-2021 Official Catholic Directory shows that there were 1,828 Catholics for every priest in Australia. According to the 2018 Statistical Yearbook of the Church (p.109), the number of Catholics per priest by continent was as follows:

Africa: 5,088
North America: 1,997
Central America, Mainland: 7,003
Central America, Antilles: 7,436
South America: 7,181
Asia: 2,157
Europe: 1,672
Oceania (including Australia): 2,318
World: 3,210


Religious Sisters and Brothers

How many religious sisters and brothers are there in Australia?

The 2020-21 Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia records that there are 3,833 religious sisters and 605 religious brothers in Australia. In 2007, there were about 5,700 religious sisters and 1,020 religious brothers in Australia. The sisters belong to orders, or congregations, such as the Josephites (founded by Mary McKillop), the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Family Care Sisters, and many others. In all, there are just under 100 congregations of women religious in Australia and five congregations of brothers, including the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers and the De La Salle Brothers



The Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia: 2020-2021 (National Council of Priests of Australia, 2020). The annual directory is available from NCP National Office or Tel: (03) 5244 3680.

 Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2018 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2020).

The Catholic Community in Australia, Robert E. Dixon (Open Book, 2005) This book is available from the ACBC National Centre for Pastoral Research  (Contact NCPR) , or the Christian Research Association

For more census data:

For more information about Australian Catholic dioceses: Dioceses Information in Australia.