English Catholics

English Catholics

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is part of the worldwide Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope. Catholic Christianity was established in what are now England and Wales in the first century AD and in 597, the first authoritative papal mission, establishing a direct link from the Kingdom of Kent to Rome and to the Benedictine form of monasticism, was carried into effect by Augustine of Canterbury.

England adhered to the Catholic Church for almost a thousand years from the time of Augustine of Canterbury but, in 1534, during the reign of King Henry VIII, the greater part of the church, through a series of legislative acts between 1533 and 1536 aligned itself to Henry's new official ecclesial entity, the Church of England, with Henry declaring himself Supreme Head.

Under Henry's son, Edward VI, the Church of England became more influenced by the European Protestant movement but once again came under papal authority during the reign of Queen Mary I in 1555; however, this reunion was short-lived. Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, re-established the Church of England's independence from Rome in a 1559 settlement and reformulated its teaching and practice in the Act of Uniformity. The Catholic Church (along with other non-established churches) continued in England, although it was at times subject to various forms of persecution. For example, the act of being a Jesuit or seminarian was treasonable. "It was now treason to belong to a particular category of person, a remarkable extension of the law." Priests found celebrating Mass were often drawn and quartered rather than burned at the stake. Most recusant members (except those in diaspora on The Continent, in heavily Catholic areas in the north, or part of the aristocracy) practised their faith in secret for all practical purposes until 1832 when the Catholic Emancipation Act came into force. Dioceses (replacing districts) were re-established by Pope Pius IX in 1850. Apart from the 22 Latin Rite dioceses, there is the Eastern Catholic diocese of the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainians.

In the last UK census, in 2001, there were 4.2 million Catholics in England and Wales, some 8 per cent of the population. One hundred years earlier, in 1901, they had represented only 4.8 per cent of the population. The percentage of Catholics was at its highest in the 1981 census, with 8.7 per cent. In 2009 an Ipsos Mori poll found 9.6 percent, or 5.2 million, Catholics in England and Wales. Sizeable Catholic populations include North West England where one in five are Catholic. This includes Liverpool which has the highest proportion of any city in Great Britain at 46 per cent; historically, this is due both to a large influx of Irish migrants after the 1800 Act of Union, in which Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, as well as a high concentration of English recusants living in Lancashire.

Read more about English Catholics:  Hierarchy, Chaplaincies, Eastern Catholic Rites

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