Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

A while back I remember a copy of survey questions, emanating from the diocesan bureaucracy, floating around our common room. It struck me, even without reading it through, as an exercise either in futility, at best, or potentially wilful pot-stirring at worst. After that I gave no more thought to it.

Alas, its results have been released under the name of Paul Inwood. The report makes some desultory attempts at being impartial and even-handed but largely fails in that endeavour. It tends to confirm both my initial musings. You can read it here.

Others better than I can dissect it if they choose to do so. One section will suffice here. The section on the “language of the texts” (pp.9-11) has the equivalent of 8 paragraphs describing (in obsessive detail) negative comments, and the equivalent of 2 paragraphs at the end with the positive comments. It is clear that the editorial preference of this report favours the negative. This is confirmed in the conclusion when Mr Inwood opines:

The final outcome, however, as evidenced from the overall reactions summarised above, is clearly weighted towards the negative, with narrative reactions indicating just how bleak the landscape is for many. The majority are disappointed and hurt, even angry, and remarks about the deleterious effect the texts have had on their prayer lives are both moving and disturbing. At a more prosaic level, it also appears from many comments that church attendance is haemorrhaging as a result of the introduction of the new translation.

That something so tendentious and self-serving could come from a paid diocesan employee is food for thought. His conclusions may well be a justifiable assessment of the survey, and that might be telling in some circumstances. But wait… some context is enlightening.

At the outset Mr Inwood admits that “a significant number” of responses came from outside the boundaries of the diocese of Portsmouth, including some from overseas or from temporary visitors. That alone should make us wonder how representative this survey actually is of the true balance of opinion in the diocese. What rather confirms that it is most definitely not a reliable gauge of opinion within the diocese is in the very final paragraph (p.18):

Although the final number of responses received is not enormous (a total of 307), they appear to be broadly typical of what has been heard in parishes all over the country. It is to be hoped that the Bishops will indeed not file them away but take appropriate action.

The total number of responses is 307, out of a diocese with an estimated Catholic population of 192,000: that is 0.16%   It is freely admitted that of this paltry total of 307 responses, a “significant number” are from those not part of the Church in this diocese. Mr Inwood offers no evidence at all for his claim that the survey accords with national opinion. A survey with a greater number of respondents, and executed far more rigorously, while admittedly from the USA, tells a far different story to this one. The American context may involve factors lacking here, catechesis perhaps, but its results tend to demand that Mr Inwood provide evidence for his peremptory assessment of the national Catholic mood.

Ironically, given its insurmountable inadequacies, what Mr Inwood hopes to avoid is precisely the fate that this survey deserves: to be filed away. It hardly justifies any action by the bishops against the new Missal, even if there were action able to be taken. Liturgy and doctrine are not products of popular surveys at any time, and that such a deficient survey can be touted as justification for action against the 2011 Missal is the stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.

Neither Bishop Philip, the diocese nor the wider Church are in any way well served by this flawed survey and report, and at a time of financial constraint for the ordinary person one might ask if it was a judicious use of the faithful’s money.

Advent blessings.

6 thoughts on “Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

  1. As I commented on the Tablet’s largely information-free article about this survey, Mr Inwood’s own estimate is that about 2/3rds of the responses are from within Portsmouth diocese. (See http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2012/12/12/diocesan-missal-survey-report-goes-live/#comment-598093.)

    So that means that about 206 people surveyed live in the diocese, and thus we can assume that around 103 people – about 0.3% of the active Catholic population of 34,551 (2011 directory figure) – don’t like the new translation. “Not enormous” indeed. And If one takes the estimated Catholic population of 163,076 from the 2011 directory, the percentage of unhappy people goes down to about 0.06%!

    Perhaps it’s time for Mr Inwood to make use of the nice retirement nest-egg he must have saved up by now…?


  2. Thank you, Matthew, for your clarifications, which are most helpful. They provide still an underwhelming, tiny percentage behind what is held up as somehow representative. I had not seen the Pray Tell blog’s story, and I do not often read the Tablet.

    For the record, your figure for the total Catholic population in the diocese is markedly lower than the one I used. Yours is from the Directory, which I could not lay hands on as I typed. Instead, rather lazily, I cribbed the figure used in the Vatican bulletin announcing Bishop Philip’s appointment. Your figure is probably closer to the mark. Either way, however, the survey proves equally ineffectual.



  3. Fr. Hugh,

    I cannot recollect any survey as to the feelings of congregants upon the introduction of: The Dialogue Mass; initial changes to The Old Mass; still less upon the introduction NOM and that is not to mention the obliteration of The Lectionary of the time.

    Yet we have some miniscule corrections to the NOM and discourse is raised world-wide? Of course the ‘Pro Multis’ situation is important.


  4. I think that you must also add into the mix Mr Inwood’s own notoriety as someone who has advertised his opposition to the new translation widely, so I suspect that few who disagreed with him would think it worth contributing, whilst those who shared his negativity would flock at his call.

    Sad, not many flocked!


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