Catholic News Now Here has an article on the publication of the recent government house census that was conducted in 2015. The number of those with some form of belief has diminished greatly from the past. This is similar to what is seen in other countries. Statistics show that in 2005 the number of believers was 52.9% of the population but in the latest census the number was 43.9%. The majority of Koreans have no formal association with any religion.
Catholics have in recent years seen more Catholics listed in the government census than the Church's own statistics but this year we have a big change and a shock. The number of Catholics has been reduced to 7.9 % of the population from 10.8% in 2005.
19.7% of the population belongs to Protestantism which is an increase from 2005 where it was 18.2%. Buddhism in 2005 was 22.8% and in 2015 decreased to 15.5%. The largest religious group are the Protestants and the total number of Christians would be 27.6 % of the population.
The method of making the census this time was different from the last. A priest member of the Bishop's pastoral research center is quoted as saying it was more accurate than the past. Not surprising that the numbers are lower than the registered Catholics in the country. Many of those baptized while in the military, he says, don't even remember being baptized and many don't even remember that they are Catholic but all these have parish registers and are counted as Catholics.
He feels that the last religious census of 2005 was not reliable. The Church has aged faster than the society at large. In the 2005 census when the homes were visited canvassers would be dealing with the elderly family members and he guesses, would inflate the number of Catholics.
Many may get the impression that Korea is an atheistic country with such a large number of no-religion but the no-religion in Korea are not like those in the West. Shamanism is very much part of the culture. Korea has a very small number of those who call themselves Confucian but the culture has been strongly influenced by Confucianism. You have those who do not consider Confucianism a religion. Any census that attempts to determine the number of religious believers is always going to have problems.
We will no doubt have the atheists uniting in the future but Korea is still a very religious society with a strong feeling for the unseen and the spiritual. This will undoubtedly change since the whole world is at the fingertips of our young people.
The census shock was necessary for the Church to begin to look again at the work of evangelizing and the pastoral work of the Church.