|"Let me see, that's the fifteenth person today making it,|
ermm, umm, a 65% increase over last Saturday's stats."
Madeleine Teahan of The Catholic Herald has reported on an apparent 65% increase in the number of Catholics receiving the sacrament in our Cathedrals in England and Wales. You may read it HERE.
Some, even, are attributing this phenomenon to the coming of Pope Benedict's successor, Pope Francis.
Well, I genuinely would not like to pour cold water on this report especially, as an increase was verified by Fr Tim Finigan at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen.
But, I have to take issue with the research processes as carried out by the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales.
It seems that they carried out this exercise by email and phone.
Well, that's OK but you do need to have a sound understanding of research methodology before you set off down this path.
Put crudely, you need to know how to frame your question; you see, there is a desire in human nature, to give a response that is pleasing to the questioner.
Therefore, using a commercial example, you might pose the question: "Have you seen an increase in the sale of widgets since we launched our television advertising campaign?"
This will undoubtedly produce a "yes" response, or, at least, a strong bias in that direction.
So, if the Bishops' man or woman phrased the question linking it to the advent of Pope Francis, I am not exactly saying "Phew! Blow me down! That is amazingly good news"
Furthermore, I am rather sceptical about forming a quantitative research conclusion from an exercise that, by its nature, is informal.
Have priests in Cathedrals been keeping a tally over the past few years, as to how many attendees there have been at the 4pm Confessions session?
I very much doubt it and, unless they have done this, it is impossible to arrive at an accurate result figure.
Fr Tim's response, however, falls into the qualitative category and is perfectly good and fine. He has noticed an increase in young adults (especially) attending Confession and that is excellent news and accurate research on a quality rather than quantity basis.
So the report from the Bishops must be viewed with some reserve.
As a learned professor friend of mine said to me yesterday: "Of course, if you start from a base of zero then just five confessions is going to look like a bxxxxy good result!"