Data from today's Census revealing a fall in the number of people describing themselves as Christians is a "challenge", the Catholic Church has admitted.
However, the Church said the fact that six out of 10 people in England and Wales are still identifying themselves as Christian "is not discouraging".
Responding to the data, a spokesman for the Church said: "Christianity is no longer a religion of culture, but a religion of decision and commitment. People are making a positive choice in self-identifying as Christians."
The census revealed that the number of people describing themselves as Christian has dropped from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011.
Separate polling shows that the Catholic population has remained consistent at 9% of the total population in the last few years.
Ipsos Mori research for Catholic development agency CAFOD in 2008 suggested there were five million Catholics in England and Wales, and around a million attending mass on a weekly basis.
The spokesperson continued: "Catholics play a full part in the country's social and cultural mix, serving the common good.
"In the words of Pope Benedict XVI at Westminster Cathedral during his visit in 2010, 'How much we need, in the Church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a relationship with Jesus Christ'."