Skip to comments.Is the Bottom Really Falling Out of Catholic Mass Attendance? ..CARA Survey..
Posted on 12/21/2010 7:12:08 PM PST by Salvation
Is the number of Catholics really dropping? Is the bottom really falling out of Catholic Mass attendance? If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I have written several articles and cited several studies that detail an increasingly grave situation for the Church (e.g. HERE). Most of us are familiar with a significant number of Church closings, school closings and the like thought Catholic America. These surely strengthen the view that we are in an increasingly grave condition.
However, there are other views that see the statistics very differently and argue that the number of Catholics is about steady and even slightly growing. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has a blog edited by Mark Gray which presents a more sanguine view of the situation and argues that, while there are concerns, the bottom is not falling out of Catholic Church membership in any statistically significant way. I would like to present excerpts of the CARA blog post and do a little running commentary. As I often do, the CARA material will be in bold, black, italics, and my remarks will be bold text red.
At the end of this post I will still argue that I think we are heading into a grave condition, However, I have great respect for the work of CARA and think their data is an essential reality check that helps us to see what is really going on.
Here then are excerpts of the CARA blog post. The complete post can be read here: CARA Blog Post
Since the end of World War II, on average, 25% of the U.S. adult population has self-identified in national surveys as Catholic (±2 to 3 percentage points attributable to margin of sampling error). This spans many trusted sources from commercial polling by Gallup and others, news media polls, exit polls, and academic surveys such as the General Social Survey and the World Values Survey ..Thus, notice that we are fairly steady in terms of our percentage of the U.S. population. That also means that, as the U.S. population has grown significantly since WW II so have our numbers. In the early 1950s there were about 35 million Catholics in the US. Today there are are over 75 million. This number however does not distinguish between practicing and non practicing Catholics. It is estimated that just over 80% of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday in the 1950s. Today it is estimated that about 25% of Catholics go each Sunday. That means that in the early 1950s about 28 million Catholics were in Church each Sunday. Today that number, even with a growing Catholic population, has dropped to 19.2 million. In other words, almost 9 million fewer Catholics are in Church now as compared to the 1950s.
The chart [at left] tracks growth in the Catholic population percentage from 2% in 1776 (45,000) to 25% in 2010 (77.7 million). The size of the circles represents the total size of the Catholic population ..In the last 40 years, the Catholic population has grown by about 75%. If it did the same in the next 40 years it would be 136 million in 2050 and represent about 31% of the projected U.S. population at that time. This however is an unlikely scenario as overall population growth has slowed in the United States and is expected to slow more as the Baby Boom, and the echoes from it, fade ..The highest projection accounts for differences by race and ethnicity. In recent years, polling has consistently indicated that about 60% to 65% of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States self-identify as Catholic. However, there is also evidence that this percentage is dipping slightly lower. This projection assumes this falls even furtherto only about 55% and that Catholic self-identification among the non-Hispanic population measures about 18.5%. Both assumptions are on the conservative side. However, even with only assuming 55% Catholic identification among Hispanics/Latinos, the rapid growth expected in this sub-group will likely boost Catholic population numbers significantly (this is even the case if it falls further than 55%). This projection leads to an expected growth in the Catholic population of 65% between 2010 and 2050 with a Catholic population total of 128 million in 40 years, representing 29.2% of the total U.S. population. OK, so the bottom line is that our numbers of overall Catholics will continue to grow significantly even using rather conservative premises. It looks like, within forty years we will surely top 100 million Catholics in the US. A huge number overall. However, will they attend Mass and support the work of the Church? What if the U.S. numbers of practicing Catholics drop to European levels which are currently only 10% going to Mass each week. That means there would be only 10 million at Mass on Sunday, a drop of another 9 million. It is not clear that the numbers will drop that low and as well will see, the 25% practicing Catholic number seems to be rather a stable number at this time. If it holds steady then we will see growth in the numbers in our pews each Sunday. But the key question is, will it hold steady or grow? Or will it drop further? That surely depends on us evangelizing and working to restore people to the Sacraments! It may also be affected by other things such as the economy, the emergence (or not) of some significant crisis and so forth. A final factor that is probably hard to guage is what happens to the children and grandchildren of non-practicing Catholics? Will they continue to self-identify as Catholics or will that identity fade as the generations proceed? Its hard to know. Thus, while the overall news of a growing Catholic population looks good, there are on-going questions about how many of them will, in any meaningful way, practice the Catholic faith and/or hand it on to their children and grandchildren.
Question: Didnt Pew find that nearly one in three people raised Catholic leave the faith leading to an astounding one in ten adult Americans who are formerly Catholic? How could the population grow with losses like these? Answer: the one in three finding drawn from the Pew study is consistently quoted without context. Most often the number is used to drive a narrativean undeniable signal of extraordinary crisis ..All things considered, Catholicism does a better job of keeping those raised in the faith than any Protestant denomination (68% of those raised Catholic remain so as adults). The Chart at left shows the data for other denominations. I would like to mine the data deeper on the unaffiliated nones category which I presume refers to the mega church members and/or evangelicals. I have long thought that we too quickly admire the numbers present in mega-churches and have long suspected that they dont keep their members for a long time. I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that people go for a year or so and eventually get bored or disillusioned and move on to another mega-church, then to another. At some point they leave the system altogether and I thus suspect the mega-Church phenomenon will run its course and the numbers overall will diminish in that branch of Zion. But there is good news here if we compare ourselves to other Churches. However, it is still an awful fact that one-third of those raised Catholic later leave the Church and lose the sacraments. This is still an awful number..
The CARA post then addresses the Church closing phenomenon.
..For generations Catholic immigrants have often started their new lives in industrial urban areas. They created parishes where others spoke the same language. Sometimes a Polish parish would be built across from a parish where Italian was the language in use. The sheer number of people involved led to a boom in parish construction and along with schoolsoften in close proximity to each other. Yet, in the post-World War II era things began to shift. Many Catholics moved to the suburbs and away from the Northeast and Midwest into the Sunbelt. New waves of Catholic immigration from Latin America have led to even more growth in the South from coast to coast. The Catholic population has realigned itself in the course of a few generations. People move, parishes and schools do not. Many of the parish and school closings one reads about are in inner cities of the Northeast and Midwest where Catholic population has waned. .OK fair enough. But I would argue that we still cannot avoid the fact that there are 9 million fewer Catholics in Church on Sunday than in the early 1950s. The other factors mentioned here are not insignificant, but neither is 9 million fewer Catholics in the pews. Many of the over-churched urban areas would still have many more thriving parishes if even 50% were still going every Sunday. I surely doubt we would be closing as many parishes, even in depopulated urban centers, if Catholics were, as a whole, more faithful.
Although Catholic Mass attendance did decline in recent decades from a peak in the 1950s, there has been no decline in Mass attendance percentages nationally in the last decade. Just under one in four Catholics attends Mass every week. About a third of Catholics attend in any given week and more than two-thirds attend Mass at Christmas, Easter, and on Ash Wednesday. More than four in ten self-identified Catholics attend Mass at least once a month. So the good news is that we may have bottomed out. You can click to the no decline study at the blue text above and sure enough, the number of weekly attendants has hovered steadily in the low 20%s for over ten years now. There is little guarantee we will stay here however and I remain concerned that the number is going to head even lower as secularism continues to increase and the unchurched generations become even more detatched from things spiritual. Even the great Christmas and Easter holy days are becoming silenced in our culture.
In the end, I find looking at the CARA analysis helpful in distinguishing the true problem. The overall number of Catholics is, in fact rising. However the critical factor seems to be that Mass attendance has dropped dramatically since the 1950s, from over 80% to around 20-25% now. This indicates a very critical condition indeed. Tell me any organization in which 80% of its members were inactive that you would call healthy. Our condition is critical. It is helpful to know that we seem to have stabilized at this number. That is, we havent gone lower in over ten years. However I am concerned that the 25% number is soft and wonder if it will be stable for long. Rampant secularism, the moral malaise of many, a hostile culture etc. all stand to likely erode that number even further.
I pray for a miracle to be sure. I pray for an evangelizing spirit among Catholics. The Church at the upper right of this post is St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago. Ten years ago it was boarded up and slated for demolition. But Opus Dei agreed to take it and brought it back to life. Today it is a thriving parish. But generally, we have become very sleepy and many have barely noticed as large numbers of fellow Catholics have slipped away. In the end, the greatest tragedy is not the numbers per se but the fact that almost 80% of our Catholic brothers and sisters are away from the sacraments, away from the medicine they need, and not having the gospel preached to them. These 80% live in a poisonous culture wherein their mind will increasingly darken without the help of the Sacraments and the Word of God. This is tragic and if we have any real love for them we will not rest until they are restored to Gods house. God asked Cain one day, Wheres your brother? And God still asks this of us. We may protest that we have murdered no one. And yet, many of them will die spiritually if we remain indifferent. Where is your brother? Where?
This song says, Come and go with me to my Fathers House
“Sissified priest” — yes they are out there. Run screaming, for you will find a parish where they love the Lord and worship Him reverently. If we found one in Los Angeles, you surely can. Look for Confession hours posted and 24/7 adoration, if you can. And beautiful candles in the sanctuary.
We found a church run by manly Carmelite priests that is holy, reverential, beautiful, Christ-centered — the way it ‘should’ be. There is a cultural war, don’t you know, that has infected the churches as well as Hollywood. The battle rages; we need true believers in the front lines. Come join in.
So go to the next neighboring Parish. Or the one after that.
I know California isn't necessarily the friendliest place for believing Catholics, but it ain't as bad as some folks portray.
Then why don’t you exercise a little Christian charity and pray for this priest? It cannot be easy speaking your non native language in another country. At least he is there to bring you the Sacraments; many parishes don’t even have that every Sunday.
Due to the LOW numbers of vocations in our own country we have had to look elsewhere.
And just because you don’t like the priest personally is no excuse to miss Mass—read your Catechism. It is still a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. (I have been guilty of that in the past too, so this is just a friendly reminder.)
The parochial vicar at my parish is Polish, just newly ordained-—I adore him and would be tempted to belt anyone in the mouth who said what you have said about this priest.
All of our Popes have had “accents” when speaking English—and when I hear my parochial vicar saying Mass I am reminded of Pope John Paul II-—I loved him very much.
I would like to see more fire and brimstone myself but the Church is turning herself around and standing up for Herself. (Witness the bishop in Arizona who took severed ties with that CINO hospital yesterday.)
Please reconsider and come Home. We want you back, but it is up to you. (And one you will have to explain to Christ when you leave this world, you know.)
I had several replies to my post #10 above asking me to get myself back to Mass. I just can’t do it. Not here in my small town. I used to attend St. James in Redondo Beach, CA, where the Priest was awesome. I attended nearly every Sunday. When I was troubled I scheduled private times to speak to him for advice. I loved that parish. And the parish where I grew up, Church of the Resurrection in Pittsburgh, PA was the same way. I was an integral part of the Church.
Here in our small California farming town I just can’t do it. Even though Mexicans are a minority in our town, the vast majority of the attendees at the Catholic Church are Mexicans, as is the Priest... and it seems that every one of them pray to the god of political correctness and government cheese. I have nothing in common with them. I could no more ask him for advice about life than I’d ask a child how to build a rocket ship. He just doesn’t have the communications skills or the cultural background knowledge.
Some have pointed out that Church is between me and God, but I see God everywhere else... and scant little of Him at this particular Church. I need Church to be a community. That’s why I go... to share something special with my community. Without the community aspect, I can just as well speak to God in my workshop or back yard.
From what I’ve seen of Catholic Priests here in our town, the measuring stick has gotten pretty short at the Seminaries. My apologies to everyone... I’m just not the type to go to a Church unless I look up to the Priest.
The basic problem...Is 30 years of lousy catechesis and liberalism infecting the church.
Firm up the core and the blessings will flow out like a river.
MarinteBrat, the Catholic Church is very large, comprised of 22 churches of which the largest is the Western (Latin or RC) Church. For the past 18 years, I have resided in one of the most "progressive" dioceses in the US. The pastor at our last parish passed away and was replaced by one of the bishop's hand selected priests. He was all about appearance and nothing to do with substance. As freeper Prokopton noted above, I continued to attend Mass at this very large parish despite some obvious liturgical abuses, until they effected the students I was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. At that point, I stepped forward and began to address them one by one. I tried to solicit assistance from other parishioners but they were fearful of losing a priest in a diocese that was closing churches. I even took on the bishop and prevailed.
It was watching a EMHC drop a consecrated host on the sanctuary floor, that sent me packing. I will spare you the details. It was then that I discovered two Eastern Catholic Churches within proximity of home and set off to visit them. I began with prayer, asking our Lord to guide me to a holy priest, a reverent liturgy and a community in need of my God-given gifts. IOW, I asked our Lord for His guidance, while committing myself to cooperating with His needs.
Nearly 8 years ago, I attended Mass at a Maronite Catholic Church and have never left. In the midst of the darkness of this diocese, St. Ann's shines like a beacon of light. I was never one to get involved but shortly after arriving at this Eastern Catholic Church, the pastor asked for my assistance in raising funds to restore the 100+ year old windows and facade of a 160 y/o church the parish had purchased for their expanding community. Despite astronomical odds (only 15 grants are awarded each year and more than 300 applicants apply), we received those monies. I was elected to the Parish Council, invited to join the women's sodality and, 4 years ago, made Director for Religious Education.
Words are insufficient to describe the community spirit that prevails at this very small parish (we are less than 100 families). Yesterday, our bishop came for a pastoral visit, to hear confessions, pray the Divine Liturgy and lead us on day 7 of the Christmas Novena. Afterwards, EVERYONE was invited over to the rectory for an incredible spread of food and deserts, all prepared by a small group of women. Some RC visitors accepted the invitation and were moved to tears by the bishop's homily, the metanoia of his prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and especially by his approachability afterwards. They plied him with questions about the Eastern Catholic Churches and he graciously educated them.
I can't begin to tell you how much my life has improved since joining this parish. It is like an extended family. We care and pray for each other. When someone is sick, we call, write and visit. When someone dies, we all turn out for the funeral. When asked, we pray for each other in good times and bad; we rejoice at the birth of children and celebrate their Baptisms, as a community. Like the early christian communities, we look out for each other and worry when we don't hear from someone for a while. THIS is true christian faith in action.
I noticed that you live in CA. There is a wonderful Maronite Catholic Church near San Diego - St. Ephrem's in El Cajon. There are other Eastern Catholic Churches in Northern California. And no doubt there are many others as well. Our Lord said: "Seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you". Don't waste another minute. Take out the yellow pages and start searching. If you would like more information on the Eastern Catholic Churches, drop me a freepmail.
Christmas Blessings to you all!
I am not sure what you experience and background at church is, but I think it's important to remember that God doesn't interact with us all in the exact same way. Having a good priest is not just a trifling matter. They are doctors of souls and often God talks to us through them. However, in some areas priests are such bad examples that the mass itself becomes a spiritually painful an experience for many Catholics to endure. If attending mass causes unnecessary spiritual pain without helping the patient, then people won't go. Period. A bad priest like a bad doctor can be a major cause of this pain at mass. If you don't trust the doctor at the hospital are you going to go take the medicine he gives you? Mass is a medicine for us when administered correctly, but like medicine it must be administered correctly or it may be harmful to the patient.
Many masses are conducted in a scandalous way which harmful for many Catholics to handle. In fact, in many areas it can be near impossible to find a mass done properly. There are many priests and even bishops who are liberal progressives. They are often bad examples and preach false doctrines, and if a person cannot feel the presence of God in his own ministers why would they feel comfortable coming to mass? We need good priests. Pray for the ones we have to be strengthened and for the ones we need to be prepared.
Remember that God doesn't communicate and touch everyone in the same way. So your experiences with grace won't necessarily be the same as mine. Priests are one of the major ways that God touches people with Grace and without good priests to channel that grace I don't think that one can undo this crisis of Mass attendance.
You lucky bum. I wish there were more Eastern Rite Churches around here. It's so hard to find them. Luckily, beautiful Traditional Latin Masses have started to pop up in recent years.
I’ve always been one to look for God in the outdoors. There have been times in my adult life when I’ve attended Mass regularly, but it has always been those times when I found a Priest with whom I could relate... as a friend or mentor, not just as a guy who recites the words while on the Altar.
Those times that I’m not in regular attendance I’m still regularly contemplating God, Jesus and the nature of existence. I thank God every day for the gift of my sentience and free will, while also praying to be an integral part of Him again soon. I thank Jesus every day for being what I like to consider as my lawyer in the courtroom of God’s justice. I do not fear the sneaky words of evil — talk to my lawyer first. :)
Those times when I’m away from the Church, my favorite place to be close to God is on a mountain top or in the desert with my telescope. (I’m a fanatically avid amateur astronomer) It makes me feel just as fulfilled as after attending a great service with a full choir, honest to God pipe organ, and an awesome sermon.
But no matter how far I roam, and how many nights I spend under the stars, I’ll always be a Catholic and come back to the Church. I’ll always feel love and admiration towards the wonderful Nuns who taught me in school, and the Priests who were our spiritual guides. I dearly miss the grown-ups from when I was a kid. Those Priests and Nuns were selfless men and women doing God’s work every day. Performing the small miracle of making me who I am today.
Yes, the Church can become extended family which makes the the past decade pretty rough for some. My single friends have tried to find ways to be active in both parish and community groups. They are wonderful though some have stopped or were stopped in their activity.
In our parish over the past decade we actually had 2 priests in succession given warrants by the Philly DA in a public manner that hit regional and national news. One was a favorite of the children, the other a few years after, the parish pastor. The parish council and many eminent individuals had gone to the archdiocese with info for many years about the pastor to no avail.
It took the Philly DA to bring charges which led to defrocking. The parish lost many people and many families but the rural area had just become the outer ring of suburbia and new people were moving into the area so it didn’t show in a head count.
In the time between the two incidents the Tabernacle was moved to the side and the Presider’s seat was placed in the center where the Tabernacle had been.
I think you put way too much on mortal men.
God is the only "doctor" and the only cure. Priests are more like receptionists at the doctors office. They try to make sure that people who are sick can see the doctor. You wouldn't expect a doctors office receptionist to cure you. Even if they were annoying, you would not let a bad receptionist prevent you from seeing the doctor who can cure you.
Mass is to commune with God, not the priest. You can talk to the priest anytime and a good relationship with a devout priest is a wonderful thing, but it does not come close in importance to your relationship with God.
I can't imagine at judgment time when God asks "where have you been? Why have you not visited my house?" that an acceptable answer will be "I didn't like the priest".
Good Luck, God Bless You and Merry Christmas.
“If attending mass causes unnecessary spiritual pain without helping the patient, then people won’t go.”
This is so true, especially whe you sense real evil, such as Fr Malachi Martin wrote about in Windswept House. I have seen what this does to a once vibrant parish that had brought 100s of converts in the previous decade in which the pastor was really saintly and beloved well beyond parish borders.
Sounds like a cop-out. It looks like you live in CA. So do I. Unless you live in a remote community, surely there are other parishes where you can attend Mass.
The purpose of Mass is to worship God. Some priests are charismatic personalities while others are plain boring. You do not attend Mass for priestly entertainment. You attend Mass to worship God.
I attend Mass in a parish where I have taken exception to the manner in which the pastor administers the parish. It is not a matter of his teaching but rather his poor administrative skills. I and others have spoken to him about this matter in a very direct and forthright manner, and he has chosen to ignore all of us. Just the same, most still are active members of the parish. Others have gone over to the neighboring parish. One day, the priest will no longer be pastor, but we still will be active parishioners. In the meantime, we work around his deficiencies and we pray for him.
I might understand part of what you are saying for our church at one time had a priest from Sri Lanka with a terrible accent. Very difficult to understand his homilies.
HOWEVER, just as your priest of Hispanic descent, he was still ordained by a Bishop; his hands were annointed with oil; he was qualified to administer the Sacraments; and he was very orthodox. In fact, some people thought he was too hard-lined and walked too narrow a road.
So in my way of thinking you have two alternatives here — other than not attending Mass — because that is a mortal sin.
First of all get yourself to Confession and confess this. Maybe in a neighboring parish. I know people that drive over 60 miles to attend Mass with a priest they understand. It’s no longer considered ‘ugly’ or unmannerly to church-shop.
Your second choice is to recognize that your priest is duly ordained and sanctified. Your prayers at Mass are between you and God. You might get involved in the parish and find out what really is happening there.
But you are always a Catholic — so I’ll see you at midnight Mass somewhere, OK?
** We need good priests. Pray for the ones we have to be strengthened and for the ones we need to be prepared.**
Do you pray for vocations? Do you talk to your children about a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated religious life?
**Yes, the Church can become extended family which makes the the past decade pretty rough for some. My single friends have tried to find ways to be active in both parish and community groups. **
Yes, we are all members of the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. with God, there is no timeline!
My parish is looking toward building a larger hall, building a larger church, expanding everywhere.
Our attendance is exploding.
If you are in my area, FReepmail me and I will give you the location and the times of Masses.
All are welcome!
For example, there was something for everyone to do at Thanksgiving. We delivered nearly 1600 Thanksgiving meals with a little over 100 for sit down dinner.
At Christmas, it’s reversed. We have a huge crowd for a sit down meal and deliver around 200 meals.
**Then why dont you exercise a little Christian charity and pray for this priest? **
The caucus label was removed because the article compares between Catholic and non-Catholic.
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