It’s a problem a lot of Catholic dioceses are facing, but it seems especially acute in upstate New York.
From the Buffalo News:
More people in Western New York adhere to Catholicism, by far, than any other faith, but clergy sometimes joke that the area’s second-largest denomination also is Catholic.
Its members just don’t show up for Mass.
Often called nominal or cultural Catholics, they identify themselves as part of the faith tradition, but mostly stay away from church.
Some of them will find their way back into the pews today for Palm Sunday and next weekend for Easter Masses, when many area churches get their biggest crowds of the year.
But few are likely to return in the following weeks.
Even though Catholicism requires weekly Mass attendance, Catholics by and large don’t consider it sinful to miss Mass, according to survey studies by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
Priests say they see people all the time who lose their spiritual footing and gradually slip away.
That happens most frequently when a person or a family moves and doesn’t quickly connect with a new parish community, said the Rev. Michael H. Burzynski, pastor of St. Mary of the Cataract in Niagara Falls.
“The first week they feel guilty. The second week they feel less guilty. The third week, it doesn’t bother them at all,” Burzynski said.
American bishops have been trying to get their arms around the problem for years, and the trend appears to be unrelenting, particularly in old Catholic strongholds in the Northeast.
“We’re getting more and more like the European church,” said the Rev. Martin Pable, a Catholic author and the recent keynote speaker at an evangelization conference at Christ the King Seminary in the Town of Aurora. “The fall-off rate is not as much as the European church, but we’re on the same track.”
Consider the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which encompasses eight counties in Western New York. The estimated number of Catholics in the diocese dropped by 12.7 percent from 2000 and 2010 — more than four times greater than the region’s general population loss.
Even worse, parishioners “registered” at parishes in the diocese declined by 19 percent.
Fewer than three-quarters of all of the area’s Catholics — 466,785 individuals — now are registered in parishes, down from 578,088 in 2000.