Our changing American church: bigger, more diverse

There are some fascinating nuggets in this look at the recent CARA report on “The Changing Face of Catholic Parishes,” — including some valuable statistics on the diaconate:

The study found that lay ecclesial ministry — somewhat formally defined in recent years as working at least 20 hours a week in paid parish employment as a recognized and authorized church minister — has continued to grow, as has the number permanent deacons.

Updating several previous studies, the latest CARA study estimated that the number of lay ecclesial ministers in U.S. Catholic parishes has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, rising from less than 22,000 in the early 1990s to nearly 38,000 last year.

The number of diocesan and religious priests continues to decline — and still fewer are available for regular pastoral ministry as more of them reach retirement years, the study found.

One chart in the study shows the increase in permanent deacons since 1980 largely offsetting the decrease in priests, but the drop in women religious over those years was tremendous — from about 130,000 in 1980 to 56,000 in 2010.

Reflecting the growing lack of sufficient priests to staff all parishes, 5 percent of the parishes were led by a parish life coordinator — a deacon, religious brother or sister, or layperson — rather than a resident pastor.

More than half of all parish staff, including those not engaged in liturgical, catechetical or other ministries, were women.

Among paid staff engaged in ecclesial ministry, only 30 percent were diocesan or religious priests. Thirty-seven percent were laywomen, 5 percent women religious, 14 percent permanent deacons, 13 percent laymen, and 1 percent religious brothers.

Read it all. There’s much food for thought here.


  1. Anchoress posted on this revealing data from a project involving the number-crunchers at Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate:

    The latest findings by the “Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership” project, a collaborative effort with Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, are illuminating. In the last 40 years, the Catholic population has increased by 75 percent; it has grown by 50 percent since 1990. More important, Catholic attendance at Mass is up 15 percent since 2000. And in the last five years, contributions have increased by 14 percent. It is also important to note that there has been a 40 percent increase in Latinos in the Church over the past five years.

    Shedding more light on the statistics is a study released a few months ago by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion. Its “Landscape Survey” found that of those Catholics who have left the Church, roughly half became unaffiliated while the other half became Protestant. Regarding the latter half, only 23 percent did so because of the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality; only 16 percent left because of the way women are treated. Importantly, two-thirds of these Catholics elected to join a Protestant evangelical church.

    In other words, disaffected Catholics who left for another religion opted to join a more conservative church. That they did not run down the block in search of a mainline denomination—one that entertains the liberal agenda on issues governing sexuality and women—is telling.

    Could give further insight on earlier post on women leaving on what some women who not longer come to Catholic Churches have elected as their substitute. It gets old for many to hear the constant bashing of their values by the left in the Catholic Church which they do not have to hear in some of the strong evangelical churches.

  2. deaconnorb says:

    Greta:this is more a response to you rather than the post by Dcn Greg

    I have worked with Catholics who have left to join an Evangelical Churches — and then returned home — for over thirty years. While I am not sure my insights can be as definitive as your’s have been about “conservative” versus “liberal” theologies, I have noticed some fascinating trends you do not mention:

    –Evangelical churches tend to be more “family friendly” that Roman Catholic parishes. Their day-care centers; pre-school programs; after-school programs; child-liturgies; post-divorce affirmation programs; even programs for “Christian Fathering” are all strongly supported.

    –Evangelical churches are “evangelical.” They tend to have dynamic preachers who are deeply in love with Sacred Scripture and are not afraid to affirm that love. One has to search hard to find a Roman Catholic priest or deacon who has that same talent.

    –Evangelical churches are “welcoming.” New visitors are spotted immediately and are sincerely welcomed. If you come in with a glum face, by the end of the service you will surely be smiling.

    –Finally, most evangelical churches have a vibrant music ministry.

    NOW: what they do not have is the “real-presence” in the Eucharist but, you know, that does not mean anything to them. They could not possibly care less about that — even those who were raised Catholic and should know better..

  3. Deaconnorb

    I know a number of Catholics who attended some of the parishes I have been involved with over the years prior to my current Dominican parish who have left to find a church that was not in constant dissent from Catholic Church teaching. Some in frustration have found strong conservative evangelical churches and thrived within them. However, I was surprised by the study which seemed to point out a far larger number in this catagory than what many would have expected given the press around things like women priests and women reproductive issues or gay rights. The numbers who left for those reasons is relatively small while being much higher for those seeking strong traditional Catholic teaching. In our area, many have gone over to my current parish because it offers that solid Catholic Church teaching. It is one of the largest in the area and we now have 6 Dominican Priests and currently 18 first year novices with 14 more coming in next year and having to be housed in a retreat center. it is amazing how this parish has grown and holds on to the faithful with full church at each of the 6 weekend masses. There is also a large crowd during the week with well over 400 at daily mass. The people here are well schooled in actual Catholic teaching and around election time, they are well schooled on the non negotiable issues of concern to Catholic voters and those who claim to be Catholic. In the last election, one democratic congressman who claimed to be Catholic and pro life voted for ObamaCare and was called on it losing his seat in the process and our parish had hundreds working to see him lose his seat.

    You are right on many of the points you make in your post, but the liturgy is what keeps Catholics in the fold over many of the programs of this world. Eucharistic adoration multiple times every week if not ongoing is a must for a parish. If it is not there and well attended, you have a problem in the parish to start with.

  4. deaconnorb says:


    My work with “Ex-catholic-evangelical-fundamentalists” goes back over thirty years and I have worked with a LOT of them.

    My long experience in this work convinces me that conversion is always a three step process:

    –The first step is always at the “heart” level. For some reason personal to that specific soul — maybe divorce, maybe death of a close family member, maybe a pending marriage — a person goes through a good old fashioned “born-again” experience (what we Catholic folk call a “metanoia”). This shakes them up and they reach out to folks who can help them sort out the powerful effects of that crisis. That is where they “find Jesus” in someone else.

    –A very wise Catholic priest-pastor once stated that WHERE folks have this “Jesus experience” is crucial. If they find conversion in a Catholic setting, they will stay Catholic; if they find conversion outside of Catholicism, they will go there. That is the second step — it is always at the “hand” level — joining folks in a vibrant Christian community. I often describe this process as starting with a question: “Are you some kind of fluke or are there more Christians out there whose faith also means something very important to them?”

    –NOW after the “newbie” gets settled and comfortable in their new environment, they ask themselves the question: “How come I never saw this whole scene before? Who are these people and why are they here? I need to learn more.” This is the last step — the “head” level — where our intellect catches up with all of this.

    You mention that you are active in your local Dominican parish. Why not have a serious talk with your RCIA team? You will find that while the team may not be able to articulate these specific three steps, it is a process they see and use all the time. Conversion first; then community; and finally the intellect catches-up with it all.

    Let me return to my earlier premise. The evidence you personally see of folks using intellectual reasons — rejecting women “priests,” or women’s “reproductive rights,” or even gay rights is the LAST — but maybe most public and obvious — step. It is the reason these folks use to explain why they have moved, BUT it is rarely the actual reason that prompted them to reach-out in the first place.

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