If you read nothing else, read Sherry Weddell on the new Pew Poll about the decline in Catholic numbers

If you read nothing else, read Sherry Weddell on the new Pew Poll about the decline in Catholic numbers May 13, 2015

here.

Think of Augustine, who said, “Bad times, hard times — this what people keep saying; but let us live well and times shall be good. We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.”

Hope remains.  Seize it and live faithfully.  Let us see yet where we can change, grow, and seek the coming of the Kingdom.  His work is not  finished by a long shot.

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  • kmk1916

    Hi, Mark,

    Will you please provide the link to this article? Where is her blog, please?
    Thanks!

  • Rob B.

    Amen, amen! In times of trial and decline, the Holy Spirit always comes through with the men and women we need (though usually not the ones we want). Keep calm and be not afraid!

  • Elmwood

    i blame liberalism, from its distorted ideas about the invisible hand of the market and trickle down wealth, to its distorted ideas about human freedom that throws off any notion of restraint. at its root is the exaltation of the individual over the common good.

    liberalism and the church will never work well, despite what weigel, cardinal gibbons and bishop ireland, john courtney murray and the rest have said.

  • Mark R

    We will always be blind to our own faults as long as we have the luxury of blaming others.
    One cannot rely on programs, movements, or nuanced philosophies. The fault is actually with “me” for not being a commited Christian, for not focusing on Christ, for allowing my attention to go off on tangents, for taking the easy way out.
    Our Lord promised he would be with us and sends us the Holy Spirit…as if that is not enough…

    • Elmwood

      right, so the eradication of christianity in the middle east is the fault of people not being committed christians or global warming is everybodys’ fault.

      poverty is the fault of the individual too.

      • Here in America we have nobody to blame but the conscious decisions we made to put us in this situation.

        We chose to dowplay the importance of evangelization.
        We chose to downplay the importance of doctrine.
        We chose to look the other way when our Bishops erected a criminal network to cover up abuse, and made damn sure to run anyone who talked about it out of the Church.
        We chose to keep believing the fantasy that some white-knight pope would wave his magic crozier and fix everything.
        We chose to believe that the problem could be fixed top up.

        Most importantly, we chose to find something else to do when these problems existed on our own parish level. There’s consequences for that inaction. And that consequence is an institutional church in America nobody does or honestly should trust as credible on anything. And when that credibility is lacked, people stop listening. doesn’t matter what the voice is saying.

        One has to acknowledge those realities before we even begin to decide “okay, what do we do differently.” Blaming LIBURALS and external factors more or less absolves our own culpability.

        Our problems are not the Middle East’s problems.

        • antigon

          Mr. Tierney:
          *
          Don’t exactly disagree with your thrust, save for your penultimate line’s too easy snark, & maybe the equally too easy ‘we’ part. Perhaps more accurate to observe that clericalist cliques sought to & succeeded in seizing control of numerous Catholic institutions, which they then intentionally used not to downplay, but instead vigorously to oppose the teaching & evangelization of the Faith & not least, if not only, to promote the pleasures of their sexual perversions.
          *
          Priests & laity that sought to oppose all this – often ineptly, since neither should they nor had they had been trained for bureaucratic infighting with effectual apostates – were marginalized & ridiculed, & invariably lumped with the nutballs always easy to find.
          *
          So instead of being fed by their shepherds, vast numbers of sheep were instead slaughtered by them, for which the sheep can be blamed if you like, if perhaps not with perfect justice.
          *
          And so, to coin a phrase, Catholic vineyards throughout the world were vastly devastated, perhaps spiritually more so even than 17th century France.
          *
          Weddel’s invocation of the great Doctor deSales is apposite to be sure, love in the ruins as it were, then & now.

        • kenofken

          Why does the discussion about demographics always seem to involve self-recrimination and the analysis of who/what to blame for the “problem”? It may well just be that people are more honest with themselves and others about their identity and beliefs, and not everyone wants to be Catholic/Christian.

          • Joseph

            Because, most people chose to leave the Church because they saw blatant hypocrisy, good questions being left unanswered or done so in a really stupid way (like the Protestant ‘cuz… the Bible’ arguments), the allowance and/or tacit acceptance of rouge priest/women religious groups that oppose Church teaching adding to the confusion of what the Church teaches, the lack of proper catechesis for decades that reduced Catholicism to nothing more than a cultural feature, etc.
            .
            Then there are those that walk away because they don’t like the idea of feeling guilty for doing things that the Church considers sinful.
            .
            Then there are those who just *don’t believe* and they are being intellectually honest with themselves. But not everyone who walks away do so because they honestly don’t believe without the above catalysts having something to do with it. Take for example the Protestant reformers. Many of them leaned towards leaving the Church as a reaction to the blatant corruption within it. The decision to oppose the teaching came as a secondary to this.

          • antigon

            ‘It may well just be that people are more honest with themselves and others about their identity and beliefs.’
            *
            Cling to the illusion ken, in thine own case anyhow.

      • Mark R

        I am an Eastern Christian and know well of the status of the Middle Eastern brethren. Not once have I ever read or heard of them blaming Islam for taking them over centuries ago. They see the Islamic conquest as a punishment from God for the sins of the Roman (Byzantine) authorities. The martyrdoms and sufferings they endure now are such of the times of the early Church.

  • Uthe

    I have to question the validity of the PEW survey. That is not to say there are not some key take-aways. However, according to the survey, there are now 51 million Catholics in the US compared to 53 million in 2007. According to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), there are 66.6 million Catholics identified by the Church (The Official Catholic Directory; parish-connected Catholics). There are a total of 79.7 million Catholics (self-identified, survey-based estimate). I have to question the survey stating 51 million when there is the official head count of 66.6 million. You are talking a discrepancy of 15 million people. I am not even discussing the comparison of surveys (51 million to 79.7 million). All the statistics cover last year. Is there really a decline? While I agree there is a trend of those who are more likely to claim no affiliation today, but that is due in large part to them not feeling the societal pressure of an affiliation. In years past people claimed an affiliation, however, they still did not participate in any organized religion. At least over the last 15 years (for Catholics), according to the CARA data, the Catholic population, church attendance, priest ordination, lay ministry have stabilized or increased. That is not to say there is not to be improvements in many areas as well. We must always keep moving forward.

    • Athelstane

      At least over the last 15 years (for Catholics), according to the CARA data, the Catholic population, church attendance, priest ordination, lay ministry have stabilized or increased.

      Even if that’s true – I think the truth is somewhere between CARA and Pew on this – what would those numbers look like without immigration?

      Large-scale immigration of heavily Catholic populations is acting to mask the losses we’re sustaining – and, more importantly, what it is that we have been doing to CAUSE those losses. And it won’t last forever.

      Most of what I see in the pews in parishes around me is grey or white hair, and very few children. What happens when those grey heads pass on to their reward? Who replaces them?

      • IRVCath

        Maybe it’s because of where I live, but there are more than the fair share of young people here… of course, they are disproportionately non-white. The only O’Haras you are likely to see is the elderly priest. Much more common are the surnames Gomez, or Arriaga, or Lazo.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      One problem with looking at the Church numbers is that people rarely have their names removed. So if someone is baptized as a baby, but deconverts later in life, they are still counted as a “Catholic” according to the books. (I’ve read that some people tried to get themselves unlisted and had to jump through a lot of hoops). The Pew data did show a lot of conversions away from Catholicism, so this may explain the discrepancy in numbers

      • kenofken

        I did go through the formal “deconversion” process a few years ago. It was a lot of hoops then, and so far as I can tell, I may be one of a relative handful of people in the U.S. to do so. It was a big thing in Ireland at the time, and I was briefly in touch with the crew of an Irish outfit called “Count Me Out” which assisted people in the process.

        It was called actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica – An Act of Formal Defection. It was only around as a formal Canon Law process from 2006 to 2009. It involved writing to the diocese in which you were baptized, making clear your desire to leave, and I think I had to get a notarized signature to prove it was me and not someone playing games. It took a couple of tries to reach the right office as the Chicago Archdiocese is an administrative labyrinthe, but when I did, I got a letter back within a couple of weeks indicating it was processed. It didn’t “unbaptize” you as they consider that permanent, but it did record your desire to leave the Earth-bound Church and in theory they were supposed to make an annotation in your baptism records. Who knows if they really did so. The church in which i was baptized folded years ago and was consolidated with three or four others.

        I’ve heard different versions of how Catholics are counted. If it’s baptism records, the number is grossly inflated. Others say they only count people on current membership rolls in parishes. The only canonical consequence of formal defection was that it absolved you from the Catholic forms of marriage. Rome quietly abolished the process right about the time it started gaining serious momentum in the media and social media.

        The Church wants to have it both ways. They want the political and cultural clout of being able to say they represent a billion-plus people. At the same time, they only consider a fraction of them to be “real” Catholics because millions are CINOs, apostates or defectors or people who aren’t even substantially on board with major points of doctrine or practice.

        • Joseph

          Unfortunately for you, whether you believe it or not, baptism is an indelible mark. It can’t be erased. You may wander the earth for the rest of your earthly existence believing that you are no longer connected to the Church or Christ, but it’s just not possible. It has nothing to do with the Church wanting something both ways… you’re free to never darken the door of another Catholic church if that’s your wish. But, if the day comes when you decide to change your mind, a simple confession and you can receive the Blessed Sacrament again without much ado… like Oscar Wilde. You may have decided that you no longer want to be part of my family, but you still are… and I’m happy that you are.

          • kenofken

            I get the theory of it, and I think laying eternal claim to someone’s soul before they even have self-awareness, let alone consent, is a spiritual fraud. The issue at hand is whether people identify as Catholic or not. If they weren’t playing games with their numbers the Church would acknowledge the existence of ex-Catholics.

            • Joseph

              No one is laying an eternal claim. That’s not what the indelible mark means… and you know it. But witty catch phrases are cool like that.

            • antigon

              ‘I think laying eternal claim to someone’s soul…is a spiritual fraud.’
              *
              Do you? Your near to obsessive engagement here at CAEI would instead seem to indicate discomfort with a different kind of fraud, that one prays you’ll find the courage some day to confront & overcome.

            • Mariana Baca

              If you don’t believe in baptism, it is meaningless what we believe. If you do believe, you don’t want baptism is be removed. Seems pretty straightforward. If you want to be removed from the parish registry, just call them. People do so when they move. Everyone knows ex-catholics exist.

        • Mariana Baca

          The process, as you said, only canonically influenced marriage. It was in place to help with annulments for people who reconverted. But, truth was, it made things more complicated rather than simpler, so they got rid of it. It was not in place to get more accurate numbers or help the peace of mind of ex-catholics. It was ever just there to help with the annulment proceedings.

          Some canon lawyers, like Ed Peters, favor getting rid of the requirement for the canonical form of marriage entirely, so it is even more unlikely this would apply or they would bother with something in the future.

          • kenofken

            I’ve seen it implied that they got rid of the procedure because of some confusion surrounding marriage, but I’ve never seen any clear explanation of why that was so. I think they just got embarassed by people publicly and officially leaving the Church, so they shut it down. It did have a role in sorting out who was ex-Catholic, in places like Germany where the government collects tax for the churches. People did, and still do, “quit” the Catholic Church before civil authorities to get out of the tax. Rome realized that wasn’t a proper determination of whether they truly left spiritually.

            • Mariana Baca

              I;m not sure who would be embarrased, canonical things are not usually public, and people who leave the Church have no problem stating it publically as it is. As you said, if you need to leave for tax purposes or if you want your parish to stop sending envelopes, you just tell your tax collector or local parish. That hasn’t changed. Not sure why you would need the hassle of filing paperwork with your Bishop.

              They had this procedure so that if your ultra catholic aunt couldn’t come to your courthouse wedding out of an attack of morals you could say it was perfectly valid and here is a document from the Bishop. But seriously, do people care about that anymore, and is it worth it people later arguing with the annullment tribunal whether whatever procedure they went to “defect” was official enough if they want to get remarried in the Church if they later reconvert or find a nice Catholic bride?

              • kenofken

                The Church was embarassed, or at least certain contingents of bishops and Vatican officials. This obscure clause of Canon Law became a rallying point for atheists and people fed up with the abuse scandal in Ireland which was just fully coming into daylight at the time. Count Me Out was garnering quite a bit of buzz in the media for a while, and something like 12,000 people used their site to defect, or at least with the intent of doing so. At one point, a CNN producer was calling me about it as they were looking for any yanks who were willing to talk about their defection. I wasn’t quoted in any final story as far as I know, but the movement was clearly drawing more attention than Rome wanted on the subject. The defection process was suddenly eliminated in a bit of “housecleaning” type changes just as the whole thing was gaining momentum.

      • Uthe

        I wish people would do their research before responding (I am not trying to be abrupt or mean, but it leads to disinformation). According to Mark Gray (of CARA, Georgetown University), he states, “I am frequently confronted with skepticism from journalists and academics about the Church’s estimates for the size of the Catholic population in the United States. “Don’t they always pad the numbers?” They are typically surprised when I note that it is actually just the opposite. The Church systematically undercounts its population (…noted in previous posts: 1, 2). More often than not, the Church is reporting parish-affiliated Catholics, those registered and regularly attending Mass. There are a lot more self-identified Catholics out there.” Your statement about those “still left on the books,” is not applicable.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Thanks. Don’t worry, you didn’t come off as abrupt or mean. If I make mistakes, I love to be corrected.

          I am less familiar on how the Official Catholic Directory gets its numbers, but couldn’t the problem of being left on the books still apply? If someone becomes a member of a parish, but later deconverts? How often and how do they update the records?

          Also, when a family joins, I assume they are all counted as members, but this isn’t always the case. For example, my wife, who is Catholic recently joined a parish and included me as her husband. I am currently being counted as a Catholic even though I certainly would not identify as one. People like me probably don’t make up a significant portion of the numbers, but they are there.

          I am curious where you got the Pew result of 51 million from. Looking at the Pew webpage, I could only find a statistic of 20.8% and multiplying that by the US population (318.9 million) I got 66.3 million Catholics. Not too far off from CARA. I’m not doubting your number of 51 million.. just noticing that something doesn’t add up.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          I do have to question the CARA data though… it’s no secret that the Church in the US has been losing members a lot lately. Parishes throughout the country have been closing and consolidating. Yet the Cara numbers show steady growth throughout the years? Something is fishy.

          http://cara.georgetown.edu/CARAServices/requestedchurchstats.html

          • Uthe

            Changing demographics. More Catholics in the southeast and central south region. CARA numbers are actual headcounts while PEW research is based on a survey. Remember, you are dealing with interviewer as well as interviewee bias. Many people (who are Catholic) may not be as willing to answer questions due to the current perceived hostile political climate (my perception/anecdotal evidence). Pew is just a survey that is open to error and may not have accounted for some unknown biases. There are key data points that can be taken from the PEW research though. One point is that there are fewer children growing up in the Faith (educated in the Faith). Second point is a lot of the growth is coming from immigration and not just from Latin America, but also Africa (and Asia as well). There is a Christian Renaissance going on in Africa right now. Many Priests serving in the US are coming from Africa.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Two parishes that closed locally were a Polish-Lithuanian parish and a German parish. The former was downtown; the latter in a formerly German neighborhood that is now largely African. The old ethnic parishes no longer fly, although locally the Italian, Arab, and Ukrainian parishes are still going. When I was in Johnstown a couple years ago, I noted a Catholic church on every block. Most of them were closed because people no longer refuse to go to church with “That Other Ethnic” group. Most of the remaining South Side Catholics have wound up in the township, where there is parking, three priests, a seminarian, and three deacons.

          • IRVCath

            True, but most of the consolidating parishes are in the Northeast and Midwest. Here in the West, likely the South as well, churches are regularly full every Sunday, and were it not for the abuse crisis, more parishes and schools would be built. The Church is moving to the West and South, not to mention getting browner.

    • Sue Korlan

      When I lived in the DC Archdiocese , the first parish I registered in refused to remove me from their books when I moved because they were in danger of being closed due to a lack of parishioners. The next parish I lived in for a short time, but I later moved back to the neighborhood and stayed there until I left the area. I don’t know if I’m still registered there or not. The third parish I attended was in an out of the way place. When I told them I was moving they said I had to do a bunch of things to be removed and had to do them at a specific time. Since I was moving out of the area and back to the city, I couldn’t do as they required. Eventually I got a forwarded letter telling me they were going to visit to find out why I had stopped attending Mass. I presume they discovered that I didn’t live there any longer and took my name off their rolls, but for a time at least I was registered as an active member in 3 parishes. Multiply this situation by the number of fairly mobile Catholics there are and you can see why the Directory gets the number of Catholics active in the Church wrong.

  • Athelstane

    Sherry raises some good points, and asks good questions.

    There are signs of hope, but we haven’t hit bottom yet. In many ways, things will get worse before they get better. But this, too, will produce some clarity – hopefully the clarity that gives us more St. Francis de Sales.

    • Guest_august

      It is true we are yet to hit the bottom. But it wont be too long now; unless we all begin to repent.
      It is the End-Times

      • chezami

        Throwing up your hands, crying doom, and doing nothing is much easier than obeying God.

        • Guest_august

          I dont think so.
          But read the signs of the times. It is over. Right now we are two or three Popes before the final Advent of Jesus of Nazareth.
          You can bet all your property on that.

          • Andy

            How can you be so sure – as I recall Jesus said that only the Father knew.

            • antigon

              Unless our Lord added a codicil that was one of those things St. John neglected to write down, which said only the Father & Guestaugust knew when time would end.
              *
              Perhaps imperfectly wise, however, to bet *all* thy property on such a proposition.

          • Joseph

            Is it two… or three? I’m not that much of a gambler.

          • chezami

            Yeah. I don’t think I’ll do that. You are the latest in a line of millions to say that.

      • Joseph

        End Times… ugh… Jack Van Imp here. We’ve been in the End Times since Christ ascended into heaven. It’s been a long Last Age.

        • Guest_august

          But this time it is the end of the End-Times; believe me.
          This is it !
          Check the links below:
          http://popeleo13.com/pope/2014/12/29/category-archive-message-board-214-acceptable-year-of-the-lord/

          • Joseph

            While there is no doubt that Christ could come, even tomorrow, I challenge you to prove that any of these prophecies have only been fulfilled in modern times alone. The fact is, they’ve been occurring throughout the Last Age starting from the day that Christ ascended. They are indicators of what will happen *in the Last Age*… which could span for centuries. The only difference between modern times and those that came before it is that, through technology, we’ve been able to kill more innocent human beings more efficiently than ever before in human history. But, the persecution of Christians is nothing new and it’s merely fantasy, propagated by the insane ultra-traditionalists and Protestants, that there was ever a *golden age* of Christianity where there was a time of purity that gives them their frame of reference that we *must* be in the End Times. After all, the Epistles would never have had to be written if widespread apostacy wasn’t already occurring even during the Apostolic Age. We are ever in the End Times. Prophecies in the Scriptures, and some specifically in the Apocalypse, are a tapestry of events spanning the Age from the Ascension until the return of Christ. In every era, there have been *warning* signs that seemingly (and probably rightly so) align with these. In every era, there have been people banging their Bibles screaming that the day of reckoning is at hand… and, still, here we are.
            .
            Just a stark reminder. The End of the World comes to everyone of us when we die. That can happen with some freak accident, a heart attack, a stroke, etc. So, instead of obsessing over a possibility that may or may not occur before your death, perhaps you should focus on the End that is definite.

          • chezami

            I don’t believe you.

  • Joseph

    I was in Atlanta in 2010 helping out the RCIA team at Christ the King Cathedral. That year 75 or people came through RCIA as converts in just that parish alone. I think there was about 2000 or so over the whole Archdiocese (which pretty much covered the whole state, I think). I have no doubt that numbers have declined in the *enlightened* Northeast US, especially since most Catholics from up North were actually migrating to the South (mostly for jobs), but the Church in Georgia was alive and well and growing at insane rates by the time I left. I guess the results of the Pew Poll are more comprehensive and paint a pretty bad picture overall. But to say that the Church is in decline based on the findings is a bit disingenuous.
    .
    Here in Ireland, the Church is definitely in decline. But that’s understandable. Corrupt bishops and theologically confused priests, clerical abuse was rife here, the Magdalene laundries, the orphanages, etc. The Church hierarchy in Ireland pretty much fell off the rails with their newfound freedom and power following the Revolution and they haven’t really made their attempts to repair the damage since. That combined with the newfound wealth during the Celtic Tiger that has been replaced by class envy and anger after the economic collapse. The culture has changed. People are bitter, and it’s rightly so. Unlike the US, proper steps haven’t been taken to clean up the mess. Thanks to open groups of rebel priests and still a lack of proper catechesis or teaching here, why the Church teaches what it does isn’t properly explained by Catholic leaders to the people that are looking for a reason to believe in the Church. Without good explanations, they simply have their excuse to walk away and join the *enlightened* chorus of the anti-Catholic masses. It’s the fault of the Church hierarchy in Ireland. They’ve driven the Church into the ground here.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The decline of the Church in Ireland seems to correspond pretty much to the decline of Ireland.

      But those Magdalene laundries were pretty much common to Europe. The State farmed them out to whichever organization was locally equipped, whether Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or secular.

      • Joseph

        I don’t know YOS. The Church here *has* done a lot of damage. The Catholics ‘leaving’ the Church aren’t leaving gracefully, they are becoming even more vehement anti-Catholics than Jack Chick & Co. (and their anti-Catholic arguments are just as stupid). I feel like an outsider here… like an enemy of the State. I’m surrounded by proud ex-Catholics who drone on and on about how awesome it is to be ex-Catholic. The number one reason cited for their departure: The sexual abuse scandal. Number two: corruption in the Irish hierarchy. Number Three: Magdalene laundries (I know that media has done it’s job exaggerating this issue… but it worked). Number four: The treatment of orphaned children in Ireland by the women religious (this has also been exaggerated, but still, it was pretty bad, even if the cases were somewhat isolated). That said, I threw terrible catechesis and theologically confused/rebel priests/bishops in there because those are reasons they won’t cite but they are, in fact, reasons. None of these proud anti-Catholic converts can articulate a single thing correctly about Catholicism, they can only quote tidbits from television shows and movies, anecdotes about their crazy aunts, and whatever the news in print or on the telly has to say about the Church on any given day.

  • Aldo Elmnight

    Spirit of Vatican II

  • Sherry Weddell

    Folks, one of the significant issues in the different outcomes of various is how representative that groups surveyed are to the US census figures. Regarding the Catholic findings (which are the most disputed) 14% of those whom Pew interviewed were in the 18 – 24 age group because the Census found that 13% of Americans were in that age range. (The GSS only interviewed 9% in that age range.) This matters because that age group is the most likely to be “Nones” of all American adults (36%) and far and away the most likely to have jettisoned their childhood Catholic identity (only 16% said they were Catholics).
    And Pew interviewed only 15% Hispanics while GSS interviewed 17% Hispanics while the Census found that 15% of US adults are Hispanic.

    If you interview more Hispanics and many fewer emerging adults, you are going to get a more positive Catholic picture. If you interview fewer Hispanics and more emerging adults, the results are going to look bleaker. The question is, which reflects reality?

    Pew drew upon 35,000 complete interviews while the bi-yearly GSS is based upon 2,000+. The larger the population you are dealing with, the lower the margin of error.

    Which doesn’t mean that Pew couldn’t have made errors in interpretation but they are one of the global giants in this area so if you are going to blow off their findings, you need to know why they found what they did and have relevant national level data that they either didn’t have access to or chose not to look at. They have copious addendums available online that show the questions they asked, the process they followed, exactly how many of who they talked to, and a section on “context” which compares their results with other national level surveys. If you are concerned, read it all before drawing conclusions

    PS. regarding regional differences, “nones” are growing even in the South (from 13% in 2007 to 19% in 2014). There are parts of the southeast like Atlanta or the Research triangle in North Carolina because Catholics are moving there in droves from the northeast. (I’ve worked in parishes in North Carolina where not a single person present – out of hundreds – was from the area. Ever try to find a native Georgian in Atlanta? I have. Everyone is from New York. Lots of great things are happening in Atlanta and at Christ the King cathedral where I have worked but the major force is Catholics moving into town!) In the western US, “nones” make up 28% and are the largest “religious” group in the area, larger than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.

    • Joseph

      So, what about Hispanic emerging adults? Were they not polled as emerging adults because they were Hispanic and it would have ruined the numbers? Just curious.