Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.
2010 Review
Here are some statistical nuggets from this year in case you missed them:

  • The U.S. Catholic population continues to grow and is projected to exceed 100 million by 2050.
  • At the same time, the number of infant baptisms and marriages in the U.S. Catholic Church has declined in number each year since 2001. In 2009, there were 12.7 infant baptisms and 2.7 marriages in the Church per 1,000 Catholics. Although nearly all Catholic parents continue to baptize their children in the Church (as the birthrate declines) many Catholics are choosing to get married in non-Catholic houses of worship or secular settings.
  • Yet even as the recent trend in infant baptisms is down slightly, there are still enough people joining the Catholic Church each year to sustain the population. In 2009, The Official Catholic Directory reported 857,410 infant baptisms, 43,279 adult baptisms, and 75,724 receptions into full communion in U.S. dioceses. This totals 976,413 in one year. To put that in context, the number of new Catholics in 2009 would make this one-year cohort of new Catholics approximately the 26th largest membership Christian church in the United States.
  • The likelihood that a Catholic will marry a non-Catholic is strongly and directly related to the likelihood that a Catholic will be in close proximity to other Catholics. In dioceses where Catholics make up only 10% of the total population, the average percentage of interfaith marriages celebrated in parishes is 41%. By comparison, this average is only 16% where 40% or more of the total population in a diocese is Catholic.
  • On the institutional side, if the current trend in parish closures were to continue and current priest projections bear out, there will likely be only 12,520 active diocesan priests and 14,825 parishes in the United States by 2035 (also in OSV).
  • There has been no measurable decline or increase 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 adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a month.
  • A majority, 54%, of the adults of the Catholic Millennial Generation (those ages 18-28 in 2010) in the United States self-identify as Hispanic/Latino(a). In the late-2030s there will likely be more Catholics who self-identify as Hispanic/Latino overall than those who do not.
  • A minority of Americans of Irish ancestry self-identify their religion as Catholic. At the same time, the size of the Irish Catholic population has been stable in recent decades as Catholics of Italian, German, and Polish ancestry have declined a bit. The number of Catholics noting Mexican ancestry increased dramatically in the 2000s.
  • About 3.5 million U.S. residents self-identify their race as Black, African American, Afro-Caribbean, or African and their religion as Catholic. Of these Black Catholics, 42% also self-identified their ethnicity as Hispanic.
  • The number of Catholic senators declined from 25 to 22 (or is it 21?).
  • 57% of adult Catholics did not vote in the 2010 elections.
  • The average tuition for the first child of Catholic parents attending a parish Catholic primary school for 2008-2009 was $3,383. For that same child the per-pupil cost of education for 2008-2009 was $5,436. This means that only 63% of this child’s per-pupil cost was covered by their tuition.
  • In the 20 years since Ex Corde Ecclesia, Catholic colleges and universities have seen an increase in student enrollment of 24%.
  • Many Catholic colleges are providing a “return on investment” for the tuitions paid. Yet there are mixed short-term effects for changes in Catholic beliefs and practice among those attending Catholic colleges with more consistently positive long-term effects evident as well.
  • 13% of active Bishops in the United States were born outside of the U.S.
  • 49.4% of the global Catholic population resides in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, in 2011 only 28.9% of the cardinal electors will be from this area of the world.
  • Note during the papal visit… there are more weekly church-going Catholics in Great Britain than there are weekly church-going Anglicans.
  • A majority of U.S. Protestants express a belief in the Real Presence and those who believe the Bible is to be taken literally word for word are most likely to do so.
  • 22% of Nones in America (those without any religious affiliation) were raised Catholic. ["Nones" are those who responded to poll questions who claimed that they are "nothing in particular."]

2011 Preview
Coming next year… initial results from the first phase of the most comprehensive study of parish life in the United States in the last two decades are in. The study, conducted by CARA for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project, has just completed its first phase of research—a single informant, random sample survey of pastors and other parish leaders in the United States. The second and third phases are underway.

One of the first results from the initial phase mirrors the effects of trends noted in other recent posts. With the combined net effects of a reduction in the number of parishes of -6.6% in the last decade and +8.4% growth in the Catholic population, the “mega-parish” is becoming more common. The number of U.S. parishes with more than 1,200 registered households has increased from 25% in 2000 to 33% of all parishes in 2010. The current average number of registered households in U.S. parishes is 1,167 (compared to 855 in 2000). Are these larger parishes the future? Are we super-sizing the Church?


The number of Masses per parish is on the rise as well, with parishes celebrating four or more Saturday Vigil or Sunday Masses increasing from 44% in 2000 to a majority, 51%, in 2010.

Some Recent Comments from the Gallery
Finally, it appears the recent posts on Catholic population growth and parish closures have inspired some reactions. One kindly suggest I might be being a bit of a cheerleader for the Church while another goes further and says he believes I am just “wrong-headed” and “pretending and minimizing.”
  • “[T]here 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,” said Msgr. Charles Pope from
  • “Two of … [his] recent posts strike me as wrong-headed,” said Anthony Ruff, OSB from “My aim is to face up to the truth, no matter what it is, without pretending or minimizing.”
First, let me say CARA is an independent, non-profit, academic research center. This is my personal research blog as a CARA researcher. The data presented here often come from multiple and reliable sources outside of CARA and the Church in general. Previously as a journalist and now as a professor I take research, science, and objectivity very, very seriously. The data can speak for themselves. I have nothing to gain or lose based on how the results come out. I am Catholic but whether there are more or fewer Catholics or parishes in the United States next year or ten years from now will not alter my faith. I have no motivation to spin anything, and even if I had, I would not do so as a professional, committed, ethical scientist. I am not paid by any special interest and I am not a member of any organizations with a stake in the results (my only memberships to anything are to the American Political Science Association and my parish). I do not personally take part in any advocacy campaigns or activities. I am not registered to vote, make no contributions to anything other than church and charity, and have no affiliations with any political party or social movement (again… as you can see I take detached objectivity as a political scientist very seriously!).

I understand that sometimes the data reveal a reality that does not comfortably conform to our existing opinions and views. For example, I teach a social science research methods class at Georgetown. In the first meeting each semester I always ask the class if they believe we live in a more or less dangerous America now than say a decade ago or even three or four decades ago (and this is just the first of several similar examples like this used in the class…). Specifically I ask them if they believe Americans are at a greater risk of being a victim of a violent crime now than in the early 1970s. Invariably students agree that violent crime is much more likely now. We talk about the “good old days” when you could leave your door unlocked and your kids could walk to school safely. Then I show them this. That is the data, the reality, (multiple sources and multiple methods of collection) and it certainly bucks “conventional wisdom” (which unfortunately is too often not very “wise”). As a class we discuss why there is a perception of a greater threat and often news coverage and the level of violence seen in the media (mostly fictional violence in movies or video games) are put forth as important culprits in the creation of this specific “unreality.”

There are measurable doses of “unreality” in Church discourse these days. Much of it fashioned around anecdotes and agendas. My promise now and in the year ahead to readers of this blog is that you’ll find none of this unreality here.

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