Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pew U.S. religious landscape survey

The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, not seen in your Target checkout line, but found in virtually all chanceries and rectories, has come up in their January 2009 edition a summary of the Pew Forum's 140 page U.S. religious landscape survey. The compiler and author of the summary was Father Joseph Sirba of the Diocese of Duluth. Being 4,000 words in length, it is still too much to post here, but I'll grab a few stats that grabbed me and share them with you.

In 2007, over a three month period, Pew interviewed over 35,000 adults (18 and older) in an effort to learn more about their current religious beliefs and practices. This number was large enough so that most religions were represented by at least 100 respondents. Here are some relevant Catholic figures.

23.9 percent of the adult population in the United States (or 53,775,000) identifies itself as Catholic.

“Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.” The Church has lost to other religions or to no religion at all 35.4 percent—or more than one-third—of the 64,131,750 of its native-born members to other religions or to no religion. Massive Catholic losses have been hidden by the large number of Catholic immigrants coming to the United States in recent years.

Of the 22 million Catholics who have left the church, nearly 20 million ended up unaffiliated ( atheists, agnostics, secular people and religious people who belong to no organized religion; 9.8 million), Evangelical Protestant (6.5 million) or Main Line Protestant (3.7 million).

On the brighter side, 2.6 percent of Catholics (5.8 million) are converts from other faiths or from no faith at all.

To put these numbers in a different context, allow me to speculate just a bit. Suppose that you were the pastor of Saint Wojciech’s back in 1968, and in that year you baptized sixty children. Those children would now be forty years old. However, only thirty-nine would still be Catholic. Of the other twenty-one, twelve are men and nine are women. Ten of these (mostly men) are now unaffiliated with any organized religion. Of those ten, four would be secularists who believe in some sort of God but who practice no faith and do not pray. Three would be atheists or agnostics, and three would still be believers in God but would be following their own path to him apart from any organized religion. It is also the case that in this group would have been some of your brighter students and best altar servers back at Saint Wojciech’s grade school. Of the remaining eleven, six or seven would have joined evangelical congregations where they now lead Bible studies, work as missionaries in Guatemala converting Catholics or homeschool their larger-than-average families consisting of children who were dedicated to God (but not baptized). Three or four would have joined some mainline Protestant religion (probably through marriage) where they participate to greater or lesser degrees. Finally, perhaps one or maybe two have become Mormons or Buddhists.

Finally, of these thirty-nine who have remained Catholic, four never go to Mass and twelve may go at Christmas and Easter, and most of these had their children baptized but are less likely to have them enrolled in religious education. Finally, for twenty-three, their religion is “very important to them” and they go to Mass on a pretty regular basis (but probably miss when they have company over or when on vacation or traveling). Most don’t make it on holy days. Nearly all send their children to religion classes, but very few make time for other things at church, like choir or Bible studies. Most lead very busy lives and there is not much room for church except on Sundays. While they were raised Catholic, most would not agree that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of revelation. In other words, they believe one religion is as good as another.

If you're a numbers geek, you'll enjoy going over Father Sirba's study. If you majored in statistics, you'll want to pour over the entire 140 page report and do your own re-working of the data.

One thing that I have never seen mentioned in reports on the Church's loss of Catholics is the role that the Church's prohibition on remarriage after divorce has on these departures. Given that the divorce rate for Catholics apparently equals that of Protestants, I would think that it has to be a major factor.

The point here is not that the Church should change it's regulations. It can't. Jesus Christ set it up. The point is that marriage preparations need to be more rigorous. No fault divorce, the breakdown of families, mobility and prosperity have removed many of the systems that aided in keeping marriages working. The Church needs to better prepare young couples for a lifetime of "better and worse" together.

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