If you thought that your parish church didn’t seem quite as full on Easter Sunday (or any Sunday) as it used to, you’re right! And you’re not alone. Well, you may be nearly alone in your pew, but you’re not alone in your thinking. Statistics published in March by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Washington’s Georgetown University reveal the precipitous drop in the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic, along with other evidence of the poisoned fruit of Vatican II.
Combining its survey with the latest available census data, CARA found that although the adult population of the USA grew by 6.3% from 2010 to 2016, the number of people who call themselves “Catholic” actually fell by 0.9% over the same period. Here’s what the stats look like in tabular form.
Looking at the data another way, the number of self-identified Catholics fell from 25.2% of adult Americans to 23.5%. The CARA report also found declines in the number of children born to Catholic women, the number of new entries into the Church, and the proportion of Catholics getting married in the Church.
The baptism statistics are perhaps the most disturbing. Using data from The Official Catholic Directory (OCD), CARA found a steady downward trend in the numbers of people entering the Church as minors and adults.
In 1996, 1.15 million people joined the Church. 13% of them were adults, 18 or older. In 2016, these numbers had declined by 28% with 828,702 entering the Church, (12% of whom were 18 or older). Whether you’re talking about minors or adults or both, the stats show fewer people embracing the Catholic Faith every year.
All these indicators point to a church which is in poor health, if not moribund. If you were looking at the annual report of a corporation — analyzing sales, revenue and profitability with a view to buying or selling its stock — you’d dump whatever stock you held, or, better yet, sell it short!
But (you might say), there aren’t as many Jews as there used to be, either. And all the “churches” of Christ are in decline. Only the number of Muslims seems to be increasing. So things aren’t so bad. We’re holding our own. Right?
No, that’s not right. Research done by the respected Pew Forum in 2015 concluded that the Roman Catholic Church in the USA is losing members faster than any denomination! In “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”, they reported that the total number of Catholics in the United States had dropped by 3 million since 2007. By their count, that was just 20% of the total population — over 3% less than CARA’s figure.
The Pew survey looked at some even more troubling statistics. They reckoned that for every one convert to Catholicism, more than six Catholics had left the Church. Their conclusion: Catholicism loses more members than it gains at a higher rate than any other denomination, with nearly 13% of all Americans describing themselves as “former Catholics”.
Why are so many leaving the Church? A couple of years before the survey referred to above, CARA did an “exit interview” of fallen-away adult Catholics in the diocese of Springfield IL. The respondents gave four major reasons for leaving: dissatisfaction with Church doctrine (e.g., birth control, ordination of women, civil marriage after divorce, fertility treatments and same-sex marriage); losing interest in the Faith and Mass; Church scandals; and feeling unwelcome or judged by the Church.
CARA’s suggestion as to how to reverse or at least slow down the decline is the mainstream Church’s “Kumbaya response” — reach out to all the disaffected and give them a big hug. Tell those who are living in sin that those bothersome rules (formerly known as Commandments) aren’t really important, and if change is needed, the teachings of the Church, not their sinful “lifestyle choices,” can be adjusted.
That is the response epitomized by Amoris Laetitia, in which Pope Francis proposes that the Church’s centuries-old doctrines on the indissolubility of marriage and sexual morality generally be set aside. Why? To win back those “cafeteria Catholics” who want the Church to conform to their notions of what’s right and wrong, rather than conforming themselves to the expressed will of God.
Perhaps one day Saint Peter will ask Francis, “How did that work out?” We used to have a name for that day — Judgment Day!
Further reading: “Fatima Center Special Report on Amoris Laetitia”, by Christopher Ferrara, November 2016