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.

1.15.2020

Welcome Sign Needed?


For as far back as we have data (the 1990s), the Catholic Church in the United States welcomed more than 100,000 adults into the faith each year. Most were Protestants who had already been baptized. Some were unbaptized. More often the former than the later.

Times have changed. In 2017 and 2018 there were likely some empty seats in RCIA programs (i.e., the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the process that prepares adults to join the faith). In 2018, 93,621 adults joined the Catholic faith. Of these, 61% were received into full communion and confirmed and 39% were baptized and confirmed. Prior to 2006, a larger share of these new entrants were unbaptized before becoming Catholic.


Some of this decline is likely related to declines in marriage and marriages in the Church. As we’ve noted before, more often than not, conversions happen when non-Catholics marry Catholics and choose to become Catholic themselves (this is more likely to happen in dioceses with smaller Catholic population shares). Similarly, we’ve seen fewer infant baptisms in recent years and this is correlated with declining fertility rates in general.

At the same time, this isn’t just about fewer Americans, and presumably Catholics, marrying and having kids. A brief glance at the figure above and one might assume these trends parallel news of the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2002 and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in 2018. But the pronounced declines actually occur in 2001, 2007, and 2017. It is also important to note that these adult entries occur for the most part in Spring and the decisions to convert likely happened at least a calendar year prior before entering RCIA.

We know from research on people leaving the Church, that the sex abuse crisis is not a common reason cited for their decision. Yet, it is unclear if this factor affects those who consider becoming Catholic. This would be difficult to study. It would require one to do a survey of non-Catholics asking them if they are considering (or have considered) becoming Catholic. Then one would ask about what they were weighing in their decision. Presumably, because many become Catholic because they marry a Catholic one could do a survey of non-Catholic spouses of Catholics but it would not give us the full picture.

Although the new adult Catholics each year number less than 100,000 it is important to note that this is equivalent to about five new Catholics per parish every year, on average (they also tend to stay Catholic). A diocese typically receives about 450 new adult entrants, on average. The change in the last year has been small. Even still, in 2018 dioceses likely saw about 25 fewer new adult entrants than they did in 2017.

Thanks to Bart Heird for the welcome sign image.

12.23.2019

Afterlife After Secularization


It may have seemed like I was dead but I'm not. Back from the hiatus of a heavy workload for one last 2019 post... When looking at trend or cohort data it is clear that the United States is undergoing a wave of secularization. The country isn't "losing God" but the influence of religion and the frequency of religious practice appears to be weakening by many measures. Yet, there are two trends where this erosion isn't as evident. One of these is frequency of prayer which has remained very consistent over time in the General Social Survey (at least since 1972). The other is belief in life after death. 

This is one of the few measures where even younger Catholics show growth. Only 73% of Catholics ages 18 to 29 in the 1970s said they believed in life after death. Since 2000, 87% of Catholics of this age state a belief in life after death. In fact, in the 2010s Catholics ages 18 to 29 are more likely to believe in the afterlife than Catholics of any other age. Currently, Catholics in their 40s are the least likely to believe in life after death (79%). The other trend that is evident is that Catholics ages 60 and older have grown more confident in the afterlife since the 1970s.


The other surprising trend is that American adults without a religious affiliation have grown stronger in their belief in life after death. In 1975, 45% of adults without a religion believed in life after death. In 2018, 60% of this demographic group now believes. 


As a general trend, among all U.S. adults more believe in life after death now (82%) than in 1975 (74%). Why has this grown while belief in other religious tenets and religious practice has waned a bit? Not sure. Perhaps it is because belief in the afterlife and prayer are both rooted so deeply in hope.

Here is to hoping for many more posts in 2020... Wishing everyone reading this a very merry Christmas! 

Afterlife image courtesy of John Watson.

8.08.2019

Real Presence or "Actual Presence"


You’ve likely heard the news… “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” File this one under the challenges of translating complex theology into straightforward survey questions.

Pew asked Catholic respondents the following questions:

Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? The bread and wine…
1.    Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ
2.    Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ
3.    Not sure


Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine…
1.    Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ
2.    Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ


These questions produced the following results:


This is significantly different than what sociologists of religion found in 2011 in the United States. Their results look like this (described in a previous post):
 

Has the percentage of Catholics who know the Church teaching on the Real Presence and who believe in it fallen from 46% in 2011 to 28% in 2019? That is a very dramatic shift. Has the percentage who are unaware of the Church’s teaching yet who believe in the Real Presence gone from 17% to only 2%? Overall, Pew’s study, in contrast to the earlier survey, would seem to indicate the share of Catholic not believing in the Real Presence has spiked upward from 37% in 2011 to 65% in 2019.

It is important to note that the 2011 study used slightly different question wording:

Which of the following statements best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for communion?
1.    The bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ
2.    The bread and wine are only symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ


Do you believe that at the Consecration during a Catholic Mass, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ?
1.    Yes, believe
2.    No, don't believe


The differences between results in the surveys may reflect a real shift in belief or they may be an artifact of the difference in question wording. I think it is about Real Presence and “Actual Presence” (Note: CARA has used different wording to ask about the Real Presence in 2001 and 2008: “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist vs. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present”).

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “the Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest.” This is also described as “an inexhaustible mystery.” Further, the bishops note, “In the celebration of the Eucharist, the glorified Christ becomes present under the appearances of bread and wine in a way that is unique, a way that is uniquely suited to the Eucharist. In the Church's traditional theological language, in the act of consecration during the Eucharist the ‘substance’ of the bread and wine is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the ‘substance’ of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the ‘accidents’ or appearances of bread and wine remain.”

Thus, many Catholics may understand that the bread and wine do not “actually” become the Body and Blood of Christ in the way we may use that word in everyday life (i.e., factually present as proven by empirical observation). You can’t take the Eucharist and put it under the microscope and see cellular flesh. No chemical analysis will show the presence of hemoglobin (with the exception of belief in Eucharistic miracles). At the same time, the Eucharist is not just a “symbol.” The presence of Christ is “really” there. The USCCB notes, “This kind of presence corresponds to the virtue of faith, for the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ cannot be detected or discerned by any way other than faith.” In this way, the Pew religious knowledge question on this item is incomplete at best.

My hunch is that if you replace “actually” with “really” in the questions (or better yet use “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist vs. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present”) you’ll see a different result. It’s subtle. It’s also just a hypothesis. CARA will be testing this during the Fall and should have an update soon.

Creative Commons image of stained glass courtesy of Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

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