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.

6.24.2015

Nine Million New Catholic Reverts in 2013?

Since 2000, the Catholic Church around the world has added about 15 million new Catholics each year. In 2013 it added 25 million, according to recently released Vatican statistics. This is interesting as it coincides with the year Pope Francis began leading the Church.

CARA recently released a report on global trends in the Church since 1980. After that report was released we got our 2013 copy (i.e., most recent) of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE). This book represents the Vatican’s awareness of the state of the Church on December 31, 2013. The table below updates key data from our recent global report. In the same year as the big jump in Catholics, the Church increased its number of parishes, priests (diocesan and religious), permanent deacons, secondary students in Catholic schools, and adults entering the faith.


At the same time, losses continued among religious brothers and sisters and numbers for many sacraments dropped below levels of the prior year. Some of these changes are related to changing patterns of fertility. Fewer children born to Catholic parents means fewer infant baptisms. Others require more explanation. Why the decline in enrollments in Catholic higher education? How to explain another year with fewer marriages in the Church?

There are some questions CARA does not have easy answers for. But the jump in the Catholic population can be well understood. It speaks to the very reason a place like CARA exists…


Because the totals are for the world population a jump in Catholics beyond new entries to the faith can only occur with former Catholics coming back. Immigration isn’t a factor on a global scale. In most years since 2000, the number of baptisms (adults and children combined) have been greater than the net growth of the Catholic population. Some people leave the faith every year. Others leave earthly existence (i.e., die).

CARA has always known that there are reverts in the population and in the pews. Former Catholics regularly become Catholic again at some point in their life and make up about one in ten Catholics in the United States according to CARA’s national surveys of self-identified Catholics and surveys of Catholics in in the pews at U.S. parishes. But did 9.2 million former Catholics rejoin the faith globally in the 12 months of 2013? Perhaps. After all this would really only represent 0.7% of the global Catholic population of 1.25 billion.

The ASE comes with the following caution, “the data have been obtained by an indirect survey, by sending a questionnaire to the chancery offices of ecclesiastical jurisdictions throughout the world, to be filled out with the results of surveys or calculations made by those offices. It must be remembered that a worldwide survey of this kind is bound to be influenced to some extent by the often considerable differences in the circumstances of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions in various countries. … [Data] must be considered as overall figures that are a little short of the reality and are therefore merely indicators of the phenomenon dealt with.”

Is the 9.2 million figure related to a typo? Not in a classical sense of a “fat finger” hitting the wrong keys and then being missed by editors. There truly are “considerable” differences in how dioceses and national conferences estimate the number of Catholics residing in their borders. It’s much easier to know the number of priests or number of baptisms in a given year. But how does the Church know how many Catholics reside where?

With polling widespread and many national censuses asking a religious affiliation question, good social science data is often available...but not always used. In some cases dioceses and national conferences appear to rely on rules of thumb. After closely examining the data for each country it is evident that one of these is Mexico—the second largest Catholic country in the world.

Starting with the 2006 ASE, respondents for the Church in Mexico began to assume that the total population of the country was growing by about 0.8% a year and that Catholics made up 92% of that population. These same assumptions were used year after year through the 2012 ASE. At that time, the ASE was reporting a total population in Mexico of 110,292,000 and a Catholic population of 101,350,000. Perhaps someone then pointed out to the respondent for Mexico that the total population for Mexico in 2012 had actually grown to more than 118 million people (annual population growth averaged 1.4% since 2006 rather than the assumed 0.8%).


The total size of Mexico’s population was corrected for the 2013 ASE but the assumption that 92% of this population is Catholic remained in place. Thus, in a single year the Catholic population of Mexico increased by nearly 7.5 million although only about 1.8 million new entries to the faith occurred in the country during that same year. This single “adjustment” results in much of the one year leap in the newly Catholic population that cannot be accounted for by new entries into the faith around the world. Other survey and census estimates indicate that the Catholic percentage of Mexico’s population is closer to about 85% rather than 92%.

The most populous Catholic country, Brazil, may also have contributed to the jump in the new Catholic population. Here, only 1.5 million new entries to the Church were registered in 2013 but the estimate for growth in the Catholic population in that country is nearly 3.8 million. It is possible that World Youth Day could have drawn some former Catholics back in Brazil. There were more than 3 million people on the beach for the final Mass. However, it may also be related to another rule of thumb. Church respondents in Brazil consistently assume that about 84% of the population is Catholic. However, this figure is likely 75% or even lower.

Overall, the higher than expected population totals for Mexico and Brazil are counter-weighted somewhat globally by the Church not reporting estimates for the size of the Catholic population in China. In 2010, Pew estimated this to be about 9 million. Many European and North American countries also underestimate the sizes of their Catholic population and more commonly report parish-affiliated totals, thus leaving out numerous self-identified Catholics who do not regularly attend Mass. On balance, the global total for Catholics reported in the ASE is likely quite accurate. However, the anomalies at the local and regional levels leave the Church with a slightly distorted view of where the world’s Catholics are. In 2013, the number of new Catholics added globally likely falls short of 25 million and is probably closer to the 15 million added in previous years (...including some unknown number of reverts).

So it is unlikely that many millions of reverts returned to the Church in 2013 but the increase in adult baptisms (a much more reliably measured figure) is still notable. The 2013 total, nearly 2.8 million, is the second highest since 2000 and is an exceptional year for the Church among non-Catholic adults deciding to join the faith (soon to be released data for the U.S. will also confirm this trend more locally). Perhaps Pope Francis attracted more non-Catholics to the Church than former Catholics in the first year of his papacy? Most of what is reported in the ASE is easily tallied. Dioceses and national conferences can know the exact numbers of childhood sacraments, ordinations, and annulment cases introduced. The one fuzzy number is always Catholic population. It is clear that many in the Church have turned to more reliable social scientific methods for estimating this. Hopefully, rules of thumb will be used even less often when reporting the 2014 population data.

6.16.2015

Climates of Belief


Pope Francis is scheduled to release an encyclical on the environment Thursday. Earlier today, some new survey data from Pew provides the most recent insight into what Catholics think nationally about climate change (and Pope Francis). We can also use survey data to understand how the encyclical might impact local communities. Where will the work of pastors perhaps be easier than in other places in America?

Yale researchers have aggregated surveys with sufficient sample sizes to allow for localized analysis to the county level. The table below shows the counties where the most American adults believe warming is happening and that human activities are mostly the cause of this change. The last column of the table shows the size of the Catholic adherent population (i.e., those who are active and parish-affiliated) as a percentage of the total population in each county from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census. One county stands out—Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which includes Boston (shown on the right in the image above). Just below New York City in terms of belief in climate change, it is the most Catholic of the climate change believing counties with Catholic adherents making up 46% of the population.


Where might there likely be more resistance to the encyclical? The table below shows the dozen counties with the lowest levels of belief in climate change. Once again one county (…that is “parish”) stands out—Point Coupee, Louisiana (shown in the left in the image above). Similar to Suffolk County just under half the population are Catholic adherents. Here though, a minority of the population believes warming is occurring and just more than a third believe human activity is primarily causing warming.


The figure below shows these data for all counties in the United States for Catholic adherents and for the percentage believing human activity is causing warming. There is a weak association between the two. As the Catholic adherent percentage increases so too does belief in human-caused warming.


This is easier to see in the second figure showing average belief by five different Catholic adherent population levels—from less than 5% to 30% or more. Belief subtly slopes up across the figure left (lower numbers of Catholic adherents) to right (higher levels of Catholic adherents).


After the encyclical is released I can imagine there will be a variety of reactions from the media, the Catholic public, politicians, and scientists. As a political scientist who studies the Church I have a special interest in each of these sub-groups of the population. Climate predictions may be outside of my field but I can imagine the following questions will come up...

How can Pope Francis speak about matters of science?
From time to time popes are called upon to comment on current and in this case predicted future events. However, when doing so they always run the risk of critics countering that they are not qualified to speak on these matters. When Pope Francis speaks critically about some aspect of capitalism I can always count on hearing “He’s not an economist.” Similarly I’ve heard several people say that Pope Francis should stay out of matters of science. For example, in January, conservative radio host Michael Savage said on air, “Suddenly the pope, who has no background in science, is saying that global warming is the biggest threat to mankind.” Mr. Savage seemed to be unaware that Pope Francis actually has a science background. One could argue he is just as qualified as the seemingly omnipresent Bill Nye “The Science Guy” to comment on this issue. While Nye has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering (…a bow tie, legacy of being a children’s show host), Pope Francis has a technical degree in chemistry and spent time working in laboratories before entering the seminary (...not a graduate degree though as has been reported). On a more macro level, the Church is typically viewed as an enemy of science and as recently pointed out by the Associated Press this is a rather uninformed point of view. Regardless, I am sure references to Galileo will be common on Thursday. 

Is climate science “settled?”
As a scientist it makes me cringe whenever I hear this phrase (most often uttered by politicians rather than scientists). In reality science is never settled. Newton was right about gravity... and wrong. We didn't understand this until Einstein introduced general relativity. More wrinkles in physics have been added by quantum mechanics. String theory may contribute more nuance. For all we know, it is possible that we live in a holographic universe. If you asked scientists in the mid-1700s if Newton was correct and his work was “settled science” they would have agreed with you. Yet they knew so little. That is why science is not done by simply taking polls of scientists. All that matters is observations, data, and evidence. It is a beautiful system that always self-corrects in the long-term. If someone can’t replicate your work you will eventually be disregarded. There is no need to brand people as a “denier” for questioning current climate science models. No need to reinvent the inquisition! If someone is saying something that doesn’t fit the evidence simply prove them wrong. Ad hominem attacks are by their very nature unscientific.

The biggest challenge with climate change is complexity. We know what greenhouse gasses do in the laboratory. But the real world has many more variables than we can incorporate in the lab and some of these variables are rather unpredictable. Rather than being settled science I would consider the current state of climate research to be “normal science.” As Thomas Kuhn explained in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), “Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like” (p. 5). This is a period that emphasizes group think and agreement between scientists. It is a defensive phase (e.g., branding others “deniers”). Normal science is sometimes changed, advanced really, by scientific revolutions. Periods where new discoveries can no longer be ignored and existing theories and models either fall away or survive incorporated into a new understanding of reality. Our current understanding of climate change, and all the predictions derived from it, may end up being absolutely correct. But any scientist knows that we cannot be absolutely sure of this. Therefore the term “settled” is more of a political notion than a scientific conclusion.

Is the world getting warmer or has warming paused?
Yes. Both. There have been periods where the world has warmed more quickly and in closer connection to changing levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Where one sees carbon dioxide increase and the temperature increase together, expected linear warming can be observed. However, other periods have shown expanding carbon dioxide levels without corresponding increasing temperatures. Again this speaks to the complexity of climate with other non-human factors being important as well such as solar activity, volcanic activity, oceanic absorption, etc.


However, even in a “pause” it is still the case that it is warmer now than in the recent past and this sustained reality continues to impact the environment. Most climate scientists are concerned that the current pause will soon break and we will again see periods of linear warming or even worse a big leap in temperatures in a chain reaction event (i.e., methane releases in the Arctic). The fact remains that one can predict the global mean temperature pretty well by just knowing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (r-square of .895). And if that current correlation continues to be true into the future the global mean temperature would be expected to increase above 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. Perhaps even more if there is a chain reaction event or more dire predictions from models come true. Yet, skeptics also can show that some of the more dire predictions from the late 1990s failed to appear by 2015 as was expected.

Will the encyclical move the Church in a different direction?
I haven't read it yet. But I do know that the Church has already supported protecting the environment for many years. For example, in 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called for “careful stewardship of the earth and its natural resources” and noted that “care for the earth and for the environment is a moral issue. ... Our Conference offers a distinctive call to seriously address global climate change, focusing on the virtue of prudence, pursuit of the common good, and the impact on the poor, particularly on vulnerable workers and the poorest nations.” The media may portray the encyclical as a change in direction but it will likely be understood within the Church as part of a longstanding commitment to protect the earth and environment. There is no shortage of statements from recent popes on this issue. The biggest impact of the encyclical may be in its elevating the Church’s existing concerns on environmental matters to a higher level. This will likely be well received in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and perhaps less so in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana.

Images courtesy of Ron Kikuchi and Jeff Gunn.

6.04.2015

Fewer Marriages, Fewer Annulments... and a Demographic Twist

In the previous post, CARA released a new report on global trends in the Catholic Church since 1980. These data reveal that there were 1.4 million fewer marriages celebrated in the Church around the world in 2012 than in 1980 (2.7 million compared to 4.1 million or a decline of 34%). This occurred after the Catholic population had grown globally by 57%. Some might not also realize that fewer marriages have also resulted in fewer annulments. In 1980, there were 85,606 new annulment cases introduced and 84% of these were from the countries of the Americas. More specifically, nearly 80% of the world's annulment cases introduced that year came from the United States.


Overall, the number of annulments introduced annually has fallen by 43% since 1980 and in 2012 the total number of cases introduced was down to 49,912 of which 24,010 came from the United States (49% of the world total). Generally, the number of annulment cases from the Americas and Oceania are down while the numbers from Europe, Asia, and Africa are up.

There have been some changes to the annulment process since 1980. Now an initial annulment finding (first instance) is reviewed (second instance) before it can become confirmed. To keep the data as comparable as possible the table below compares annulments in 1980 to decrees of nullity for the first instance in 2012. The focus in this table is on cases where a decision has been made whereas the figure above focuses on new cases introduced (many cases cross over from one year to the next). In 1980, 89,065 annulment cases were closed and 68,787 annulments were granted. Thus, annulments made up 77% of all cases closed. That does not mean that in 23% of cases the Church found no grounds for annulment. In many cases the parties quit the process at some point without the Church ever making a determination (e.g., they may reconcile or no longer have interest in an annulment).


In 2012, 49,417 cases were closed (...moving on to the second instance) and the Church ruled in favor of nullity in 40,811 of these cases (83%). There is some regional variations in the likelihood of receiving an annulment. Only 61% of closed cases in Africa resulted in annulment compared to 86% of cases in the Americas. However, this is not because tribunals in Africa were more likely than those in the Americas to rule contrary to nullity. It is more a reflection of more people seeking annulments in Africa than in the Americas not completing the annulment process.

As shown in the figure below, when the number of marriages in the Church decline so do the number of annulment cases.


How can sacramental practice become less common even as the Catholic population continues to grow? One could easily jump to conclusions and consider this to be solely a reflection of "secularization" or a growing preoccupation with the digital world. Yet there is a bit of demography behind these changes as well.

The world's population is aging and you only get baptized or have your first communion once. People are living longer, healthier lives. It is this extension of life that is leading to population growth (...not births as it is so often assumed). Since 1995, now, and through 2050 we have and can continue to expect there to be about 125 million to 134 million births per year worldwide. At the same time, according to the Census Bureau's International Data Base, in 1995 average life expectancy at birth globally was 63. Today it is 69 and in 2050 it is expected to be 76.

When one looks at sacraments celebrated per 1,000 Catholics in a country or a region almost all the trend lines are declining since 1980. This result is driven by people, on average, living longer lives and having fewer children. Fertility rates are falling almost everywhere (Germany is now matching Japan for record low fertility). As the UN's most recent report on the World Population Situation concludes, "patterns of declining fertility and mortality over the past two decades have led to significant shifts in the age structure of the world’s population. ...While rising life expectancy is a success story, population ageing presents a number of challenges to families, communities and societies with respect to issues such as economic growth, economic security in old age, the organization of health care systems and the strength of familial support systems" (pg. 24). You can see the life expectancy and fertility trends, by country, move together below in World Bank data (press play):


If a population has fewer children it will also have fewer baptisms and then fewer marriages, etc. The cycle feeds on itself generation to generation. Few notice any changes in the short term because all this occurs as life expectancy gains boost overall population numbers. Sacramental numbers will inevitably wane given these demographic shifts. Annulment cases will also likely continue to fall regardless of any changes that might be made to the process. 

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