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.


Parishes Without Resident Pastors Steady in Number, Canon 517.2 Parishes in Decline

Since 1985, the Catholic Church in the United States has experienced a net loss of 11.6% of its parishes. As we’ve noted previously, much of this change has occurred with closures and mergers in New York and Pennsylvania while parish growth has occurred in the South and West. Some of these changes have occurred due to Catholics moving from urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest to the suburbs and the Sunbelt in the South and West. Fewer Catholics in an area means the need for fewer parishes while growth in the Catholic population requires the opening of new parishes.

Also part of this equation though is the number of priests available to serve as pastors in parishes. In 1985, there were 1.5 active diocesan priests per parish in the United States. Today, there is 1.0 active diocesan priests per parish. Canon Law stipulates that “If the diocesan bishop should decide that due to a dearth of priests a participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of the parish is to be entrusted to a deacon or to some other person who is not a priest or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest endowed with the powers and faculties of a pastor to supervise the pastoral care” (Canon 517.2).

About 15 years ago, there were more than 500 parishes entrusted to someone other than a priest. This represented about 17% of the parishes without a resident pastor (most were administered by non-resident pastors with multiple assignments). As of now, just 341 parishes are entrusted to a deacon or other lay person or about 10% of parishes without a resident pastor.

Forty-two percent of these parishes are entrusted to a deacon and 37% to a lay man or woman. Seventeen percent are entrusted to a religious brother or sister and a small number are entrusted to a team of persons (4%).

As shown on the map below, the states where one would be most likely to find a parish entrusted to a deacon or other lay person are Wisconsin (55 parishes), New York (38), Alaska (32), Michigan (28), and California (23).

 Note: Five Canon 517.2 parishes are in non-geographic eparchies and are not shown on this map.

Although the number of ordinations of priests has increased slightly in recent years (as well as priests from outside the country coming to serve here), the number of diocesan priests who are active in ministry is in decline. In 1985, 84% of diocesan priests were active in ministry. Today, only 66% are active in ministry. This, in addition to losses of priests due to mortality, continue to lead to net losses of priests each year. Parish mergers and closures have kept the number of parishes without resident pastors steady. The question is how long is this sustainable? Entrusting parishes to deacons or lay people seem to be an option being used less often.

At the same time, globally speaking, U.S. bishops use Canon 517.2 more often than bishops elsewhere. Some 7.6% of Catholic parishes worldwide are in the United States. Yet, 18% of all Canon 517.2 parishes entrusted to a deacon or lay person are in the United States.

Many of the figures used in this post are available on CARA’s Frequently Requested Statistics. These have just been updated with a number of new trends.


What Should You Eat On Friday?

(Image not intended as an answer to the question above. Not an endorsement!)

CARA’s national surveys indicate that more than six in ten self-identified adult Catholics in the United States will abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Unlike many of the other trends we track, this is not a practice in decline and is just as likely to be done by young adult Catholics as their elders. It also fits well in the social media age where people can have fun posting images of their non-meat foods. If you run a food establishment that is open for business on Fridays during Lent you are also likely financially concerned about the impact of 31,995,000 Catholic consumers (extrapolating from the survey data) looking for something to eat made of something other than meat.

Last Lent I gave up meat for the whole season. I am sure I just wasn’t doing vegetarianism “correctly” but I have to say it was the least healthy I have ever felt. When Lent ended, I went on a high protein diet (lots of meat) and now feel much less likely to die any time soon. Therefore, this Lent I had to think about what in the heck am I am going to eat on the days where I have to abstain from meat again (all Catholics, ages 14 or older, are called to abstain on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent).

This question called for some statistical analysis. The most challenging meal for many working age Catholics might be lunch. You aren’t at home and there likely aren’t any parish fish dinners available at this time. This often means one might buy a quick meal from a restaurant. I dug into the 2019 non-meat offerings at national fast and fast-casual chains and our findings might surprise some. I assume that a Catholic diner is looking to skip the meat but get as much protein (and fiber) as they can as a nutritional goal. I also assume they look to keep calorie and carbohydrate counts reasonable and minimize fat (...well maybe not keto Catholics), sodium, and sugar. Unfortunately taste is too subjective to be considered.

Although it varies by activity level, the average American needs around 2,000 calories per day and should try not to exceed 65 grams of fat and 2,300 milligrams of sodium. A healthier intake of sugar would be about 35 grams per day. To keep the comparisons fair, one Lent-friendly meal per establishment is evaluated and the base meal is a fish sandwich and medium fries (drink excluded). Some of the restaurants offer neither so the closest equivalent is considered in these cases. How do the menus this Lent stack up within these guidelines? I ranked them all on each nutritional outcome and the figure below shows the average rank (i.e., a lower rank indicates a better outcome given my assumptions) for each meal and establishment.

For me, someone looking to eat somewhat healthy and get as much protein as possible, Panera Bread’s tuna sandwich on focaccia with potato chips might be ideal. It is ranked overall as the 5th “healthiest” option this year (quotations are used because I am a doctor but not that kind of doctor…) providing 800 calories, 43 grams of fat (66% of daily limit), 75 grams of carbohydrates, 30 grams of protein, 1,520 milligrams of sodium (63% of daily limit), 5 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of sugar.

The “healthiest” option overall, given my assumptions, would be a Subway’s 6-inch tuna sandwich on Italian bread with potato chips. It is only 610 calories (no cheese but your choice of any vegetables allowed), but it has significantly less protein than Panera at 21 grams. On the positive side, Subway also offers less fat (35 grams), fewer carbs (53 grams), and lower sodium (780 milligrams).

The next “best” option to Subway may surprise—it’s the original fast food Lent offering. McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish with medium fries is surprisingly lighter than many other options. This meal comes in at only 610 calories with 35 grams of fat, 82 grams of carbohydrates, 21 grams of protein, 780 milligrams of sodium, 6 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of sugar.  Outside of elevated fats these nutritional targets measure close to 1/3 of what one would expect in a day’s eating. This was a meal specifically designed for the Catholic consumer in 1960s Cincinnati. Nutritionally, it is still not a bad option.

Which meal meets or exceeds some generally recognized daily nutritional goals? It’s one where there was not an equivalent to the fish sandwich and fries and this may have made it a less than fair comparison. If you wanted Chipotle you might order a sofritas burrito bowl (also including beans, rice, fajitas, cheese, salsa, lettuce, and sour cream) with a side of chips and guacamole. This amounts to 1,530 calories with 79.5 grams of fat, 165 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of protein (best of any meal evaluated), 2,800 milligrams of sodium (exceeding daily total maximum), 27 grams of fiber (best of any meal evaluated), and 14 grams of sugar. So if you are looking for maximum protein and fiber this is the choice but it comes with some other less desirable outcomes. This could also be a better option by cutting out the chips and guacamole and keeping the cheese and sour cream out of the burrito bowl. This option would only provide 545 calories, 15.5 grams of fat, 21 grams of protein, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 1,770 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of sugar. But would this be a meal that is really an equivalent to a fish sandwich and fries? It’s probably a bit too far on the lighter side.

While KFC does not appear to have a meat-free Lent option (unless you are lucky enough to be in Guam), Chick-fil-A does. A fish sandwich joins the lineup (at participating locations) for Lent. While the sandwich does not have complete nutritional information from the company, it appears to be similar, based on other sources, to McDonald’s once one factors in the side of fries. It comes in as the third “healthiest” relative to the recommended daily values. If you want a more calorie packed (and flavorful?) fish sandwich and fries you could try Wendy’s, Burger King, or Arby’s. These all exceed 850 calories, 100 carbohydrates, 40 grams of fat, and about 1,500 milligrams of sodium or more. Arby’s comes in with the highest numbers for the fish and fries meal for fat, carbs, sodium, and sugar (…this is the franchise with the tag line “We have the meats!” so it may not surprise that it is not likely the first option for a Friday during Lent).

Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have offered a beer battered fish sandwich in the past. However, as of Ash Wednesday, it was not an option that was active from their menu windows online. Instead, under their “Better for you options” they currently offer a Veg It Thickburger, which appears to be a toppings loaded burger without the meat. We utilized this for our analysis (with medium fries). The fish sandwich from previous years would have been less “healthy.” Taco Bell also requires some selective ordering. We went with the Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito with Nacho Fries for the analysis. It offers the lowest protein option but ranks second highest in fiber.

As we have noted in the past, Catholics are a relatively healthy bunch in the United States. Hopefully, our review of 2019 offerings helps you make some menu decisions this year. A recent scientific study showed that knowing what you are consuming may be one of the easiest steps to maintaining your health. 

McDonald’s background image courtesy of michaelgoodin.


Where the Parish Doors Have Closed … and Opened

One of the most common news stories about the Catholic Church in recent years involve parish closures. These events often gain local attention and time from time get coverage nationally. When the story is national, the closure(s) sometimes seems as if this is something generalizable. The national data (for territorial Latin rite dioceses) seem to fit this characterization with the Church now operating 1,437 fewer parishes than it had in 1971.

Note: Figure excludes parishes in Eastern rite eparchies

What often gets lost in these stories (and in the national numbers) is that closures are a much more regional and local phenomenon. CARA has often referred to a “Tale of Two Churches” (1, 2) where pastors in different parts of the country tend to be worried about different things (keeping the lights on vs. finding space for more pews and parking spaces).

The net loss of parishes has been most heavily concentrated in dioceses in a handful of states. Really two states lead the pack in reducing their numbers of parishes. Pennsylvania has reduced its number of parishes by 532 since 1971 and New York by 500 during the same period. Other states have experienced increases in parishes, offsetting some of these losses including Texas, which has added 293 parishes, Florida which has added 165 parishes, and Arizona and New Mexico (the Diocese of Gallup crosses state lines) which added 121. The states in blue on the following map (click the map to see a larger version) have fewer parishes now than they had in 1971 and those in green have more now than in 1971.

The pattern in parish losses and gains follows economic and social mobility changes in the country more generally. The Sunbelt in the South has attracted population growth while the Rustbelt in the Northeast and Midwest have seen population drains over the decades. The Catholic Church, diocese by diocese, has responded to these changes by closing parishes in areas with losses and opening them in the states where population gains have occurred. It is important to note that these population gains have also included new arrivals from outside the United States as well.

In some urban dioceses that attracted the first waves of Catholic immigration from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, churches were built to serve the needs of people from particular countries like Italy, Poland, Germany, and Ireland. In some cases, parish buildings were built in close proximity to each other in cities catering to the language and culture of the specific immigrant groups needing pastoral care and access to the sacraments. Now many years removed from this immigration and often with Catholics having left long ago for the suburbs or the Sunbelt, parish buildings are underutilized. This is part of the story of what happened with some of the parish closures in areas of New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. In some other areas, shortages of priests have led to reorganizations that involve parish closures and clergy being assigned to administer multiple parishes. However, there are limits to how many parishes a single priest can realistically administer geographically. Finances also play a role. Since 2000, the average Catholic family has given $10 a week to their parish. In some cases, the number of these active families present in parish communities are not sufficient in numbers to make the operation of a parish viable in the long-term. Closures here have also been made due to this lack of funding.

In many ways, it has been easier for the Church to close parishes than build new sites. While growth is evident throughout the South (outside of Louisiana) and West, the Catholic population of this region has increased much more quickly than new brick and mortar construction. Nowhere is this more evident than in Georgia where the Catholic population has increased from about 110,000 in 1971 to more than 1 million today (+858%). While the state has added 67 parishes during this period, the number of Catholics per parish has increased from 1,396 in 1971 to 7,235 in 2018.

States with fewer Catholics today than in 1971 include Pennsylvania (-17% fewer), Rhode Island (-17%), Michigan (-16%), Vermont (-16%), Massachusetts (-14%), Louisiana (-10%), Ohio (-9%), Connecticut (-9%), Illinois (-4%), North Dakota (-2%), and Wisconsin (-2%). Other than Georgia, states with significantly more Catholics now than in 1971 include North Carolina (+922% more; 73,600 to 752,500), Nevada (+635%), South Carolina (+582%), Utah (+370%), Florida (+298%), Tennessee (+285%), and Virginia (+265%).  
New York has experienced no real net growth nor loss in the total number of Catholics residing in the state. Thus, there is more to the story of parish closures in New York than simple population change. Here, the geographic distribution of this population and of the parishes (particularly in urban areas) is likely central. It is also important to note that even with the net loss of 500 parishes in New York, there remains 1,203 parishes open and the number of Catholics per parish has only increased modestly from 4,048 in 1971 to 5,743 today. By comparison, in Nevada, a state that has gained 20 parishes since 1971, the number of Catholics per parish today is 12,639.

Parish photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism.

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