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.

12.23.2011

Yes Virginia, there are still Christians (including Catholics) in Europe


The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a report this week on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population entitled, Global Christianity. For religion researchers there is not much that is new or surprising in this report. Similar estimates are widely available and used in the field (e.g., ARDA, World Christian DatabaseWorld Values Survey, regional barometer surveys, and even the CIA World Factbook). But for the media and the public this report provides a well-done, fresh look at how Christianity has changed in the last century.

The finding that seemed to catch the most attention among religion reporters was the following from the Pew researchers’ executive summary: “In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%).”

Here is how this statement often got translated in the news (emphasis added):

Nadia Gilani of the Daily Mail (UK):
“Christians remain the largest religious group in the world despite their population migrating from Europe to Africa, Asia and the Americas according to a new study.”

G. Jeffrey Macdonald of Religion News Service:
“With 2.18 billion adherents, Christianity has become a truly global religion during the past century as rapid growth in developing nations offset declines in traditional strongholds, according to a report released Monday.”

Christianity Today:
“A hundred years ago, the centre of Christianity was Europe. Today, Christianity is declining across its former heartland as the church rises in Africa, Asia and the Americas.”

Finally, here is one of the better stories on the study:

Raja Abdulrahim of The Los Angeles Times:
“In 1910, about two-thirds of Christians lived in Europe, where the majority had resided for a millennium. But as Christianity has grown in other parts of the world, the population has seen a shift.”

Have Christians migrated in mass from Europe? Are there fewer Christians in Europe? No to both.

There are more Christians (and Catholics) in Europe now than there have ever been at any time in history. There are growing numbers of individuals without a religious affiliation (i.e., the Nones) and globalization has brought many non-Christians to the continent from other areas of the world. This has altered the percentage of Europeans who identify themselves as a Christian. But population is not a zero-sum game! A smaller population percentage does not equate a smaller number of that population when the overall population is growing.

Vatican statistics have long documented the global shift among Catholics that is noted in the report. For example, below is a figure including Vatican estimates for the global proportions of Catholics by region. In 1900, 68% of the world’s Catholics resided in Europe. In 2009 (most recent data available), this had fallen to just 24%. Crisis? Not quite.


The pie has gotten much bigger. There are more Catholics in the world and Europe’s slice makes up a smaller share of the whole pie but it’s still a heck of a lot bigger piece than it was in 1900. The figure below shows the total population numbers by region.


Europe’s Catholic population has grown by 57% since 1900 from 180 million to 284 million today. There has been no decline in the number of Catholic Europeans. Mass attendance has certainly declined (more in some European countries than others) but the total population affiliated with the faith has continued to grow on the continent.

There was also no great “migration” as the Daily Mail suggests. Africa and Asia do not have more Christians because they moved from Europe. Evangelization has clearly been important but so has another factor that is not mentioned prominently in the study or the news reports about it—fertility.

In many European countries the fertility rate dropped below what is needed for growth (2.1 or above) in the last century. Immigration has filled the gap somewhat—often bringing non-Christians to Europe. At the same time, in many areas of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, population growth has quickened with declines in infant and maternal mortality rates.

As a simple example think of two women: one lives in a country with a fertility rate of 2 and the other lives in a country with a fertility rate of 5. Then assume they live out these fertility rates as do their offspring. The first woman will eventually have 8 great grandchildren. The second woman will have 125 (and 625 great great grandchildren). That is the difference between a low fertility and high fertility nation/region. The growth in the proportion of Christians in what Pew calls the Global South (and smaller proportions in Europe) is largely a function of effective Christian evangelization and differences in fertility rates (sprinkled with a bit of globalization and secularization).

In the figure below (World Bank data via Google Public Data Explorer), you can see the differences in fertility rates over time around the world. Just hit the arrow button to play out the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years. Note, fertility rates have dropped around the globe but the key is the number and regional distribution of countries falling below 2.0 on the y-axis. You'll find most of Europe in this part of the graph.


How to explain the regional differences in fertility? Strangely enough a lot of it is economics. You can see the same fertility trends (this rate is on the y-axis) play out in the figure below with the addition of GDP per capita on the x-axis and the size of the bubbles representing total population (pause the player and place your cursor over a bubble to identify country). Although countries like China and India have the largest populations (including sizable numbers of Catholics), for the future keep an eye on the number of Christians in Nigeria which is expected to grow substantially in the 21st century (currently the home to 20 million Catholics and nearly 60 million Protestants).



Buon Natale!

Above photo courtesy of dalbera at Flickr Creative Commons. 

12.22.2011

“C and E” Catholics Decoded


You’ve spent the last four weeks singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and getting used to the new Missal translation.  You’ve watched the Advent candles be lit, celebrated the beginning of the new liturgical year, and readied yourself in “joyful anticipation” for Christmas.  Maybe you’ve headed to a Christmas concert (or two), maybe you’ve had family pictures taken (awkward or otherwise).

And then the big day (or Midnight Mass) comes–and there is a stranger sitting in your pew!

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year–and with it come back our brothers and sisters we affectionately call “C and E” Catholics (Christmas and Easter).  Who are these people who flock to our pews two times a year?  And, how many people are we talking about fit into this camp?  Actually, just over half of self-identified adult Catholics attend Mass once or twice a year or less often (data source: CARAs Sacraments Today). These are the guys (...more often men than women) in green below (56%). Forty-four percent of self-identified Catholics, those in red below, attend Mass more frequently.

These “C and E” Catholics are young and have some of the traits we associate with this demographic. They are less likely to be living in a home they have bought and less likely to be married.  Expect a more youthful look around your parish Sunday with more than six in ten Catholics born after 1960 fitting into the “C and E” Catholic mold. 


They also have differing opinions on the meaningfulness of the Sacraments.  They are less likely than regular Mass attenders to say that each of the Sacraments is “very meaningful” to them.  In fact,  regular Mass attenders are twice as likely as the “C and Es” to say that most of the Sacraments are “very meaningful” to them. 


When asked to select which of the Sacraments that is the most meaningful to them, regular Mass attenders most often selected the Eucharist (43%), compared to less frequent attenders, who selected baptism most often (42%).  So-called “C and Es” are also less likely than more regular Mass attenders to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist (40% to 79%, respectively).

These differences in meaningfulness of the Sacraments may be rooted in a lack of early engagement.  Those who attend Mass less frequently are slightly less likely (but still statistically significantly) than those who more regularly attend Mass to have fulfilled their early Sacramental rites, including First Communion and Confirmation.


So, when they are sitting in your pew this Christmas, just what are they looking for in the Mass?  When asked how important each of the parts of Mass are to them, “C and Es” responded that the following aspects were “very important” to them:
  • Feeling the presence of God (66 percent)
  • Prayer and reflection (62 percent)
  • Receiving Communion (55 percent)
  • Hearing the readings and the Gospel (47 percent)
  • Hearing the homily (31 percent)
  • Worshiping with other people (23 percent)
  • The music (22 percent)
  • The church environment and decorations (22 percent)

And, not to judge, but what do the data say about why these people may be in my pew just once or twice a year?  Why have they missed Mass?  Turns out, it is a combination of not thinking missing Mass is a sin and not being very religious.


My advice to you is the same advice I give my children when they are frustrated:  take a deep breath, smile, and remember that God loves you and all of creation.  There may be less room in the pew but that makes it an even merrier Christmas!

-By CARA Research Associate and Director of Parish Surveys Melissa Cidade

Above photo courtesy of HerryLawford at Flickr Creative Commons. Linked concert vocals by Margaret Cidade-Harkleroad and the Saint Francis International School Choir.

12.16.2011

Young Adult Catholics Haven’t Lost God’s Number


When I was a kid, just beginning to learn about the Catholic faith, I thought making the sign of the cross before prayer was how you "dialed God's phone number." The statue in the image above, an angel with a cell phone to her ear, is from St. John's Cathedral in the Netherlands and is quite a literal translation of the idea of "calling God."

These days many are concerned that young adult Catholics have "lost" God's phone number or are just no longer interested in talking. It is the case that the most common time for someone raised in the faith to leave it, is in the teens and early 20s. At the same time it is also the case that Catholicism keeps more of its young faithful in the United States than any major Protestant denomination. The rise of the Nones—those without a religious affiliation—is almost a mirror image of the decline in young adult Americans affiliating with some other Christian denomination (source: General Social Survey). As the figure below shows, in 1972, 58% of those age 18 to 35 in the United States self-identified their religion with a Christian faith other than Catholicism (mostly Protestant denominations). In 2010, this had fallen 16 percentage points to 42%. During this same period the percentage of people in this age group lacking a religious affiliation rose from 9% to 26% (+17 percentage points).



Catholic affiliation among U.S. young adults has remained much more stable dropping 3 percentage points from 29% in 1972 to 26% in 2010 (this difference is within margin of error). The percentage of young adults affiliating with some other non-Christian religion has also remained stable. 

Although the affiliation numbers are reassuring the estimates for the Mass attendance of young adults is far less positive. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 35 attend less frequently than older and younger Catholics (who are brought to church by their parents). Currently only about 16% of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 35 attend Mass every week. By comparison 37% of Catholic young adults attended every week in 1972 (a decline of 21 percentage points).


As the percentage of weekly Mass attenders has grown smaller, the share of Catholic young adults saying they attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month has increased from 19% in 1972 to 32% in 2010 (an increase of 13 percentage points). Those saying they attend only a few times a year, less than annually, or never have remained more stable over time. If there is any silver lining in these data it is the fact that many young adults have not fallen completely away from their faith and still have some consistent connection to parish life.

The difference in the data between affiliation/identity and the practice of the faith is still remarkable. Of course so much of the Catholic faith is in action; in doing things rather than just believing them. Going to Mass and celebrating the Eucharist are essential. Is there any evidence that young adult Catholics are still calling God in some other way?

The figure below shows changes in frequency of prayer among young adult Catholics. Consistently about four in ten have reported daily prayer during the last three decades in which this question has been asked in the GSS. Also solidly consistent is the number indicating prayer at least once a week. Most young adults Catholics, about three in four in all, are having at least one conversation with God every week. They just aren't doing it in a brick and mortar parish. It is as if more recent cohorts of young adults have come to think of the parish as the "land line" connection to God—one they don't need as much or anymore given their personal connection to God through individual prayer.


Perhaps the biggest challenge for the 21st century Catholic parish is to make the case for community and celebration within its walls for young adults who more often shun real world gatherings and tangible memberships for virtual content and connections (and they apparently are not doing much related to their faith online either 1, 2).

So it's not that young adult Catholics have hung up the phone and ended the conversation. The affiliation and prayer data are quite reassuring. Even the Mass attendance data shows that nearly half are in a parish at least once a month. The bigger questions are about how the Church can convince young adults to be there more often and how it can make the case to them to take their more regular personal prayer connection to God and share this with others as a parish community.  


11.22.2011

Catholic Climate Change


Changes to the liturgy are taking effect this weekend. The new English translation is designed to be more consistent with the original Latin. 

Where are American Catholics on the issue of change in general? It’s a mixed weather pattern. 

In Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey there is a question that asks, “Thinking about your religion, which of the following statements comes closest to your view? My church or denomination should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices; or adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances; or adopt modern beliefs and practices.

A majority of U.S. Catholics surveyed responded that the Church should either “adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances” (44%) or “adopt modern beliefs and practices” (14%).  More than a third (35%) indicated that the Church should “preserve its traditional beliefs and practices.” The remainder volunteered another response, didn’t know, or refused to answer. The map below displays the “preserve its traditional beliefs and practices” responses by state. 

Respondents in states shaded in blue or purple have the highest percentages of Catholics responding that the Church should “preserve its traditional beliefs and practices.” Catholic respondents in states shaded in yellow and orange are least likely to respond as such (i.e., more likely to prefer change).


The traditionalists are in greatest number in Kansas (54%), North Dakota (52%), Arkansas (48%), Utah (46%), and Kentucky (45%). There appears to be concentrations of traditionalism in the South and Central West. The winds of change appear to blow strongest in New Hampshire (23%), Maine (26%), Wyoming (26%), Delaware (26%), and Massachusetts (27%). A New England concentration for change is evident.

Catholics perceptions of how much change is occurring in the Church are a bit less stormy. A few months ago a CBS News Poll asked a national sample, “When it comes to social and political issues, would you say the Catholic church has become more liberal since Pope Benedict has become leader of the Catholic church, more conservative, or would you say the Catholic church hasn't changed much since Pope Benedict has become the leader of the Catholic church?

In terms of political and social issues, few Catholics and non-Catholics perceive change. Seven in ten Catholics say there is “not much change.” Smaller and nearly equal numbers feel the Church has become more liberal (8%) or more conservative (9%). 


Many non-Catholics appear either to not have enough information or are not paying close enough attention to the Church to make an evaluation. The most popular response was “don’t know.”

Above photo courtesy of Wes Rogers at Flickr Creative Commons.

11.09.2011

Catholics come home... But just for a visit?

Catholics Come Home (CCH) is going national. After several years of diocesan campaigns conducted during Advent and Lent, the highly regarded television and YouTube ads will be shown on prime time television across the United States from Dec. 16 through Jan. 8. What effect could this have? The story announcing the news indicates, “The organization hopes to inspire as many as one million Catholics to return to local parishes.” This story also notes that “Since it began its media campaigns in 2008, Catholics Come Home has increased Mass attendance an average of 10 percent in the markets where the ads have shown and has brought 300,000 people back to the Church.”

The CCH website includes a series of change measurements for their campaigns in dioceses. For example, in the Diocese of Phoenix (Lent 2008) Mass attendance is estimated to have increased 12%. Even more reportedly returned in the Diocese of Corpus Christi (Lent 2009 up 17.7%). Results in the Archdiocese of Seattle (Lent 2010 up 4.5%) and in the Diocese of Colorado Springs (Advent 2009 up 6.1%) were a bit more modest. Taken all together, with the previous diocesan campaigns and now the national effort, this means that in January 2012 we might expect about 1.3 million more Catholics will be active in the Church than were active in January 2008 (beyond what we would expect through population growth, other evangelization efforts, and just normal life-cycle returns).

As much as I personally find “Epic: 120” to be appealing and uplifting (it reminds me a bit of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 classic political ad “Morning Again in America”), the social scientist in me is naturally skeptical of some of the cause and effect claims made regarding these ads. I specifically have concerns about how CCH and others have apparently measured some of the reported Mass attendance effects of these campaigns.

If you are measuring changes in Mass attendance you must pay very close attention to the Church calendar and only compare attendance during similar periods (i.e., “apples to apples”). There are regularly understood seasonal changes in Mass attendance each Advent and Lent—with or without television commercials. And this is no recent phenomenon. It’s been occurring for decades—perhaps first documented in studies by Father Joseph H. Fichter, S.J. such as, Southern Parish: The Dynamics of a City Church (Volume I, University of Chicago Press, 1951). Currently, CARA surveys estimate that 23% of self-identified adult Catholics attend Mass every week. Yet, in any given average week, 31% of Catholics are attending. During Lent and Advent, Mass attendance increases into the mid-40% range and on Christmas and Easter, an estimated 68% of Catholics attend.

Take for example the Diocese of Green Bay where this CCH Mass attendance comparison was made: “A Mass attendance census, taken on two weekends in over 150 area parishes last April, found a 7.4 percent increase compared to an October 2009 census.” October headcounts—done in nearly all diocesesare completed at this time of year because it is in Ordinary Time and can be considered a period of relatively “typical” levels of attendance. There are two periods of the year with consistent and sustained increases in attendance—Advent and Lent—the periods when Catholics Come Home do their diocesan campaigns. There should be no surprise that Mass attendance during these periods is higher than in October in any diocese. 

Michael Cieslak, Ed.D., Director of Research and Planning in the Diocese of Rockford has presented evaluations of the CCH program for his diocese last year and again at this year’s Religious Research Association annual meetings. Cieslak has noted that the ads appeared to boost Mass attendance during and shortly after the campaign in Advent of 2009. But this bump in attendance has largely dissipated and two most recent headcounts indicate that Mass attendance has returned to pre-CCH levels.

There are other sources of data that can be tapped to measure potential CCH campaign effects. CARA conducted a national survey of adult self-identified Catholics on media use a few months ago. Results from this survey can be compared to a similar study conducted in 2005 (prior to any CCH campaign). Both surveys have a similar structure and content and both included a diocesan identifier for each respondent (representing their diocesan newspaper). We can use these two surveys to separate respondents by time (pre- and post-CCH) and by dioceses that have and have not had a CCH campaign.

As one can see in the figure below, in the 27 dioceses that have completed a CCH campaign or where the ads were pilot tested (as listed on the CCH website map), Mass attendance is up in 2011 compared to 2005. The percentage of self-identified adult Catholics saying they attend at least once a month has increased by 8 percentage points (38% in 2005 compared to 46% in 2011). This shift is beyond the margin of error (the 3 percentage point increase in weekly attendance is not statistically significant). 

 

In isolation, this appears to be a confirmation of the CCH claims for increased activity in dioceses that have conducted campaigns. The problem? The same change occurred in dioceses that did not have CCH ads air. Here the monthly Mass attendance group increased by 9 percentage points (41% in 2005 compared to 50% in 2011).

 

It is certainly possible that the CCH campaigns may have “spilled-over” into other dioceses and that these data still confirm a measurable effect, but I am not sure this is likely. Many people see the CCH commercials on television in the dioceses where the ads are air. There does not appear to be a widespread number of views of CCH ads outside of these dioceses (i.e., where Mass attendance also increased). For example, the CCH YouTube channel has only about 1,400 subscribers and about 32,000 channel views since it was established in March 2008. More than 385,000 individual views of its videos have been made. These are all quite small numbers on a national scale. Most of the views are of the “Epic: 120” video (about 227,000 over more than 3 years... there are smaller numbers of views of this video on vimeo, godtube, dailymotion, metcafe, etc.). Forty-one of the 45 videos on the CCH YouTube channel have less than 5,000 views each (33 of them have less than 1,000 views each).

The CCH website also does not appear to draw huge numbers of visitors according to traffic estimates provided by commercial tracking sites. Quantcast estimates that the CCH website is visited by more than 10,800 U.S. web users per month. Alexa currently ranks the site at #529,337 in the U.S. (note that Quantcast ranks it higher) and provides the following typical audience snapshot: “Based on internet averages, catholicscomehome.org is visited more frequently by females who are in the age range 55-64, have no children, have no college education and browse this site from work.”

There are more data that can be compared, as reported by dioceses, in The Official Catholic Directory. The most recent 2011 edition presents the state of dioceses as of January 1, 2011—before Lent of this year. In the figures below I have compared dioceses where CCH ads aired (18 in total; again as listed on the CCH website) and those that did not up to Advent of last year. Sacramental activity rates (celebrations per 1,000 Catholics) have not increased in CCH dioceses from 2006 to 2011—including numbers of new Catholics entering the Church as infants, children, or adults.



Much like the Mass attendance comparison, there are also no significant differences between dioceses with CCH campaigns and those without them. 

It is the case that dioceses that completed CCH campaigns report significantly more growth in their Catholic populations between 2006 and 2011 than those dioceses that did not have a campaign between 2006 and 2011 (nearly +1.2 million more Catholics in total). However, these CCH dioceses still had declines in numbers seeking baptisms (infant and adult) during this period. This indicates that the Catholic population growth identified here is largely not through infant baptisms or bringing non-Catholic adults into the faith. Also, on closer examination, nearly all of this growth is concentrated in three arch/dioceses: Atlanta, Phoenix, and Sacramento, which also experienced significant total population growth overall in the last decade (we’ve commented specifically on the Archdiocese of Atlanta in a previous post). It may be that these three arch/dioceses represent the best evidence for CCH bringing former Catholics back to the faith. It is equally likely that these new Catholics were largely gained through migration and immigration to Sunbelt areas of the U.S. In ten of 18 arch/dioceses with CCH campaigns, the rate of Catholic population growth from 2006 to 2011 is either slower than that for the overall population in the arch/diocese or actually negative.

I do not doubt that these are very well done ads. I do not doubt that they do a lot of good by creating a positive Catholic presence in the media. I'm sure there are thousands of anecdotes indicating positive effects that can or already have been profiled. CCH has a number of very positive and touching testimonials. I think the CCH effort deserves support, encouragement, and hope. Regardless of any data or statistics, Tom Peterson, CCH Founder and President, deserves a lot of credit and admiration for leaving a secular for-profit advertising business to set up a non-profit media ministry and then doing so much with this to create positive changes in the U.S. Church.

I just don’t think hundreds of thousands or more people “come back” or “come to” the Church and stay based on a 120-second advertisement. If this does occur in Advent 2011 it will represent one of the most extraordinarily successful media campaigns of all time and counter decades of social science and market research that has largely concluded that media spots and persuasion campaigns more often than not have just “minimal effects” on decisions and behavior (here is an example from political science). In the data I can examine, evidence of lasting effects are hard to find for some of the claims being made. More often than not, I think the Mass attendance measurements and comparisons made for CCH campaigns are primarily capturing the “return” of Christmas and Easter Catholics (i.e., actually those Catholics who typically attend on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter) who aren't around in October or other times of the year.

I do think the CCH ads will energize Advent this year and likely produce at least a short-term bump in attendance other than what would normally be expected for the season. I do not doubt the ads brings in some fallen away Catholics and non-Catholics into parishes. But the data indicate the number of these individuals at this time is still too small to appear in national counts. The CCH materials often speak of “souls returned” to the Church by the commercials. For this to be the case the people returning to parishes will have to start showing up and staying in the national data soon. It has to be more than a short visit home.” 

One might ask, What could be more effective than a commercial?” Father Barron’s Catholicism is a possibility that comes immediately to mind. It is on television, like CCH ads, and CARA studies indicate that TV is the among most used mediums for religious or spiritual content. This series also has the advantage of being the content rather than an advertisement and can reach a much greater depth than what could be achieved in a two-minute ad. But then again CCHs ads will be in prime time on major networks where Catholicism is harder to find (PBS, EWTN etc.) on these widely-watched channels.

There is another possibility... I know new evangelization gets most of the attention these days but my hunch is that “old” evangelization would still work well. For Father Fichter it was a research method (i.e., the parish census) but I think it could be much more. What if parishes actually sent out volunteers to knock on doors? Introduce themselves. Let people know of the parish down the street (perhaps leaving a card with parish information and contacts). Offer help to those in need. Listen to the complaints of the disaffected. Ask, in person, for Catholics to come home by going to their homes. With enough volunteers it could be less costly than the old media and new media approaches and likely even more effective.

10.21.2011

90 Degrees from Left and Right


CARA has been in the news recently regarding results from a survey about American Catholics’ awareness and use of the U.S. Bishops’ Faithful Citizenship document (these CARA Catholic Poll questions were commissioned by Fordham's Center on Religion and Culture). Regrettably, these results indicate that few Catholics were aware of or used Faithful Citizenship in 2008. It’s a shame because it is an extraordinary comprehensive statement of the Church’s teachings and positions on social and political issues. Recently re-released with a new introduction this document will again vie for Catholics’ attention in 2012. Although it is by no means meant to be a voting guide or checklist I do think it provides for an interesting hypothetical test for Catholic voters (...if you have not read it yet, what are you waiting for?).

What if Faithful Citizenship was not a document from the U.S. Bishops? What if instead it was a new political party platform? Would you vote for a “third party” that stood for what Faithful Citizenship stands for rather than cast your vote for the Democrats or Republicans? Looking at survey data I don’t think many American Catholics would. Catholics tend to put their party preference ahead of their faith. They often choose to emphasize the issues their party is consistent with Church teachings on and minimize or ignore those that it is not.

In many European and Latin American countries with a Catholic presence, religious parties have had success running on a Church-inspired platform (e.g., from Rerum Novarum or Quadragesimo Anno)—sometimes in coalition with other similar-minded Protestant groups. These parties have often called themselves “Christian Democrats” (no affiliation with the Democratic Party in the U.S.)

Why doesn’t the U.S. have a Christian Democrat Party? I think it would be challenging for any party with a religious reference in its name and inspiration to be successful given the culture of separation of church and state in the U.S. It is also the case that a significant Catholic presence in the population required waves of immigration that occurred well after the formation of the U.S. party system. The biggest limiting factor may be our electoral system—the method used to translate votes into seats. We do this the “old school” way of one seat per district going to the majority/plurality vote winner which often leads to the creation of two large parties (with internal sub-divisions coming to coalition before elections). It is winner take all and very, very British. The U.K. currently gets effectively 2.5 parties out of it (Tories, Labour, and Liberal Dems).

Losers get little in America. This is not the case in most other democracies (including predominantly Catholic countries like Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and others) where the primary alternative to the first past the post (FPTP) electoral system used in the U.S. and U.K. is proportional representation (PR). In a PR system there are multi-member districts and parties win seats in close proportion to their vote percentages. So if a party wins 20% of the vote they may get about 20% of the seats in the legislature. Such systems typically have at least four and often more political parties. If the United States were to shift to PR elections we would no longer have the Democrats and Republicans of today. More than likely these parties would split up into a social conservative party, a libertarian party, a labor party, and a variety of other single issue, regional, and social group parties. We might have a more visible green party led by Al Gore and the Tea Party movement might become a “real” party (note that America’s founders did not intend to create a system where parties would form and feared the problems caused by factionalism).

The electoral system used for U.S. presidential elections also helps reinforce the two-party system. There is of course only one office and it is awarded to the majority/plurality winner of 51 population-weighted state/DC elections (i.e., Electoral College system). For presidential elections in many other countries a two-round system is used. In these, a national vote with many candidates from many different parties is held first—kind of like one big national simultaneous primary. The top two vote getting candidates then go on to campaign more and face a second and final vote perhaps weeks later which then goes to the majority candidate. As with PR, this broadens the field and gives more room for multiple parties to develop and thrive (it also ensures a majority selection, unlike the Electoral College where a candidate winning a plurality or even a minority of popular votes can be elected).

In the United States we have room for only two parties in the legislature because losing in single-member districts is so costly. You may win 49.9% of the vote but have nothing to show for it. The costs and challenges for a third or fourth party to seriously enter and compete in American elections are extremely formidable. The electoral systems used in the U.S. make it difficult for a Christian Democrat type of party to emerge—even when one in four voters are Catholic (78% of voters in 2010 were either Catholic or Protestant).

I don’t think we will ever see significant changes to the U.S. electoral systems. But it is a useful thought experiment. This idea came to me after reading one of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s blogs earlier this year which placed the U.S. Bishops in the uncomfortable left-right, two-party system context:

One side usually blesses us when we preach the virtue of fiscal responsibility, the civil rights of the unborn, the danger of government-tampering with the definition of marriage, and the principle of subsidiarity …

Yet this same side then often cringes when we defend workers, speak on behalf of the rights of the undocumented immigrant, and remind government of the moral imperative to protect the poor.

The other side enjoys quoting us when we extol universal health care, question the death penalty, demand that every budget and program be assessed on whether it will help or hurt those in need, encourage international aid, and promote the principle of solidarity …

… and then these same folks bristle when we defend the rights of parents in education, those of the baby in the womb and grandma on her death bed, insist that America is at her best when people of faith have a respected voice in the public square, defend traditional marriage, and remind government that it has no right to intrude in Church affairs, but does have the obligation to protect the rights of conscience.

So, we bishops get both blessed and blasted, a friend or foe of bloggers, pundits, and politicians, depending on what the issue is.

As Archbishop Dolan describes (and as Faithful Citizenship reads), the U.S. Bishops and the Church are stuck between the two parties.

Some of the Church’s stances can be found in the Democrat’s platform and others in the Republican’s platform as shown in the conceptual figure below. But really instead of being “stuck” in the middle, the Faithful Citizenship position (which might be most consistent with a Christian Democrat approach) is more conceptually about 90 degrees from either the Democrats or Republicans.


Surely some would argue that the Christian Democrat block would or should distort to the right or the left (e.g., some issues have more “gravity” than others) and in practice in Europe and Latin America, Christian Democrats have been in positions that would most often be considered center-right or center-left. Political theory assumes that if such a movement emerged in the U.S. it would position itself according to the issue preferences in the political system that would maximize its votes while maintaining as much of its core principles as possible.


Regardless, it is clearly not easy to be a Catholic Republican or a Catholic Democrat. Perhaps it is even more difficult to be Catholic and Libertarian which seems nearly 180 degrees away. The platform of the Libertarian Party has little if anything in common with a document like Faithful Citizenship (although it does share some positions in common with the Democrats and with the Republicans). Yet Libertarians have more of a history as a noticeable third party in the United States. According to an August 2011 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 16% of U.S. adults say they think of themselves as a Libertarian and in an October 2010 NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, 5% of registered voters said they would consider voting for a Libertarian candidate for Congress. Greens have their own little corner in the American party system but are arguably more single-issue focused and less likely to ever draw broad appeal. Oddly, a Christian Democrat Party has no institutional place but there certainly seems to be a potential spot for it to bloom. Perhaps it could be the .5 of an American 2.5 parties similar to what is generated in the U.K. If anything the prospect of such a party provides a useful measure of how important partisanship is relative to one’s Catholic faith.

Note, I am in no way implying that the U.S. Bishops or clergy should or would have any involvement in the development and life of such a party (tax laws limit such activities) and I am certainly not making any case for theocracy. However, as in other democracies, a party created and led by lay people could emerge and compete for votes inspired by the teachings of the Church and its relevant positions on issues important to the country. I am also aware the Christian Democrat parties in Europe and Latin America have had their corruption and scandals. No party is perfect and of course both the Democrats and Republicans have had their fair share of similar problems. Finally, note (as mentioned elsewhere) I am a man without a party or a vote by choice. As a political scientist (and prior to that as a news reporter) I have chosen to be entirely detached from the political system and aspire to be as objective as I can. I am not registered to vote, I don't have tea parties or occupy things, and I do not affiliate as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Communist, Socialist, Anarchist, Fascist, Monarchist, etc. Nor am I a Christian Democrat (i.e., it's just not possible... yet!).

9.27.2011

Pro-Life America: Is this a Spaghetti Western?


During a recent Republican Party presidential candidate debate, Texas governor Rick Perry said, “In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed.” At the time of this comment, 234 inmates had received this “ultimate justice” in the state under his leadership.

For Catholics, the Catechism provides the following direction: “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means. … Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state had for effectively preventing crime … the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent’” (2267).

Never are the words “ultimate justice” (or justice in any form) used in connection with executing someone in current Catholic teachings. This is only something done when necessary in extraordinary situations (unlikely to exist at in the United States—including Texas). Why? It’s simple: “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred” (Catechism, 2319).

But how many Catholics would side with Gov. Perry against the teachings of their Church? Surveys indicate most of them. Although Catholic approval of the death penalty has dropped from its peak height of 82% in 1985, still two-thirds of Catholics (65%) supported the policy in 2010.


But what of Catholicism and the pro-life movement? It is true that recent polls have indicated that a growing majority of Catholics consider themselves to be pro-life, however, many don’t seem to include the death penalty as an issue under this umbrella—even when it clearly is in the teachings of the Church (see Catechism, 2258-2330).

In 2010, about two-thirds of Catholics (65%) expressed opinions that were consistent with the Church’s opposition to abortion “on demand.” In addition to opposition to abortion for “any reason,” majorities of Catholics also oppose abortion in cases where the reason given is: not wanting any more children, low income or inability to afford more children, or the absence of marriage.


But Catholic attitudes regarding other reasons for abortion come with a few asterisks. Majorities—seven in ten or more—do think abortion should be possible when a woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy, when pregnancy is the result of rape, or when there is a strong chance of “serious defect in the baby.”


There are even more wrinkles. Add euthanasia into the mix and you begin to question whether there really are any U.S. Catholics consistent with the Church on life issues. Nearly seven in ten U.S. Catholics (68%) supported physician assisted suicide for patients with terminal illnesses in 2010. The Church of course teaches that euthanasia is “morally unacceptable” (Catechism, 2277).


How many Catholics are consistent on all three life issues? The structure of survey questions make it difficult to come to a precise estimate. However, as an example, just more than one in ten U.S. adult Catholics oppose: 1) abortion if there is a strong chance of a birth defect for the child, 2) capital punishment for convicted murders, and 3) euthanasia for terminally ill patients who request this. Most express at least one attitude that is in conflict with Church teachings.

These results emerge when the questions are asked independently. The percentage rises a bit when all three are presented in the same question. Less than one in five adult Catholics (19%) in a recent CARA survey “strongly agreed” that “All human life, from conception to natural death, is sacred. For this reason, the taking of life—whether through abortion, the death penalty, or assisted suicide—is wrong.”

The largest conflicted group among Catholic adults includes those who oppose abortion on demand yet support the death penalty (about four in ten U.S. adult Catholics during the last decade and specifically in 2010; only about one in ten support abortion on demand and oppose the death penalty). Here there is a split identity—in one instance mostly consistent with Rome and in another more in line with American culture and history. You might call it a “Spaghetti Western-style” pro-life identity—a uniquely American re-invention of Church teachings with a bit of the old west thrown in. In America, many appear to put matters of guilt and innocence above the overall sanctity of life and believe that they can be faithful and support the execution of a “bad guy.” These sentiments may be an important part of the explanation for how the U.S. is one of the few democratic capitalist nations with a Christian majority population that still allows for and uses the death penalty for civilians (e.g., the others are Botswana and Uganda).

Above photo courtesy of nicksarebi at Flickr Creative Commons.

9.21.2011

Could Parishes Fill the Social Welfare Gap?

 
During a recent Republican Party presidential candidate debate the following exchange took place as described in an ABC News story by Amy Bingham [You can also watch in the following YouTube video]:

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical question about whether an uninsured 30-year-old working man in coma should be treated prompted one of the most boisterous moments of audience participation in the CNN/Tea Party Express.

“What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself,”
[Ron] Paul responded, adding, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to compare and take care of everybody…”

The audience erupted into cheers, cutting off the Congressman’s sentence.

After a pause, Blitzer followed up by asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” to which a small number of audience members shouted “Yeah!”

Paul, a doctor trained in obstetrics and gynecology, said when he got out of medical school in the 1960s “the churches took care of them.”

What could churches do today? What could Catholic parishes do more specifically? In the ongoing debates about the federal budget it is not unusual to see someone propose significant reductions or even an end to federal social welfare programs and that the country should instead rely on American churches and charities to fill the gap and help the needy and seniors.

For example, an article at American Vision (a self-described Christian non-profit organization that seeks to “restore America to its Biblical foundation—from Genesis to Revelation”) argues that, “Family, Church, and private charity can replace the Welfare State. ... [O]nly a small percentage of people truly do need wealth transfers in old age in order just to live a modest lifestyle, or especially just to survive. But once we reach that point, we are talking about an entirely different social circumstance: small cases can easily be met by private charity from families, businesses, and churches (as Paul commanded the churches to do by the way).”

In the Catholic blogosphere, similar arguments often include a reference to the principle of subsidiarity in an effort to engage the social teachings of the faith. The Catechism does note that, “The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.’ ... The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention” (1883, 1885).

However, this principle is limited to situations in which the local unit or community is able to address the problem(s) it is faced with (e.g., poverty, hunger, senior care). Could Catholic parishes be a significant part of a more local solution in replacing many of the functions of federal programs that provide assistance and health care to the poor and seniors? Is this a bit fairytale or a possible reality?

Data from a national survey of parishes for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project indicate that Catholic parishes in the United States have significant resources. For example, the average parish reports annual revenue of more than $695,000. Much of this, more than $477,000 per year on average, comes through weekly offertory collections from parishioners. However, the average parish has expenses of more than $626,000. This leaves little left over to deal with additional needs of the parish community that are not already being met in existing social assistance ministries and programs. Also, 30% of U.S. parishes indicate that their expenses exceed their revenue. Of those parishes reporting a deficit, the average size for the shortfall is 15.8% of revenue. Many of the parishes running deficits are in communities with some of the most dire economic conditions and therefore would have the most limited resources to respond to additional needs.

At the root of the issue is Catholic giving. If Catholic parishes are expected to take on significant new social assistance obligations (e.g., helping replace Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps) they would need significantly more in donations from parishioners than the current $9.57 given per registered household, per week (as estimated in the Emerging Models survey). Also, a strict adherence to the principle of subsidiarity would need some “elasticity” to allow for parishes within dioceses to cooperate so some of the parish collections from the wealthiest communities trickle over to parishes in communities facing higher levels of poverty and/or larger senior populations. 

In 2010, the federal government spent $68.3 billion on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (i.e., “food stamps”) providing children and low-income people access to food. More than 18.6 million households received this benefit at some point in the year.

In this same year, there were more than 77 million self-identified Catholics in the United States. CARA surveys estimate that about 68% of these Catholics attend Mass at least once a year and 56% are registered with a parish. Taking the larger of these two numbers, if we assume that 68% of Catholic households give an average of $9.57 every week to their parish (e.g., in pews, by mail, or electronically) this would result in a total weekly offertory nationally of more than $194 million from more than 20.3 million households. Assume this happens every week and you'd have a total of $10.1 billion for the year. That is an impressive total. But we know a full 68 percent of Catholic households are not giving this amount to their parish offertory every week and what is given is used to cover parish expenses which totaled an estimated $11.1 billion last year nationally (…the gap in offertory and costs is most often covered by other parish income from investments, other fundraising, and subsidies).

But then again, many argue that a cut in spending and taxes would lead to a sudden increase in charitable giving (I don't know of any empirical evidence or historical examples that would lead one to estimate that this would be likely). Let's assume the extraordinary. What if Catholics increased their giving by a factor of five and the average household offertory contribution was $48 per week. Parishes would then have annual revenue of $50.6 billion leaving $39.5 billion “left over” after covering expenses to spend elsewhere. If all of this were used to address hunger in lieu of federal money, it could provide 58% of the 2010 budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. That is impressive and parishes may be able to do more with this funding than a large national bureaucracy can. But that is just food stamps. There is nothing left over for parishes to assist in filling other gaps if Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid also disappeared (all of which have budget numbers that make food stamps look like small change). More so this scenario still depends on the average Catholic being willing and able to give their parish nearly $50 per week! It all seems rather utopian when one looks at the real data.

Catholic parishes and many other Catholic charities, hospitals, and ministries already do extraordinary work in helping the needy in the United States and abroad. I have no doubt they would find a way to do even more if government social welfare programs were cut. With more contributions from Catholics they would be even better able to do so. But could parishes fully replace even a single significant social welfare obligation of the federal government? No. Not even if Catholics start giving five times more in offertory collections.

Some would likely respond that “social welfare programs have failed” because “there are still poor people” so we need to try something different (e.g., “let the churches take care of them”). My response to this always begins by noting that the policy and practice of the U.S. government (more specifically the Federal Reserve) is to maintain, at a minimum, 3% to 4% unemployment (i.e., NAIRU – the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment as lower levels of unemployment are thought to create inflationary pressures). When such a policy exists you will always have millions unemployed and they will be poor (the OECD estimates that NAIRU is actually about 5% to 6% in the U.S.). Second, when health insurance is so closely tied to employment and people get seriously ill and can no longer work… they lose the things they need most (an income and their insurance). Poverty will exist as long as you have people unable to afford essential medical care. Third, there comes a point when we reach an age where it is challenging to earn an income for ourselves. To the degree that we do not take adequate care of our oldest citizens—providing at least a basic standard of living and healthcare while acknowledging they may be unable to contribute to this at their age, there will always be poverty in America.

Catholic institutions have done, are doing, and will continue to do an enormous amount with what they have to combat poverty. But it is a quaint myth that the churches, or Catholic parishes more specifically, could somehow do all that is needed in 21st Century America to provide assistance to the poor and elderly if government programs were significantly cut or disappeared.

9.06.2011

New Catholics, New Media: More 'Bread and Circus' than Eucharist

In a recent article in OSV, CARA researcher Melissa Cidade noted a surprising statistic: only 17% of adult Millennial Catholics (those born after 1981) are aware of liturgical changes that will occur at English language Masses on the first Sunday of Advent.

Millennials represent about one in five adult Catholics (19%) and the oldest members of this generation were in elementary school when the Internet began to gain widespread use in the United States. They are sometimes described as the digital or new media generation. Many in the Church assume that the way to connect with this emergent generation of Catholics is not through traditional print media, television, or radio but online—through blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accessed on smart phones, tablets, and e-readers. The hope is often stated that we may be able to use new media to get this generation “back into the real world pews” that are more often populated by their parents and grandparents.

The Catholic Press Association (CPA) of the United States and Canada recently commissioned CARA to conduct a national poll of adult Catholics to measure their media use. CARA partnered with Knowledge Networks to conduct the survey in May and June 2011. The survey was completed by 1,239 self-identified Catholics who were 18 years of age or older (resulting in a sampling margin of error of ±2.8 percentage points). The study also makes comparisons, where possible, to a parallel survey conducted by CARA in November and December 2005 for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Communications regarding Catholic media use.

The findings (Download the Full Report) from these studies suggest that the emerging picture for new media use by Catholic adults overall—and especially among the Millennials is not as promising as many hope or assume. The problem is that putting something online is not the same as getting something on someone’s coffee table, front porch, or even in their mailbox. The Internet is a much more vast space and is navigated by search and social network. You can’t force people to consume your content. You likely won’t even get it on their computer screen or iPhone unless they are interested in it and looking for it.

First, the study shows that only a slight majority of Catholics (52%) pay “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of attention to national news (e.g., it is no surprise that many are unaware of the coming liturgical changes). In the new media age, they don’t have to. Thirty years ago many had only over-air television reception with three networks, and local radio and newspapers to choose from. The news was an inescapable part of the broadcast. With the development of cable television, satellite radio, the Internet, e-readers, etc. the content available to most has now expanded exponentially. In this new media environment, many have “narrowcasted” themselves into their interests—whatever these may be—and have largely tuned out the world that is not of their immediate interest. Entertainment has often trumped news, information, or other content when making these choices. Attention to news is lowest among young Catholics.


What about use of religious and spiritual content? Is Catholicism a part of adult Catholics’ narrowcasted media interests? The signs from the research suggest that too few Catholics are aware of and using religious new media resources for these to be considered a form of mass media. When it comes to Catholicism, more often than not, traditional media still have a much broader reach in a “new media” age.

While 22% of adult Millennial Catholics have read a print copy of their diocesan newspaper in the last three months (compared to 26% of all adult Catholics) only 4% of those in this generation have sought this out and read it online. 

Despite what conventional wisdom or anecdote may suggest, Millennials do not overwhelmingly prefer reading content online compared to print. A third of these respondents indicate a preference for online content (32%), while another third prefers reading print (33%). Thirty-five percent do not have a preference either way.

The study also shows that awareness of national Catholic media has dropped a bit in recent years. The survey respondents were provided a list of 28 national Catholic newspapers and magazines and asked about their awareness and readership of each of these. A majority, 56%, were not aware of any of the publications listed. When presented with this same list in 2005, a minority (46% of respondents), were not aware of any of the publications listed.

Overall, adult Catholics are most aware of the following national Catholic publications (i.e., more than 8% or 4.5 million adult Catholics): Catholic Digest (32%), Maryknoll (12%), Liguorian (9%), and Our Sunday Visitor (8%).  They were most likely to be aware of these same four publications in 2005. Adult Catholics are most likely to indicate reading the following national publications in print in the last three months: Catholic Digest (9%), Maryknoll (3%), Our Sunday Visitor (2%), and The Family Digest (2%).

Seventy percent of Millennials have no awareness of any of the major national print Catholic magazines and newspapers. Only one title, Catholic Digest, garners more than 7 percent awareness among Catholics under 30 and this publication has among the lowest web traffic of any title listed (Catholic Digest’s own tracking by Site Meter estimates globally a total of 423 visitors per day at the time of this post).

Of those Catholics who do read religious or spiritual content, most are doing so in print, not online. Catholics are also more likely to watch religious or spiritual video content on television than online and to listen to religious or spiritual audio over the radio or on a CD than in online podcasts. 


Of the new media offerings, Millennials are generally no more likely (accounting for margin of error) than older Catholics to say they have done anything online or through the use of e-readers related to religion or spiritually. Few Catholics report doing anything with new media that is related to religion and spirituality at all. It’s not that Catholics aren’t online or using new media. They just aren’t using these to do things related to their faith in any great number.


The study shows some evidence of younger Catholics going to the Internet for information on parish, diocesan, or school websites (see page 57 of the report). Yet, there is no evidence of widespread use of Catholic blogs, news, or entertainment media.

Seventy-one percent of Millennials have a social network profile of some kind (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn). However, only 43% of those in this youngest generation has one of these profiles and simply indicates that they are Catholic on them (i.e., 60% of those with profiles self-identity as Catholic on the profile).

Many of those who are using new media related to their religion and spirituality do not fit the stereotypical image that might first come to mind. The study identifies the typical Catholic who uses Facebook for following religious and spiritual content is not a Millennial at all. It is a non-Hispanic white, divorced, Vatican II Generation (age 51 to 68), woman, living in a home in the Midwest, with an income between $85,000 and $99,999 a year.

More troublesome for the future of Catholic new media is evidence of an apparent drop in interest in anything Catholic online in recent years. We have commented on this elsewhere and provided a new permanent tracking feature at the bottom of this blog. While U.S. Google search volumes for anything regarding religion and spirituality have remained relatively steady since 2004, there is a noticeable drop in search volume for anything containing the word Catholic that departs from the religion and spirituality trend beginning in 2007 and worsening since.

The news on YouTube is not much better. For example, the Vatican has created a channel that regularly includes videos of Pope Benedict XVI. At this time more than 33,700 subscribe and more than 5.7 million views of videos on the channel have been made. Even with this reach the Vatican’s channel ranks #3,562 on YouTube in video’s viewed globally (the U.S. traffic rank for the vatican.va website is a bit higher at #2,361). The single most viewed video on the Vatican’s channel was posted in January 2009 and includes images of Vatican Communications with background music. It has more than 100,000 views and is 1.36 minutes in length.

What is ahead of the Vatican? If you are exceptionally daring and not easily offended, visit the YouTube rankings yourself and have a look. Search for any video including a “Catholic” reference and sort by “most views.” But be very cautious as there is a vast amount of offensive content (with many, many views) and you’ll find much of it to be designed for entertainment rather than anything informational, educational, or devotional. You might come across “The Patron Saint of YouTube,” by author John Green, a video that currently ranks a bit above the Vatican’s most viewed content at 138,000 views. The content is by no means reverent (he is not Catholic) and is likely to be objectionable to some. But it is an example of a guy in his home office with a camera talking about Catholic saints that can pull a larger crowd online than anything the Vatican puts on YouTube. The most subscribed channel on YouTube belongs to Ray William Johnson, a comedian who reviews viral videos with an adult-themed commentary (content is offensive). More than 4.5 million subscribe to his channel generating 1.2 billion views. That is 133 times larger than the Vatican channel’s subscription count with more than 210 times the number of videos viewed. Ray’s channel is representative of what the Church faces in its competition for online views of content. Right now it is no competition. [For more research about YouTube watch this excellent lecture, with no offensive content, by Professor Mike Wesch from Kansas State University.]

The current discourse surrounding Catholic new media is often very rosy and optimistic. The data just do not match this conversation—yet. Traditional media sources continue to be more often used and preferred by Catholics for religious and spiritual content.

The survey’s respondents were asked in an open-ended question, “How would you feel if print versions of Catholic newspapers and magazines—including your diocesan newspaper or magazine—ceased publication and moved their operations entirely online?” Only 18% of those responding to the question provided a response that included a comment that was positive about this hypothetical proposition. Most either expressed a negative opinion (39%) or a neutral or mixed opinion (39%). Four percent provided a comment that could not be coded as positive, negative, neutral, or mixed. Negative comments often referenced a personal preference for print versus online content or a concern that others—especially the elderly and poor—would be unable to gain access to an online-only publication. Positive and mixed comments often cited an online publication as being more environmentally friendly and cheaper for dioceses to produce.

Although Millennial Catholics are using new media frequently, they have yet to use it for religion and spirituality in any great number. Will they ever? How can this be achieved? Those are unanswered and difficult questions for now. But what can be concluded is that creating content for new media does not mean people will use it. The era of broadcasting is over. In a narrowcasted world, people have to be aware of and want to visit and use your content. Right now not enough Catholics seem interested or aware. Is it the content? Is it the crowded media environment? Is it a culture consumed by pop media and entertainment? Is it secularization? This study generated just as many questions as it did answers. New media will require new research and a new understanding.

You likely have questions and comments (let me guess)…

Q: Only 26% of adult Catholics regularly read a diocesan newspaper or magazine? That is disappointing.

A: Sure it would be great if those numbers were higher (note that 55% of weekly Mass attenders regularly read) but this number is also equivalent to 14.8 million adults, which represent about 5 percent of the total U.S. population. That means 1 in 20 Americans regularly read these publications. If diocesan newspapers and magazines were a television show they would be in the top 10 of the Nielsen Ratings in terms of people reached. Diocesan publications collectively also have a broader reach than the circulation of any magazine not printed by American Association of Retired Persons (The AARP Bulletin circulates at more than 23 million copies). Also, unlike secular newspapers and magazines that are experiencing rapid declines in circulation and readership, use of print copies of diocesan newspapers and magazines has been stable during the 2005 to 2011 period.


Q: I never see young people reading print publications. There is always a device in their hands accessing and posting things online. 

A: But how often are they doing something related to their religion on those devices? The study indicates that this is not happening often or in great numbers. Also, when young people are looking for news and information about their religion or about what is going on in their diocese the study indicates this is still being done most often using traditional media.  

Q: There never has been a major Catholic presence in American media. Why would you assume there should be one now? 

A: You may recall that first on radio and then on television The Most Rev. Fulton Sheen was an unprecedented media superstar in his time (and still reaches many today in recordings). His television lectures, for which he won an Emmy, regularly competed against Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra on network television and often came out on top in ratings. At its height, his show was watched by more than 30 million people. Will there ever be someone like him again that can pull in that audience in the narrowcasted media environment today?





Q: What about EWTN? 

A: In our 2005 study, 9% of adult Catholics indicated that they have watched EWTN at least once in the six months prior to being surveyed (this question was not replicated in the 2011 study). The programming this channel provides (over television, radio, and online) is a big part of the U.S. Catholic media presence and EWTN is obviously a very successful media organization. However, estimates for ratings are difficult to find and its content does not likely compete well with other network or cable programming on the national level. EWTN more often speaks to the number of homes (and countries) its programming can reach rather than specific numbers of viewers, listeners, or readers. 

Q: What about catholic.org? 

A: For years, if you searched for Catholic” online this would be the first website in your results and one of the sites with the most traffic. Its continued presence in this position generates many visits and views and you can see the estimated analytics for the site from both Google, and Quantcast. These appear to track between 20,000 to 60,000 visitors per day from the United States to the website (Note: catholic.org's internal tracking registers a higher number of visitors). This is one of the most successful Catholic websites on the Internet. But the volume of traffic to the site is not yet in the major media presence range. However, given its placement in search results catholic.org is likely the most valuable Catholic-themed real estate in cyberspace other than vatican.va.

Q: What about _____________'s blog? 

A: There certainly is no shortage of very successful Catholic blogs with significant followings (e.g., Whispers in the Loggia, OSV Daily TakeFallible Blogma, USCCB Media Blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, American Papist, In All Things, Googling God, PrayTell, U.S. Catholic Blog, The Deacon's Bench, Dating God, Catholic Culture, American Catholic... ). But these typically do not reach audiences to where they would be considered mass media. The survey results indicate that only 6% of Catholic adults (and 8% of Millennials) read a religious or spiritual blog in the three months prior to being surveyed. More so this 6% likely represents a great variety of different blogs.

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