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.


Checkup Time

It’s time for a checkup. During the spring and summer every year the Vatican release’s the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE) and in the U.S., The Official Catholic Directory (OCD) is published. With the OCD out this week we’ve updated (and significantly expanded) CARA’s Frequently Requested Church Statistics page. 

This post compares the U.S. data in the 2014 OCD to the numbers released in 2000. There is good news and bad news. My bedside manner compels me to start with the good…

Ordinations to the priesthood and seminarians preparing for this vocation are up. Ordinations have increased by 12% since 2000 and the number of seminarians enrolled has increased by 5%. Yet the strongest growth among the clergy is in the number of permanent deacons who have gone from 12,378 in 2000 to 17,464 in 2013 (+41%). Essentially the Church now has enough deacons to have about one in every parish. The number of lay professional ministers (excluding vowed religious who serve in parish ministry) has also increased from 17,315 to 21,424 (+24%) or to about 1.2 per parish.

The parish-affiliated Catholic population has grown by 11% and the self-identified Catholic population has grown by 7% since 2000. Overall, the self-identified Catholic population has added 5 million. A significant portion of this growth has come from foreign-born Catholic adults which have increased by 4.4 million. CARA’s survey-based estimates of Mass attendance show a slight uptick from 22% attending weekly to 24%. With a growing Catholic population that means nationally the Church has seen the number of Catholics who go to church every week increase by more than 2.6 million since 2000 (+17%).

Now for the bad news—the things the Church needs to work on in the future to ensure its health…

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has experienced a net loss of 1,753 parishes since 2000 (-9%). Most of these losses have occurred in the Northeast and Midwest with too few parishes being opened in the South and West where Catholic population growth is concentrated. Although ordinations are up these remain insufficient to maintain the population of priests due to retirements and deaths. Overall, the number of priests in the U.S. has fallen by 7,424 since 2000 (-16%). The number of parishes without a resident priest pastor has increased by 653 to 3,496 (+23%). The ratio of active diocesan priests to parishes has decreased from 1.2 to a precarious 1.0. Although more parishes are without a resident priest pastor the Church has decreased the number of parishes where pastoral care is entrusted to a deacon or lay person (Canon 517.2) from 447 in 2000 to 388 now (-13%). Essentially, in many dioceses, parishes are being closed rather than having these entrusted to a deacon or lay person.

The number of religious sisters in the U.S. has now fallen below 50,000 after experiencing a 38% decline since 2000 (from 79,814 to 49,883). Religious brothers have experienced a decline of 24% (from 5,662 to 4,318).

Although the number of deacons and professional lay ministers are increasing there may be trouble ahead as there are fewer preparing to add themselves to these ranks. The number of permanent deacon candidates has fallen by 19% and the number of people enrolled in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs has dropped by 27% since 2000.

Catholic schools continue to face challenges with a net loss of 1,496 primary and secondary schools since 2000 (-18%). Enrollments have dropped by 478,938 (-20%). One bright note is in higher education with more than 100,000 students added to Catholic college and university enrollments since 2000 (+15%).

Sacramental practice numbers also show some declining trends. It is important to note that data for the 2014 OCD is collected in 2013 and in that year parishes are reporting the number of sacraments celebrated in the year previous (i.e., 2012). Thus, we still must wait until this time a year to see if any “Francis Effect” is evident in the 2015 OCD (which will include 2013 sacrament totals).

Baptisms of infants and minors have decreased by 22%. However, it is important to note some of this decline is in part related to fewer children being born. For example, there were 4.059 million births in the United States in 2000 and 3.953 million in 2012. In 2000, the fertility rate in the United States was very near the demographic “replacement rate” at 2.06 and is now well below this. U.S. population growth overall, not just among Catholics, is being fueled more and more by immigration.

One effect of falling fertility is you start to see strange stats like the number of first communions exceeding infant and minor baptisms in 2012 (758,034 compared to 713,302). Both first communions and confirmations are also down (-10% and -14%, respectively).

Adult conversions are also in decline with fewer adult baptisms (-51%) and receptions into full communion (-31%). Some of this is related to fewer Catholics marrying. The primary reason most adults convert to Catholicism is because they marry a Catholic. There were 2.3 million marriages in the United States in 2000 compared to 2.1 million in 2011. Not only are Americans less likely to marry now than in 2000, Catholics are less likely to marry in the Catholic Church. The number of marriages in the Church has declined by 41% since 2000 (from 261,626 to 154,450). Even the number of Catholic funerals is down 15% (…should I have noted that in the good news section?).

Since 2000, survey-based estimates of former Catholics—those raised in the faith who no longer self-identify as Catholic—have increased by 14.1 million. This is equivalent to more than 900,000 per year and this would be slightly larger than the number the Church added in baptisms and receptions into full communion in 2012 (817,757). It is still the case that Catholicism retains more of those raised in the faith than most other religions in the United States and every faith has “former members” (...some return as reverts). As the largest single faith in the United States it is also not unusual for the Catholic Church to therefore have the largest number of these former members (Why do they leave? See Pew’s Faith in Flux study). Still, the losses are very significant and there is a lot of work for those interested in New Evangelization to focus on with about 32 million former Catholics now residing in the United States.

Most who leave the faith do so in their teens and 20s. As we noted recently, some of this may be related to fewer young Catholics being enrolled in Catholic schools. It is assumed by many that the Catholics not enrolled in Catholic schools are participating in parish-based religious education. This is not the case as the numbers enrolled here are also down 24%. There are more than a million fewer children and teens in parish religious education classes now than in 2000.

This checkup gives the Church a lot to work on. Perhaps the more important checkup is a year away. With the 2015 OCD we’ll have a clearer idea of the impact of Pope Francis on the U.S. numbers. It is also the case that with unemployment declining and the economy continuing to recover we may expect to see increases in marriages, births, and baptisms. It is also important to note that globally the Church’s charts look very healthy with broad indicators of growth. 

Records image courtesy of Tom Magliery.

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