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.


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. 


“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.


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.  


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


Blame Popestock?

Apparently Madrid will profit from World Youth Day. The Chamber of Commerce in Spain’s capital is estimating Catholic visitors brought in 160 million euros (or about $230 million) to the city. I’ve read this in Spanish newspapers but have yet to see it in the American press. Someone who read the Aug. 15 New York Times story “Catholic Clergy Protest Pope’s Visit, and Its Price Tag” (in the A section, page 5; by Suzanne Daley) will likely be surprised. The Rev. Eubilio Rodríguez is the featured source of the story (including his photo, arms crossed, looking angrily into the camera):

“How, he asks, can the Roman Catholic Church be getting ready for a lavish $72 million celebration in this city — some of it paid for with tax dollars — when Spain is in the midst of an austerity drive, the unemployment rate for young people is 40 percent and his parishioners are losing their homes to foreclosure every day?

‘It is scandalous, the price,’ he said. ‘It is shameful. It discredits the church.’”

The story did not include any quotes or references from an independent economist or analyst who might support (or deny) Father Rodríguez’s claims regarding this “lavish” event (he would presumably disregard this because the story informs us that he believes “costs are always fuzzy”). The story does note (in the eighth paragraph) that organizers clarified that the costs are pre-paid by those registered for WYD and corporate sponsors but then adds critics are calling the claims ridiculous. WYD was expected to impact the state only in terms of its costs for extra police and security (in part due to the threat of protests about the cost of the event), tax write-offs for corporate sponsors covering costs, and reductions in bus and train fares. At the same time, all of these costs were expected to be significantly outweighed by the financial gains brought by WYD visitors who were buying local goods and services, taking bus and train trips that otherwise would never have occurred. 

The New York Times followed this story with another a few days later entitled, “Protests Greet Visiting Pope as Austerity Grips Spain” (in the A section, page 8; by Raphael Minder):

Even before the pope’s arrival, the visit was overshadowed by violent clashes in Madrid late Wednesday between the police and protesters furious over its cost to Spain, which they contended was excessive at a time when many Spaniards are scraping by.” 

Yet, the most important part of this story, and perhaps in all of the New York Times coverage of WYD, appears much later—in the very last sentence of the last paragraph, which reads:

“On Wednesday, José Blanco, spokesman for the government and one of Mr. Zapatero’s most senior ministers, added his support, saying that the government’s calculations showed that the event would yield a financial benefit for the Spanish economy.”

This does not seem to fit with the economic analysis of Father Rodríguez that was so prominently featured in the New York Times on August 15. How did this come to be buried in the last line of a follow-up story? I think I understand the discrepency better after reading the comments of Erik Wemple, of The Washington Post, who commented on Archbishop Charles Chaput’s criticism of the New York Times and other national media outlets. In Madrid, Chaput said:

“These are secular operations focused on making a profit. They have very little sympathy for the Catholic faith, and quite a lot of aggressive skepticism toward any religious community that claims to preach and teach God’s truth.”

Wemple’s response:

Check, check and check. Chaput’s description is something that editors at the New York Times, Newsweek, CNN and MSNBC would support, if not frame and post as a mission statement. News organizations should have little sympathy for any entity as powerful as the Catholic Church. And are you really going to pound the media for practicing aggressive skepticism?”

Wait, what? These news organizations have sympathy towards some institutions (and contempt for others) based on how “powerful” they are? First, news organizations should report the news… reality is what matters and anything else likely represents bias. Second, did he say powerful? As a survey researcher I don’t often see the “power” of the Church in the attitudes or behaviors of American Catholics. If the bishops have some great command over the U.S. Catholic masses (or even its most prominent Catholic politicians) the evidence is weak. Finally, if the New York Times was practicing “aggressive skepticism,” the claims made by Father Rodríguez could have used a heavy dose of this medicine.

Another story featuring criticism of the Church by priests appeared on July 22 in the Times entitled, “In 3 Countries, Challenging the Vatican on Female Priests” (in the A section, page 1; by Laurie Goodstein). At first I thought this might be another of the infamous New York Times “trend” stories (more on this at Slate) where a reporter connects relatively obscure and separate events creating a narrative of the new realities facing us that we just haven’t noticed yet (the New York Times does not own a monopoly on this type of story but it is an industry leader. These are the types of stories that make statisticians cry). Examples include the emerging “realities” that more parents are sending their children to summer camp on private airplanes, growing numbers are also building playhouses for $100,000s, book clubs and Tupperware parties are being replaced by pole dancing, having a gut is now cool, women are all starting to dress like Elaine from Seinfeld, more and more single men love cats, alleged criminals are often Yankee fans, Christians are turning to mixed martial arts, and girls tournament sports are helping the economy.

Wait let me read that last one again. If you get hundreds of young people in one location they actually help the economy? I wonder what would happen if you had more than a million young visitors in one city?... Back to the July story… It turns out the reporter wasn’t connecting any dots at all. It wasn’t a New York Times trend story. It was heavily based on dots already connected in a press release. And then it hit me. Sympathies. Searching the New York Times database one finds prominent quotes (in lede paragraphs) from a small set of Church critics that get repeated coverage. I am by no means arguing that these voices do not deserve to be in the New York Times (I was once a reporter myself and deplore any notion of censorship or quieting dissent in the press), but it is unusual how these critics (regardless of the factual nature of their claims) seem to now be driving the coverage of the New York Times and in some cases almost writing its headlines. Criticism is needed when it has a basis in fact. Some of the criticism of the Church appearing in the New York Times appears to have a tenuous relationship with reality (e.g. Father Rodríguez) and good reporters should weed this out by checking data, conferring with experts, and simply applying some common sense. And by no means am I arguing Church leaders should be driving the coverage of the New York Times either! What should be? Facts, reality...

I believe part of the heavy reliance on critics is related to the New York Times devotion to the 1990s journalism school ethos of how to be fair and unbiased. Reality doesn’t matter (from a postmodern point of view it probably doesn’t even exist) and as long as you get quotes from both sides (all stories have two sides; bury the quote from the point of view you personally like less and put the one you favor in the headline and lede) you are reporting in a balanced manner.

I fully understand those who are critical of the Church for the sex abuse crisis and how it handled these crimes. Count me as a critic on this issue as well and I fully expect this topic will continue to be in the news for years where critics voices should be prominent. But I understand that Catholicism is much more than this crisis. There are more than 1 billion Catholics in this world and to them their faith is many things. Many good things and some bad. Catholics are painfully aware of the bad and are ashamed and angered by news of clergy sex abuse. But most are not giving up on their Church, their faith. More than 1 million young Catholics in Madrid made that statement last week as clearly as ever. That was news but it just didn’t make it in the headlines (or even the last paragraph!), which instead were all about WYD “price tags.” Will there be headlines now about the profits? Does someone need to send a press release on this?

The New York Times has claimed that it has no bias against the Catholic Church (1, 2). But I believe recent stories have made transparent some contempt for the Church. When I read about other religious faiths in the New York Times I dont see the coverage of those institutions to be driven by their critics. I dont see the adversarial point vs. counter-point approach that appears in almost any story the New York Times does about Catholicism. In the past, even when I found fault with their reporting, I have still defended the New York Times as mostly just using the healthy journalistic skepticism that Wemple highlights (which is good when applied to all sources). Yet, given the New York Times’ coverage of WYD and other recent stories, I am beginning to think Archbishop Chaput made some valid points in his comments.

Above photo courtesy of adKinn at Flickr Creative Commons.


Which is more difficult, closing a parish or establishing a new one?

Today, the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project will be releasing the first report from their ongoing landmark study of parish life in the United States entitled, The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes. A significant piece of the first findings are on the issue of the growing scope of parish life. As the Church has closed parishes in the last decade, those that now remain, on average, include more individuals and are celebrating more Masses. These changes may begin to take a toll in the future as the study, conducted by CARA, also finds that larger U.S. parishes tend to have lower rates of attendance, lower levels of sacramental activity per household, and less giving per registered household than what is reported in smaller parishes. There appears to be a size limit at which the parish community begins to become less active and less giving.

Much of the recent focus in the news on these topics has been on parish closings. For example, it has been reported that Bishop Richard Lennon has requested the Vatican to evaluate recent decisions to close parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland. Yet it has not been uncommon for dioceses in the Midwest and Northeast to close parishes in recent years (some of these are typically maintained as worship sites). Many parishes in these areas were established 70 to 130 years ago to meet the needs of new and growing immigrant Catholic populations (often speaking different languages) in urban centers. In the post-World War II era, Catholics (along with the population in general) shifted to the suburbs and South and West into the growing Sun Belt economy. As emotionally difficult as it must be to close some of these parishes, it is also sometimes necessary to do so given the maintenance costs for these aging physical plants in light of smaller numbers of parishioners and priests often being in shorter supply than they were decades ago (note I have no knowledge of the specific decisions or data in Cleveland so I cannot say whether those closings generally fit the broader patterns).

An equally challenging question for the Church is how will it address the needs for all the Catholics in areas where there really never was a “local” neighborhood parish? As we have shown in a previous post, there are not a lot of dioceses building new parishes in areas where the Catholic population moved and is growing strongly. I understand there are challenges to building a new parish including capital campaigns, planning commissions, architects, and construction companies to deal with. This was all I imagine much easier to do in the 19th century. But a parish building boom will likely be needed in the U.S. Sun Belt in the 21st century.

The migration trends I note above are long-term but just look at the short-term effects below of the recession on mobility for two counties. The top image is for those leaving (red) and coming to (black) the county which includes the city of Cleveland in 2008 (the source is IRS data and the image is generated from Forbes). The bottom image shows the same for the county including the city of Atlanta. As one can see some of Cleveland’s population loss has been Atlanta’s gain (note we do not know the religion of any of the individuals in the IRS data).
In 2001, the Archdiocese of Atlanta had more than 320,000 Catholics, 131 active diocesan priests, and 77 parishes (note in 1991, the Archdiocese had 176,000 Catholics and 65 parishes). Moving a decade ahead, the diocese now has 900,000 Catholics, 141 active diocesan priests, and 87 parishes. Thus, the number of Catholics increased by 181% in the last decade but the number priests only increased by 8% and the number of parishes by 13%. This means the number of Catholics per parish in the Archdiocese has grown from 4,156 in 2001 to 10,345 in 2011. Ten new parishes have been added to accommodate 580,000 additional Catholics. I certainly do not mean to sound critical in any way of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In fact this Archdiocese is one of the few that has added significant numbers of parishes in recent years. Thus, even where the needs are recognized and growth is occurring, the arch/dioceses doing the most to focus on new construction still tend to be a bit behind the pace of the rapidly changing distribution of the Catholic population in the United States.

The Church should take great care in dealing with the future of parishes in communities with diminishing Catholic populations. The decision to close a parish must always be very difficult. Yet, it may also be time to ask, with great care as well, when and how do we open new parishes where they are needed? After moving, will Catholics always have a new Catholic home to “come home” to?


An Italian American Mystery

In previous posts we have looked at shifts in the racial and ethnic identities of American Catholics as well as changing identifications with national ancestry groups. Within these changes is a mystery that many may not have noticed. The percentage of adult Catholics claiming Italian ancestry has fallen off a bit in recent decades (from 18% in the 1970s to 13% in the 2000s). However, the percentage of all American adults claiming Italian ancestry has been relatively stable at about 5% to 6% from 1972 to 2010. Reading between the lines, the proportion of Italian Americans who self-identify their religion as Catholic must be falling. As the graph below shows, it is.

This is not an easy group to study, given its overall size in the total population. Generally, samples for Italian Americans are small in the General Social Survey (GSS). However, the GSS provides repetitive independent samples that can be tracked over time. Even when accounting for margins of sampling error (the bars extending out from each data point on the graph) a clear pattern of decline is evident.

If one takes the point estimates literally (ignoring margin of error for a moment), Catholic affiliation among Italian American adults has fallen from 89% in 1972 to 56% in 2010 (-33 percentage points). If you’re an optimist you can assume the higher margin of error estimates are more accurate and if you’re a pessimist go with the lows. Either way, the decline in percentage points is essentially the same. Note as this drop has occurred the overall Catholic affiliation percentage for U.S. adults has remained unchanged at 25%where it has been for decades.

Is there anything similar happening among Italians in the “home country?” No. Although the Mass attendance of Catholics in Italy has declined in recent decades, affiliation among Italians has remained in the high 80% to low 90% level (i.e., World Values Survey estimates).

It is clear that the changes in the U.S. are gradual. There is no mass exodus moment in the trend. These types of trends often speak to generational replacement. This would entail older Italian Americans who self-identify as Catholic passing away and being replaced in the adult population by younger Italian Americans who do not identify as Catholic. The socialization of Catholicism among the Italian American population appears to be breaking down.

It does not appear to primarily be an issue of children of Italian American Catholics being raised Catholic and leaving the faith. The retention rate (the percentage of those raised in the faith who remain Catholic as adults) for Italian American Catholics is actually quite high and has fallen more slowly than the overall U.S. Catholic retention rate. In the 1970s, the Italian American Catholic retention rate was 88%. This dropped a bit to 85% in the 1980s and a bit more, 82%, in the 1990s. Yet, even in the 2000s it averaged 77% (the retention rate for all Catholics in 2010 was 68%). The fall in the Italian American Catholic retention rate is not as extreme as the drop in Catholic affiliation for Italian Americans in general.

Instead, some Italian American Catholics must be choosing to raise their children in another faith or no faith at all. Why would this happen? I think (just my opinion; no real data) it has something to do with many post-World War II Italian Americans moving out of the “Little Italies”—those urban ethnic enclaves of their immigrant ancestors and into the suburbs. Here they were less likely to be around other Italians and/or Catholics and became less connected to Italian culture, language, and tradition (CARA parish surveys indicate the number of Masses celebrated in Italian have dropped by a half or more in the last decade). 

Data on the religion and ancestry of the spouses of this sub-group of the population are hard to find (i.e., even smaller samples). What is available does indicate that Italian American Catholics are increasingly likely to be married to spouses who do not share their faith. Many of the Italian American Catholics who left the old neighborhoods are no longer with us, but their kids and grandkids are. Some of them don’t share the faith of grandma and grandpa.

In the 1970s, only 11% of Italian Americans self-identified their religion as Protestant. In the 2000s this had nearly doubled to 19%. A similar increase in the non-affiliated or “Nones” has occurred, with 7 percent of Italian Americans self-identifying as Nones in the 1970s and 14 percent identifying as such in the 2000s. Again these changes exceed the pace of the drop in Italian American Catholic retention so it’s not primarily and issue of leaving. Instead it’s a story of a faith failing to be reproduced among this ancestry group.

The mystery is by no means solved and I’m no detective, but these are my deductions and data on this topic so far. Regardless, as the grandson of an Italian Catholic grandmother (the family name was Filippini) it makes me sad to see the link between this ancestry group and the Catholic faith weaken.

Above photo courtesy of nmcbean at Flickr Creative Commons.

Search This Blog

Blog Archive

© 2009-2024 CARA, Mark M. Gray. Background image courtesy of muohace_dc.