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.


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.


Who Will Be Behind (Parish) Door Number One?

Each year, CARA conducts a nationwide census of Catholic ministry formation programs, from seminaries to colleges to diocesan-run certificate programs. The 2011 data are in. This year, college seminary enrollments are up 1% and theologate enrollments are up 4%. Looking over the short-term trend it is apparent that college seminary enrollments are stable and the theologate enrollments have been on a slight upswing for the past five years or so. Diaconate formation programs have also experienced growth in recent years (for more see CARA's statistical summary).

But, there is another group in formation across the country—where an entirely different scale and pattern is emerging. These are the individuals who are not seeking to be ordained but are still in formation for Catholic parish ministry. These are the Church’s lay ecclesial ministers, a group that is difficult to count because they are difficult to define. Some of those in lay ministry formation programs are simply there for adult faith formation or may be studying theology and have no intention to become a lay ecclesial minister. Others are preparing for a vocation and a career.

What is a lay ecclesial minister?  In Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes this being characterized by: 
  • Authorization of the hierarchy to serve publicly in the local church  
  • Leadership in a particular area of ministry 
  • Close mutual collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons 
  • Preparation and formation appropriate to the level of responsibilities assigned to them 

The phrase “lay ecclesial minister” is intended to be a generic term, not a specific role description or title. Co-Workers states that the ministry is lay “because it is service done by lay persons [including vowed religious].  The Sacramental basis is the Sacraments of Initiation, not the Sacrament of Ordination.” It is ecclesial “because it has a place within the community of the Church, whose communion and mission it serves, and because it is submitted to the discernment, authorization, and supervision of the hierarchy.” It is ministry “because it is a participation in the threefold ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet and king.” 

The longest section of Co-Workers is on formation for lay ecclesial ministry. It begins by noting that the Church has always required proper preparation of those who exercise a ministry, citing Canon 231, which states that “lay persons who devote themselves permanently or temporarily to some special service of the Church are obliged to acquire the appropriate formation which is required to fulfill their function properly.”

In CARA’s work with the Emerging Models project, as well as other earlier studies on the topic of lay ecclesial ministry, a definition has been operationalized for research purposes that encompasses lay persons who are in paid parish ministry for at least 20 hours per week (CARA provides separate estimates including those who volunteer in these capacities). Currently the number of lay ecclesial ministers in the United States totals about 38,000 or about two per parish (up from 29,000 in 1997, representing a 31% increase). Fourteen percent of these individuals are vowed religious and 86% are other lay persons. Overall, 80% are female and 20% male. Four in ten are under the age of 50 (for more see: The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes).

Growing numbers of lay ecclesial ministers in parishes must mean that there are more and more lay people studying and readying themselves to live out these vocations...  Surprisingly no

Two facts should jump off the graph below. The first is the sheer numbers in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs. Even at its lowest point, it is well above the combined enrollments in seminary and diaconate formation programs. Second, after peaking in the early 2000s, and dropping sharply until more recently stabilizing, lay ecclesial ministry formation enrollments are more volatile than enrollments in seminary and diaconate formation programs.

Many theories have been proposed for the drop in the numbers: perceptions of a surplus of lay ecclesial ministers, effects of the sex abuse scandal, fewer lay people being entrusted with the pastoral care of parishes where a priest is unavailable (i.e., Cannon 517.2; totaling 411 U.S. parishes in 2011 down from a peak of 566 in 2004), volatility in the economy, closings of parishes and schools, or expected salaries making it difficult to budget the costs of obtaining the education and formation required. 

But, there also appears to be another important factor related to the number of lay ecclesial ministers enrolled in formation programs—the number of available programs themselves.  

When the number of programs drops, the number of students drops (Pearson's R=.864; the initial drop in programs precedes the drop in enrollments). These programs don’t usually consolidate; they are closed outright or offered only on an “as needed” basis. To some extent, if you cut the program they will leave and don't appear to look for or readily find other options…

If you are a regular reader of this blog you already know that the U.S. Catholic population is growing and the number of priests is expected to continue to decline (as the Mass attendance rate is stable—representing annually increasing numbers of worshipers along with Catholic population growth). Parishes are closing resulting in existing parishes, on average, getting bigger and having larger budgets and staffs. Yet, if fewer and fewer are in formation to replace today's lay parish leaders, should we expect a coming shortage of lay ecclesial ministers? Will there always be enough people behind the parish door to greet you, minister to you, educate you, help you? Maybe not if the current trends continue...

For more on formation statistics check out the 2011 CARA Catholic Ministry Formation Directory—available for the first time this year as an online, searchable database as well as in the traditional printed format.

-CARA researchers Melissa Cidade, Mary Gautier, and Mark Gray contributed to this post.


The Marriage Question: In the Church or not?

The post below is authored by and based on the research of Adriana Garcia. She interned at CARA this summer—on loan from the University of Notre Dame. She is heading back there to begin her senior year (followed by graduate school and a Ph.D. ...). Adriana is specifically interested in something that has been featured in recent CARA articles in OSV and The Official Catholic Directory, 2011—the decision to marry in the Church. Her analysis below uses logistic regression. This method of analysis allows one to predict which of two categories a person is likely to be in (the dichotomous dependent variable) given a variety of factors and information about a person (independent variables). In this case we are looking at the decision to marry in the Church or not. She uses CARA’s recent survey on the sacrament of marriage for the analysis. In the logistic regression tables below she reports coefficients that measure the change in odds associated with decisions to marry in the Church based on each independent variable listed in the table. Where this coefficient is 1.0 or greater it means the variable is associated with the respondent being more likely to marry in the Church. When it is less than 1.0 it means that the variable is associated with the respondent being less likely to marry in the Church. 

Church weddings. Not so much seashells, confetti or bridezillas, but more of a traditional event; a priest is present, scripture is read, and the ceremony is held in the ‘house of God.’ In other words, one that retains the sacramental side of things.   
Recently, the topic of marriage has taken over news headlines. From print to televised media, journalists and activists have discussed and advocated their own views and definitions of marriage. In all this conversation though, what’s going on with Catholics? Of course, the Catholic Church continues to reiterate Church teaching and uphold the sanctity of such a sacrament, but what factors lead Catholics to take this sacred route? What leads Catholics to choose the sanctified marital union over a quick trip to Vegas or the Poconos? 

In a 2007 poll conducted by CARA for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 1,008 U.S. adults self-identifying as Catholic were asked an array of questions on the issue of marriage (margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points). The survey not only tested general knowledge on Catholic teaching but also asked respondents about their own views on marriage and divorce.

In this post, an analysis is presented that aimed to gain a greater grasp on what influences Catholics to marry within the Church. To accomplish this, we divide the sample by marital status. We first look at Catholics who have never married but who indicate it is at least a little likely that they will do so in the future. The analysis isolates what makes people in this group more or less likely to say that it would be important (“somewhat” or “very”) to them to be married in the Church in the future. Second, we focus on Catholics who have married and on whether they chose to be married in the Church (excluding marriages following divorce without an annulment). So for one group we are looking at future intentions and the other whether they actually chose to marry in the Church (the obvious limitations of causality among respondents in the latter group are noted below). With the aid of logistic regression, important factors are isolated as being more or less relevant to the decision to marry in the Church.

First, it is important to note that the two groups include people at two stages of life. The never married Catholics are disproportionately young adults and those who have been married tend to be older. While the never-married generally carry an optimistic and idealistic outlook on their future marriage choices, those who have married appear to have been more pragmatic in their choice to marry in the Church.  

The results for never-married Catholics are presented in the table below (statistically significant results are noted where *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001). A narrative description of these findings follows. 

Controlling for all factors in the never-married models, those of the Millennial Generation (born after 1981), who attend Mass at least once a month, with married parents, and with more traditional views of marriage are among the most likely to say it is important to them to be married in the Church.  Attendance at college or attainment of a degree are factors that make it less likely a never-married Catholic will say it is important for them to marry in the Church. There are no statistically significant effects of Catholic schooling at any level for this group (yet this does not preclude that these may emerge as influences later in life).

Never-married Catholics who 1) say they are familiar with Church teachings on marriage, 2) that their Catholic faith informs their views of marriage, 3) who also agree marriage is a calling from God, and 4) that it is important for spouses to share the same faith are among the most likely to say it is important to them to marry in the Church. 


As shown in the table above, among Catholics who have married at some point in their life, Hispanics are significantly less likely than non-Hispanic white Catholics to indicate that they married in Church. Sociologist R.S. Oropesa, in his article “Normative Beliefs about Marriage and Cohabitation” in the Journal of Marriage and Family writes, “consensual unions (not marriage)…reflects…the inability to pay for religious marriage ceremonies.” In other words, Church marriages in Latin America are thought of as a luxury item, an event that only occurs if one can pay for it. Some Hispanics have married before immigrating to the United States and among native-born Hispanics in the United States these cultural norms of marriage are in some cases still intact, and may be resulting in more civil unions and cohabitation.     

In regards to education, Catholics who have married in the Church are less likely to have attended Catholic primary schools than Catholics who chose to marry outside the Church.  In contrast, Catholics who have married in the Church are five times more likely to have attended Catholic universities and colleges than their counterparts who decided to marry outside the Church. In fact, attendance at a Catholic college or university is the single most powerful correlate of having married in the Catholic Church (this positive association for Catholic college attendance and something faith-related is one among many found in CARA surveys).

Whereas a college education—at a Catholic or non-Catholic institution—is associated with lower levels of importance assigned to marrying in the Church among never-married Catholics, having a college degree is positively associated with marrying in the Church among those who have already faced this decision.

Mass attendance is important as well with those attending more frequently now, having also been more likely in the past to marry in the Church. This correlation includes those who attend at least once a month. As in the never-married results, a slightly weaker coefficient among weekly attenders specifically is likely related to the addition of attitudinal variables in the third model. Among married Catholics, those who say their Catholic faith informs their view of marriage are much more likely than those not responding as such to have married in the Church.
The results for Catholics who have already married carry less weight than those who have never married. Some of the variables in the married models include observations of attitudes and behavior that can be quite distant from the decision to marry and cannot possibly be causally related to this decision due to time order.  Instead, many results for this group may instead be measuring the effects of Catholic marriage. Two important exceptions to this issue are the results related to Hispanic self-identity and the associations related to attendance at Catholic educational institutions (as attendance likely precedes marriage decisions).

The results for the never-married Catholics are methodologically straightforward and more important for the future of the Church. With the numbers of marriages in the Church declining in recent years it is a hopeful sign that the youngest adult Catholics—the Millennials—are more likely than Post-Vatican II Catholics (born 1961 to 1981) or even older Catholics who never married (but who still say their is some likelihood that they will) to feel marriage in the Church is important to them. It is also heartening that never-married Catholics who are familiar with Church teachings and who say these inform their view of marriage feel it is important for them to marry in the Church. It may follow that making young Catholics more fully aware of these teachings and more committed to them could be a key factor in reversing the recent declines in marriage in the Church.

Above photos courtesy of Price|Photography, 50 Prime, Nigel Howe, zoonabar at Flickr Creative Commons.

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