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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What about EWTN? 

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

Q: What about 

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

Q: What about _____________'s blog? 

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

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