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.


Francis Effect 2.0


As the year has drawn to a close, CARA has received a lot of inquiries about the measurement of a "Francis Effect." Are Catholics who left the faith coming back? Are more Catholics going to Mass and seeking out sacraments more often? His approval numbers are certainly high (1, 2) but what else is happening?

It’s really too early to know anything more than anecdotes. We have noted survey-based estimates of Mass attendance are steady (Pew as well). However, surveys have margins of error and the Catholic population is large (i.e., 3% of the U.S. adult Catholic population is approximately 1.7 million people). I think a Francis Effect is real, but isn't large enough to "see" beyond a survey’s margin of error (…yet?). It may be more on the scale of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Catholics coming back or attending Mass more often rather than the millions that would be needed to see something in surveys beyond the normal fluctuations we see poll to poll.

We will know more eventually. In the summer of 2015 sacramental practice data for 2013 will be released. We will be able to make comparisons of this year to 2012 and previous years. With these data there is no margin of error to worry about as these are Church records of baptisms, marriages, and other sacraments and rites. CARA is currently collecting data on Mass attendance and sacraments from a large random sample of U.S. parishes. One of the interesting things that really stands out to me do far is that in 2012, before Pope Francis took office, the reported number of individuals seeking the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e., confession) was 30% higher than it was in 2008 ( increase well beyond Catholic population growth). Something seems to have been stirring in the U.S. Catholic Church even before 2013 began. Has Pope Francis pushed these numbers even higher this year? We'll know more next year...

Yet there also appears to be a "Francis Effect 2.0" that is clearly visible right now. Pope Francis is not just widely likeable (…his final Mass in Rio for World Youth Day ranks as one of the largest gatherings of people in history), he also appears to be playing an important agenda setting role.

Looking back over our posts this year two stand out. These were statistical content analyses related to the economy, poverty, and unemployment. The first highlighted that news stories about these topics were either absent or relatively uncovered in the “media or record” in the U.S. despite being among the top concern of many Americans. The second revealed that President Obama has largely avoided rhetoric including mentions of the poor or poverty, in comparison to other modern presidents (...the President does not deserve to be singled out in comparison to other Democrats and Republicans currently in office who have been just as guilty of these omissions). The President has even promised that "the middle class will always be my number one focus. Period." 

By comparison, Pope Francis has put issues of poverty, wages, unemployment, hunger, and homelessness front and center like few other world leaders have in recent memory (...note however, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI spoke of these as well. See the citations in Evangelii Gaudium). Is it purely coincidence that The New York Times has suddenly (re-)discovered homelessness as a centerpiece of coverage? Or that President Obama is beginning to talk more about poverty and citing Pope Francis in doing so? Perhaps, but the economy has certainly been far worse in recent years than it is now. Why the 180 degree turn at the end of 2013? Has concern over climate change waned? Are we all out of "cliffs" and "sequesters"? Has the national "Duck Dynasty Crisis" been resolved? Why and how has poverty become an issue for politicians and the media again now?

Part of the answer, I believe, is in Pope Francis raising the issue of poverty to new heights. He’s put it back at the top of the agenda when few leaders had the courage to do so (1, 2, 3). This is likely important to the many Catholics who put "helping those in need" at or near the top of things that are important to their sense of being Catholic in CARA's national polls (and their #2 Church giving priority). While the Francis Effect 1.0 will still be a focus of our research in 2014, I think evidence of the Francis Effect 2.0 is already quite clear for anyone to see. I hope 2014 is a better year for many in need because of it.


Mexican Ancestry More Common Than Any Other among U.S. Catholics Under 65

In a September CARA Catholic Poll (CCP) we asked a national random sample of working-age self-identified Catholics (ages 16 to 64) "What is your ancestry or ethnic origin?" as an open-ended question (i.e., Census method). We identified more than 80 specific code-able ancestries from the 1,365 respondents (margin of sampling error ±2.7 percentage points). The most common response was Mexican (19.0%) followed by Irish (16.6%), German (15.7%), Italian (12.5%), and Polish (7.6%). The figure below compares this Catholic sample to the overall U.S. population.

In 2010, we posted a time-series analysis of ancestry for U.S. Catholics using the General Social Survey (GSS) entitled "On What Wave Did Your Ancestors Ride?" In the larger, more recent, and younger sample noted above, Mexican ancestry is now clearly even more common among U.S. adult Catholics under 65. This is not unexpected given recent immigration patterns and greater racial and ethnic diversity among Catholic Millennials (born 1982 or later). By comparison, in the 1970s, 18% of U.S. adult Catholics self-identified their ancestry as Italian ( ranking 4th, with more Italian-Americans no longer self-identifing as Catholic) followed by 16% Irish, 13% German, 9% Polish, and 7% Mexican.

Overall, 26% of all respondents indicated ancestry with one or more Latin American countries. Yet, some 37% of respondents self-identifies their race or ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino. About one in four Hispanic or Latino Catholics did not indicate ancestry to any specific Latin American country (27%). Fifty-two percent of Hispanic or Latino Catholics say they are of Mexican ancestry.

More than a quarter of non-Hispanic white Catholics surveyed say they are of Irish ancestry (27%). Three percent of black or African American Catholics indicate Irish ancestry as do 2% of Hispanic or Latino Catholics. Yet, as shown in the figure below, self-identification with a European ancestry is more broadly falling across Catholic generations. Feeling a personal connection to waves of Catholic immigration from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries appears to be fading a bit into the history books (...note this is most likely occurring through generational replacement rather than anyone changing their ancestral self-identities).

On average, respondents identified with 1.2 ancestry groups. This does not vary across generations. Thus, younger Catholics are not losing a sense of ancestry or ethnic origin in general. Across all generations, fewer than one in five don't have any ancestral identities. Majorities note just one ancestry group. More than a quarter of Millennials (26%) note two or more ancestry groups.

In other recent research, CARA has identified 946 Catholic parishes in the United States (5.4%) who indicate that they currently serve a specific European-origin community including 248 Polish parishes, 236 German parishes, 199 Italian parishes, and 108 Irish parishes. By comparison there are 4,544 parishes (26.1%) who indicate that they serve Hispanic, Latino, and/or Spanish speaking communities. For more information about this topic and other related data see our recently released study, "Cultural Diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States."

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