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.


Leaving Earth?

According to physicist Stephen Hawking (a notable member of the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences), we have to figure out how to leave this planet because in the next 1,000 or so years a mass extinction event (man-made or natural) will likely end human life.

What happens when you ask people about the end of the world? CARA recently asked a national random sample of adults, “Do you believe the Earth’s demise is ultimately something we can understand and predict scientifically or something in God’s hands and therefore unpredictable?” More than six in ten believe it is in God’s hands. However, when you break that down by religious affiliation there is a big divide in opinion between Christians and those of other religious affiliations or no affiliation at all.

Only 6% of Evangelical Christians believe the Earth’s demise is something we can understand and predict scientifically. By comparison 34% of Catholics agree with this statement. At the other end of the spectrum, 82% of those without a religious affiliation (i.e., Nones) agree with the statement.

Barring divine intervention, it turns out there really are some things that are rather predictable about the possible “end of the world” in the long-term. The easiest is related to that brightest thing up in the sky we call the sun. Like any other star it has a lifespan and when it dies it will expand and take the Earth with it. The bad news is that, much earlier, in about 1 billion years it will be much hotter than it is now (regardless of any human activity) and Earth will no longer be a hospitable place for humans. With that in mind we asked Americans, “Scientists believe that in 4.5 billion years the Sun’s lifecycle will come to an end. Much earlier, in about 1 billion years, the sun will have become hotter and increased Earth’s temperature beyond a level where life, as we know it, is possible. Therefore, the long-term survival of humans may depend on space exploration and colonization. Do you believe that the destiny of human life is somewhere other than Earth or here on Earth?”

Hearing this reality, opinion is divided with 28% of adults saying human destiny is here on Earth and 27% saying this is to be found elsewhere in space. Most, 45% say they don’t know. Once again the opinion of Christians differ from others. Forty-one percent of Evangelicals believe the destiny of human life is on Earth compared to only 15% of those without a religious affiliation. Twenty-eight percent of Catholics say the destiny of human life is on Earth and 24% say it lies somewhere other than Earth (48% say they don’t know).

If Earth is doomed and human life can find a way to outlast it, then space is the place for the future. Seven in ten adults believe human exploration of space will be important (“very” or “somewhat”) in the future. Only one in ten say it is “not at all important.” Yet again, there are religious divides. Seventeen percent of Evangelicals believe space exploration to be “very” important compared to 41% of those without a religious affiliation. Thirty-six percent of Catholics believe it will be “very” important.

One might wonder why it matters if your religious affiliation is related to your views about the distant future, the ultimate demise of Earth, and space exploration. James Poulos, writing in Foreign Policy has argued, that Elon Musk, who has pledged to get humans to Mars soon, isn’t religious enough to colonize the red planet.

As you may have heard, Elon Musk (among others such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Nye), believe that reality, as we know it, may be a computer simulation. As Musk notes, “There’s a one in billions chance we’re in base reality.” What is interesting is that many of these individuals are atheists or agnostics. They believe there is no God but also think it is possible or likely that everything we know is a simulation built by a creator? Am I the only one who finds this amusing? While some Christians may be the least inclined now to explore space, they could be the most able because they are also unlikely to believe reality is a complex video game and that reaching Mars would be an achievement rather than a pre-programmed outcome. Poulos writes, “Musk, and his Silicon Valley backers, are right that humanity’s destiny might be to extend life to other planets. But Musk’s seeming belief that we’re already stuck in a simulated world leaves only dubious reasons to endorse his understanding of what destiny means — and who ought to fulfill it.”

In the bleakness of space or the harsh environment of another planet, believing in a creator and an afterlife just might be what space explorers would need to be successful. On the other hand, as we have explored before, practicing religion in space will not be easy. “Do not go gentle into that good night...”

About the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP)
CARA partnered with GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks) to conduct the survey. Interviews were conducted with 1,927 respondents between May 16 and May 26, 2016. The primary sample includes 1,010 self-identified Catholics (margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points). Additionally, 917 non-Catholics were interviewed. Of the non-Catholics, 311 are Evangelical Christians (margin of error of ±5.6 percentage points). Another 357 have some other Christian affiliation (margin of error of ±5.2 percentage points). A total of 76 had some other non-Christian affiliation (margin of error of ±11.2 percentage points) and 167 had no religious affiliation (margin of error of ±7.6 percentage points). Six respondents declined to state a religious affiliation. Statistical weights, created by GfK, are used to approximate the results for the U.S. adult population.


Did CARA Data Reveal Pope Francis Failed?

[Trigger Warning: This post contains some necessary satire. All data are real]

First Things Literary Editor Matthew Schmitz posed the question, “Has Pope Francis Failed?” In The New York Times last week. The key sentence for CARA in this piece was, “New survey findings from Georgetown’s Center for the Applied Research for the Apostolate [not our name] suggest that there has been no Francis effect – at least, no positive one.” Schmitz notes that the “perceptions of the papacy” have changed for the better but asks, “Why hasn’t the pope’s popularity reinvigorated the church?”

CARA primarily studies Catholics and the Catholic Church in the United States. The following data “suggest” that any survey data about Catholics in the United States from CARA could not possibly be appropriately used to judge whether Pope Francis has failed.

The data reviewed in Schmitz’s piece measure approval of the pope (positive), frequency of Mass attendance (essentially unchanged), and Millennial’s participation in Lent (declined, while generally remaining stable among the total population) in the United States. I do not have the space in a blog post to list and detail all the other numerous possible indicators that could be used to measure a pope’s success or failure in the United States (and elsewhere). You can find a few in the original CARA blog post Schmitz read (which never mentions Pope Francis). 

Anyone can grab three stats and write an opinion piece (…and apparently get it published in The New York Times. Who knew?). For example, I could note that in 2005, when Pope Benedict started leading the Church there were 431 diocesan ordination in the United States (…again forget that the rest of the world exists). In 2015, with Pope Francis leading the Church there were 548. Electing Pope Francis has clearly made the Catholic Church more successful at ordaining priests in this single country (by 27%). Pope Francis is 79. I’m not sure how long his papacy may last. However, if he can remain in office to mid-century and continue the trend shown in the data below then CARA research “suggests,” that there will be a whopping 1,577 diocesan ordinations in the United States in 2050. Francis Effect confirmed! No? You need more data?

If essentially beginning to reverse the American decline in priests is not impressive enough look at the figure below. Since Pope Francis began to lead the Catholic Church fewer Catholics in the United States have been dying. Pope Francis did the best in 2014 with only 391,131 deaths compared to 403,886 in 2012 (a decline in mortality of 3.2%). You are probably alive today because of Pope Francis. The data above “suggests” that if Pope Francis is able to continue leading the Church through the year 2128, Catholics will essentially be immortal in the U.S. (I’m sure Catholics elsewhere in the world will be fine too).

Need a third measure? Since you apparently only need to cite three different types of research to be published in The New York Times… The number of American parents naming their sons Francis has risen dramatically since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down. According to the Social Security Administration, from 2008 to 2012, the average popularity rank for the name Francis was #643. Under Pope Francis it has risen each year and averaged #488 and in 2015 came in at #482. If Pope Francis can continue to serve into 2030, in all likelihood, Francis will be the #1 name for boys in the United States.

In all seriousness now, after reading Schmitz’s piece I felt CARA needed to clarify that its data do not “suggest that there has been no Francis Effect.” There is not even any point or logic to asking if Pope Francis has failed in 2016. Schmitz notes, “Perhaps it is too soon to judge?” You think? Further, focusing on a few bits of data from the United States alone to measure a Pope’s failure in leading a global Church seems remarkably insufficient.

We’ve posted some global data here in the past. One of the biggest challenges is the lag in data availability. For example, the most current Vatican statistics are for 2014. Someday in the future, after Pope Francis has served more than a few years it will be possible to review data about the world’s Catholics and fairly ask if Pope Francis has succeeded or failed in many things. I can guarantee that there will be Church data that turn negative, some that are unchanged, and others shifting positive.

Even then, the most difficult thing will be to actually empirically attribute those changes to Pope Francis. While many people imagine the Catholic Church as this hierarchical organized institution directed by the pope. For example, former restaurant critic Frank Bruni penned the following portrait on the opinion pages of The New York Times in 2013, “The Roman Catholic Church is a worldwide organization with enormous financial resources; with a network of charities and agencies that provide crucial help to the downtrodden; and with parishes in which the prayerful nurture their relationship with God. And the pope is its C.E.O., ultimately responsible for where the money flows and for the placement and policing of its staff.”

The Pope absolutely does not function as the Catholic Church’s C.E.O. as if he is running Wal-Mart (we’ve covered this before). Instead, the Church continues to operate in a quasi-feudal manner with heavy doses of decentralization and autonomy for local leaders. Pastors are responsible for parishes, bishops for dioceses, and the pope for a global Church. Administrators run Catholic hospitals, deans lead colleges, charities are run by executives. With that said, there is indeed a map room where Pope Francis is saying, “Close that school. Open a parish here. Does that charity have enough in their food bank? How is that parish’s new marriage preparation team doing? How many candidates am I interviewing for the new surgeon at this Catholic hospital?” That room is in Frank Bruni’s head and not in Vatican City.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “All politics is local.” Catholicism in many ways is as well. The Pope’s impact is most often felt in broad agenda setting—emphasizing the most important issues as he sees them. Popes are most effective at this when they are well liked. Go back and take a look at how pessimistic journalists and commentators were about the future of the Church before the selection of Pope Francis. For example, Paul Elie suggested in a New York Times opinion piece that it was time to give up the Church. He writes, “We are resigned to the fact that so much in the Roman Catholic Church is broken and won’t be fixed anytime soon.” Did anyone writing before the selection of Pope Francis imagine that the next pope would be named Time’s Person of the Year (for good reason) or for that matter that he would also appear on the cover of Rolling Stone in short order?

In three years Pope Francis has not been able to fix the problems of the Catholic Church. But I think most would agree that he has put the institution on a better path than where it was headed when he got it. People are listening. People who would have never done so before. In some countries sacramental practice and population indicators are pointing up, in others they are stable, and elsewhere there are declines. Often the reasons for these changes have nothing to do with who is pope. As I recently noted, many young former Catholics in the U.S. say they left the Church because they are unable to reconcile what they know about their faith with what they are learning about in science. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Pope Francis’ comments cited by Schmitz as “denunciations” of Catholics. Schmitz asks, “Why join a church…whose members like to throw stones?”

Throwing a stone is writing an Op-Ed asking “Has Pope Francis Failed?” in The New York Times and then declaring “there has been no Francis Effect” with insufficient empirical evidence. Pope Francis should not be judged a success or a failure with the assistance of a few pieces of survey data that actually show mixed trends in one country. In time we will be able to ask and answer whether Pope Francis has failed. I have no problem with Matthew Schmitz asking that question when that time comes. The part of that answer that is grounded in data should come from researchers (understanding margins of error, statistical significance, etc.) examining the global church rather than a literary editor who somehow got his personal gripes about Pope Francis published in The New York Times.

Schmitz provides this portrait of a pope who would succeed, “Those who wish to see a stronger church may have to wait for a different kind of pope. Instead of trying to soften the church’s teaching, such a man would speak of the way hard disciplines can lead to freedom. Confronting a hostile age with the strange claims of Catholic faith may not be popular, but over time it may prove more effective.”

So when that happens we’ll finally have a pope who hasn’t failed? Millennials will finally be slightly more likely (beyond margin of error) to receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday in the United States. Catholics in places like Nigeria, Vietnam, Mexico, and all over the world will be in such awe that their pope can finally reach American Millennials and convince them to go to Mass on a day they have no obligation to do so. 


Did You Know? Female Chancellors

The first lay woman to be appointed chancellor of a diocese retired this week, after 27 years in the position. The chancellor is the highest “ecclesial” or decision-making office a layperson can hold in the church and is often ranked second or third in authority after the bishop in a diocese. This position was not open to laypersons until the revised Code of Canon Law was issued in 1983 and Mary Jo Tully, retiring chancellor of Portland in Oregon, became the first woman chancellor in 1989.

By 1993 some 15 percent of the chancellors in U.S. dioceses were women. Ten years later, about a quarter of them were women – about equally distributed between women religious and other laywomen, many of them with a degree in either civil or canon law.

Today, more than three in ten diocesan chancellors are women but fewer of them are women religious. Among the larger dioceses with women chancellors are the Archdioceses of Los Angeles, Washington, and San Antonio as well as the Dioceses of San Bernardino, Dallas, Fresno, and Sacramento. As shown below there are no discernible regional patterns. This is increasingly common across the United States.

The research and content for this post are from CARA Senior Research Associate Mary Gautier. Dr. Gautier is also the Editor of The CARA Report ( should be reading it!).

Photo of Chancellor Tully from the Catholic Sentinel


Sacraments Today Updated

In 2008, CARA released results from a survey that measured a variety of different beliefs and practices among U.S. adult Catholics. Now, eight years later CARA has replicated some of these questions in a new project about religion and science. This post details the demographic, Catholic background, and religious practice changes we can identify during this period (...more on religion and science in the near future). We also include results for a few new belief related questions that weren’t asked in 2008. The new survey includes interviews with 1,010 randomly selected U.S. adults who self-identified their religion as Catholic (margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points). The poll was conducted May 16 to 26, 2016 and was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Entrance Into the Church
We have called attention to declines in the numbers of infant baptisms in the United States in the past. However, as shown in the figure below, we have also noticed an increase in children and teens being baptized after their first birthday. We see this in the Church’s sacramental numbers as well in the responses from the survey. Why this is occurring is still an open question. Twenty-three percent of Millennial Generation Catholics (born 1982 or later) were baptized as children or teens. By comparison, only 13% of Pre-Vatican II Generation (born before 1943) Catholics report this. Most Catholics entered the Church as infants and fewer than one in ten entered as adults.

In the total population, the percentage of Catholics who are baptized that go on to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation has remained steady with more than eight in ten adult Catholics reporting this. However, underneath this aggregate percentage there is change. Millennial Generation Catholics are less likely than older Catholics to have received Confirmation. 

Mass Attendance and Prayer
There has been no change in frequency of Mass attendance between 2008 and 2016. In fact, in all of CARA’s national polling since 2000, Mass attendance has only changed beyond margin of error on one occasion—shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. There was briefly a slight increase in weekly attendance in the months that followed.

At the same time, it is still the case that a majority of self-identified Catholics are not “parish-affiliated” and instead either attends Mass on Ash Wednesday, Easter, and/or Christmas or even less often. Among Millennials, two-thirds are infrequent Mass attenders and only 14% attends weekly.

In 2008, CARA asked respondents about praying the rosary but did not ask about prayer generally. In the 2016 survey respondents were asked, “Aside from religious services, about how often do you pray?” Overall, 40% of adult Catholics say they pray at least once a day. Nineteen percent pray at least once a week and 17% at least once a month.

What may be startling to some are the differences that emerge by generation. Among Millennials, more pray only a few times a year or less often (30%) than pray at least once a day (25%). Across generations declining frequency in prayer is nearly a linear trend. When coupled with frequency of Mass attendance, it appears Millennials are only infrequently involved in a conversation with God. These new data are a departure from previous trends.

Belief in God and the Bible
Overall, 96% of self-identified Catholics believe in God. This includes 74% who believe without doubts and 22% who believe but have some doubts from time to time. Four percent do not believe in God but are open to the possibility of God’s existence (i.e., agnostic) and 0.1% say they do not believe in God and are sure of this (i.e., atheist). Sixty-one percent of self-identified Catholics believe the Bible is the “inspired word of God” and 21 percent believe it is actually the word of God and is “to be taken literally, word-for-word.” Eighteen percent do not believe the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God.

Across generations there is one notable outlier—Millennials are more likely than older Catholics to have doubts that God exists. Fewer than two-thirds say they believe in God without doubt (64%).

There are few if any differences across generations in their perceptions of the Bible with older and younger Catholics responding similarly.

Observing Lent
One of the major findings of Sacraments Today back in 2008 was the zeal that many Millennials reported about this period of the liturgical calendar. They were generally more likely to report activity than older Catholics. Overall, there is little change in 2016 for all Catholics. Respondents are slightly less likely to make extra efforts to give money to the needy or to try to improve their personal habits or behavior.

However, there are changes in the observance of Lent among Millennials. Although there is not much change among Millennials in abstention from meat on Fridays during Lent, this group has become less likely to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, to abstain from or give up other things beyond meat on Fridays, and to give additional money to the poor or try to do more to improve themselves. Note that the make-up of Millennials, the youngest adult generation, has changed over time as younger members of this cohort have entered adulthood since 2008.  

Sacrament of Reconciliation
Although U.S. adult Catholics rarely go to confession, their frequency of doing this has neither been falling nor been rising for more than a decade. More than four in ten don’t go to confession with any regularity. Nearly three in ten goes at least once a year.

There is not much variation in frequency of confession among the three youngest Catholic Generations. Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics are less likely than younger Catholics to say they “never” go to confession and are more likely to say they go “several times a year.”

Catholic Education, Demographics, and Background
Adult Catholics in 2016 are slightly less likely than those in 2008 to have attended a Catholic primary or secondary school as children. They are also slightly more likely to have attended a Catholic college or university. Only three in ten Millennials have attended a Catholic primary school compared to a majority of Vatican II Generation (born 1943 to 1960) Catholics (54%). At the same time, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to have attended a Catholic college or university (12%). This is in part due to a majority of Millennials having attended college and fewer than half of Vatican II and Pre-Vatican II Catholics reporting this.

While many assume Millennials are more likely to be enrolled in parish-based religious education than older Catholics, this is not the case. Only 36% of Millennials say they were enrolled in parish-based religious education at some point compared to about half or more Catholics in older generations. The consequences of fewer young Catholics receiving a formal Catholic religious education are broad. We have noted these related to school enrollments and will soon be highlighting the impact of this on Catholics leaving the faith as well as on Catholics’ understanding of the relationship between faith and reason (...stay tuned).

It should come as no surprise that Catholics have become more racially and ethnically diverse since 2008. Through generational replacement, immigration, and varying sub-group fertility rates the share of Catholic adults who self-identify as non-Hispanic white has declined (-6 percentage points and the percentage self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino has grown (+6 percentage points).  Fewer than half of Millennial Generation Catholics self-identifies their race and/or ethnicity as non-Hispanic white (49%).

Results regarding marital status may stand out as running counter to some expectations given general cultural changes in the United States. A growing number of adult Catholics report that they are married and have a Catholic spouse (41% in 2016 compared to 34% in 2008). This growth is a result of fewer reporting they have never married, are living with a partner, or are separated or divorced.

As CARA has long reported, the population center of the Catholic Church in the United States is shifting to the South and West and away from the Northeast and Midwest. More Catholics reside in the South than in any other single region of the United States.

Finally, one can see the generational replacement occurring among adult Catholics by looking at the changing sizes of Catholic cohorts. In 2008, Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics made up 17% of the adult population. Today, they are 6%. Millennials on the other hand have grown from15% of the population to 26%. The largest portion of the adult Catholic population is of the Post-Vatican II Generation, born 1961 to 1981 (38%).

As Pre-Vatican II Catholics become a smaller and smaller share of the Catholic population in the future, the Church can expect to experience declines in Mass attendance and further growth in racial and ethnic diversity.

Baptism image courtesy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston


Laudato Si’: Catholic Attitudes about Climate Change

A year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, Catholic adults in the United States are generally more likely to be concerned about climate change than other Christians according to a new survey conducted by CARA. Catholics are also more likely than other adults to believe they have a moral responsibility to personally do what they can to combat climate change according to results from the poll conducted May 16 and May 26, 2016.

Overall, 63% of U.S. adults agree that temperatures on Earth are getting warmer, on average, in response to higher concentrations of heat trapping greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane. Additionally, 24% neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 13% disagree. Sixty-five percent of adult Catholics agree with the statement regarding climate change, 12% disagree, and 23% neither agree nor disagree. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree with the statement at 51%. Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (71%) or no Christian affiliation (70%) agreed with the statement.

Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults agree that increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane are largely a result of human activity (e.g., industrial activity, transportation, as well as energy and food production). Twenty-one percent neither agree nor disagree with this. Only 10% disagree. 

Sixty-eight percent of Catholics agree that increasing concentrations of heat trapping gasses is largely a result of human activity. Evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that this is the case (59%). Other Christians have similar levels of agreement with the statement as Catholics (68%). Seven in ten or more of those with a non-Christian affiliation (79%) or without an affiliation (70%) agree.

Sixty-percent of Catholics agree with both statements (strongly or somewhat) that the planet is becoming warmer in response to higher concentrations of heat-trapping gasses and that the increase in these gasses is largely a result of human activity. A minority of Evangelical Christians agree with both statements (46%).

Catholic attitudes are similar to that of all U.S. adults combined. However, level of agreement with both statements is higher among those with a non-Christian affiliation (67%) or without an affiliation (65%). Note that disagreement levels are much lower and many choose to neither agree nor disagree with the statements.

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults recall that they heard or read about Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment a year ago. Generally, the public has low awareness of specific papal statements and are often more generally aware of what the Pope has been saying or how he has been appearing in the news. Questions about specific documents often have low awareness. The Associated Press conducted a survey in March 2015 asking the public if they were aware that Pope Francis was about to release an encyclical about global warming. At that time, 6% of adults indicated an awareness of this.

In July 2015, after the release of Laudato Si’, the Associated Press found that 31% had heard of the encyclical. The current survey, a year later, shows awareness has fallen just a few percentage points over time.

Catholic recall of the encyclical is only slightly higher than the general public at 32%. Majorities of all group say they don’t recall of hearing or reading about Laudato Si’.

“Strong” agreement with the two statements about climate change, that the Earth is warming and that this is largely a result of human activities, is about 15 percentage points higher, on average, among those who recall hearing or reading about the encyclical compared to those who do not recall this.

Only about 22 percent of U.S. adults say they think they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change. However, even fewer say they do not agree with him on this topic (19%). Given that only 28% of adults are aware of the Pope’s encyclical it is not surprising that most say they “don’t know” if they generally agree with Pope Francis on this issue. Catholics are the most likely to be sure of their agreement (34%), however half say they “don’t know.” Only 15% of Catholics are sure they are in disagreement.

Among those who say they generally agree with Pope Francis about the environment and climate change, agreement (strong or somewhat) that the Earth is warming and that this is largely caused by human activity are comparatively higher than those who say they know they are not in agreement with Pope Francis (88% compared to 28% on warming and 90% compared to 39% on the link to human activity). This result is also evident among Catholic adults based on their assessment of their agreement with Pope Francis (86% compared to 28% on warming and 87% compared to 32% on the link to human activity).

More than one in five adults, 22%, in the United States believe God has played a role in the changes observed in Earth’s climate in recent years. Even fewer Catholics believe this (17%). Evangelical Christians are most likely to agree that God has played a role with more than four in ten responding “yes” (46%). Note that a quarter responded “don’t know” or refused rather than yes or no (26% of all adults and 28% of Catholics).

Respondents who said they believe God has played a role were asked the open-ended question, “What role do you believe God has played in recent climate changes?” Although 22% said they believed this, only 14% decided to respond to the open-ended question asking them to describe God’s role. Many responses cite one of two concepts: that this is all part of God’s plan or that God has control of everything that is happening. A representative sampling of these responses are shown below.
  • All changes are part of His plan We do not need to know, or even understand the plan.
  • As stated in Bible there is a end.
  • Because he is the creator of all things. He controls everything.
  • Every thing is created by God whether it be good or bad.
  • God already knows everything that has and will happen, He gives us a free will to make our choices, but He also knows what we will choose. He knew the climate would change and knows what will come of all of it. He will direct as He feels fit to do.
  • God created a universe containing the earth and it's life (plants, animals...), which has a natural evolutionary process, which includes climate changes.
  • God decides the weather.
  • God is in complete control of all that happens, either by His active will or by his permissive allowance.
  • God set up a climatology system that has naturally occurring cycles. It repeats over time. There have been many slightly cooler periods, just as there have been many slightly warmer periods. This is nothing new.
  • I believe that God can do anything he wants to do.
  • The Bible describes the times of "Jacobs troubles." Weather will get increasingly worse, just as famine, death, disease etc. will.

Fewer than one in ten of those who believe God has played a role, say they don’t know or are not sure of what that role has been.

Fourteen percent of all adults believe that climate change is the “most important” problem facing the world today. Catholics are more likely than others to say climate change is the most important problem (18%). A majority of U.S. adults and Catholic adults believe it is either the “most important” problem or a “very important” problem (60% and 66%, respectively).

Evangelical Christians are the least likely to say climate change is the “most important” or a “very important” problem (10% and 39%, respectively). More than one in five Evangelicals combined say it is either “a little” or “not at all” important of a problem (12% and 10%, respectively).

Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults and 68% of Catholic adults say they believe it is their moral responsibility to do what they can to combat climate change. Majorities of all religious sub-groups agree with this statement. Respondents who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical are slightly more likely than those who are sure they did not to say they believe they personally have a moral responsibility to combat climate change (72% compared to 65%). This gap largest among those without any religious affiliation (83% who recall the encyclical compared to 62% who do not).

Catholic respondents were asked directly about how the statements of Church leaders had impacted their belief that they have a moral responsibility to combat climate change. Nearly a third of Catholics, 32%, say statements by Pope Francis led them to strengthen their belief that they have a moral responsibility to what they can to combat climate change. Catholics are less likely to indicate statements by their pastor (19%), bishop (17%), or some other person in Church ministry (17%) had led them to strengthen their belief in their moral responsibility to combat climate change.

Note that responses to this question are dependent on their bishop, pastor, or other Church minister making a statement about climate change.

Respondents were also asked about their beliefs that society should take steps to address human-caused climate change.

Overall, 72% believe society should take steps to combat climate change. Note this is higher than the share who believe they personally have a moral responsibility to do so (63%). Majorities of all religious sub-groups believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change. This is also the case whether each sub-group recalls hearing or reading about the Pope’s encyclical or not. However, among respondents with no religious affiliation there is a noticeable gap where 95% of those who recall hearing or reading about the Pope’s statement believe society should be taking steps to combat climate change compared to 77% who do not recall hearing or reading about this. Among Catholics there is no difference between those recalling reading or hearing about Laudato Si’ and those who are sure they did not read or hear about this.

It may be possible that the Pope’s encyclical has had a greater impact among those without a religious affiliation than Christians, and specifically Catholics. The data may indicates that Pope Francis has strengthened the case that individuals and society have a moral responsibility to act against climate change among those who are among the least religious in the United States.

One aspect of the Catholic Church that the public, and Catholics specifically, appear to get wrong about the Church and climate change is the perception that Pope Francis is the first pope to address the Church’s position on the environment and climate change. In fact his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was often referred to (including by National Geographic) as “The Green Pope.” It is also the case that Pope Saint John Paul II was also vocal about Catholics needing to respect and protect nature. Yet, 32% of all adults agree (strongly or somewhat) that Pope Francis is the first in the Church to address the environment and climate change—including 42% of Catholic adults agreeing with this statement.

Again, given the general low awareness of specific statements made by popes, it is likely the case that Catholics and non-Catholics alike are so much more aware of Laudato Si’ than something Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or Pope Saint John Paul II said or wrote about the environment that gained less attention by the media that they believe Pope Francis is the first pontiff to address this topic.

About the CARA Catholic Poll (CCP)
CARA partnered with GfK Custom Research (formerly Knowledge Networks), a highly respected polling firm that has assembled and maintains a large national panel of U.S. households using random probability sampling to conduct the survey. GfK was founded by academic social scientists and its methodology is highly rigorous. Their surveys are regularly used in academic research that is published in peer-reviewed journals in a variety of fields as well as by journalists and the government. Contacted initially by phone (random digit dial) or mail (randomly), each participating household in the national GfK panel of households agrees to be available for online surveys. The panel is not restricted to existing computer and/or Internet users. Those persons who are sampled and asked to join the GfK panel are supplied with subsidized internet access or a television appliance to take self-administered on-screen surveys. Thus respondents take surveys on computers, televisions, tablets, or smartphones. CARA surveys in English or Spanish at the respondent’s choice. These methods ensure that GfK’s panel is reflective as possible of the national population. The panel’s coverage of the population is very high, 97 percent, well above standard telephone polling methods. 

Interviews were conducted with 1,927 respondents between May 16 and May 26, 2016. The primary sample includes 1,010 self-identified Catholics. Additionally, 917 non-Catholics were interviewed. Of the non-Catholics, 311 are Evangelical Christians. Another 357 have some other Christian affiliation. A total of 76 had some other non-Christian affiliation and 167 had no religious affiliation (including 81 with no religion and 86 who are atheists or agnostics).

Six respondents declined to state a religious affiliation. Statistical weights, created by GfK, are used to approximate the results for the U.S. adult population. A more complete description of the study and its methodology is here. For additional information about the survey contact me at or 202-687-0885.

Image courtesy of United Nations Photo.


American Catholicism Examined in Three Orbits

In the United States, about two-thirds of people raised Catholic remain Catholic as adults (67%). Among those who remain Catholic, about half attend Mass at least once a month (47%). These two statistics can help shape a conceptual “map” of Catholicism in terms of defining a core and a periphery. Some people leave the faith, others remain Catholic but rarely attend Mass (i.e., periphery), and at the core are those who stay and actively participate in their faith on a regular basis.


In this post we explore who, demographically, is most likely to fall into the core, periphery, or out of the faith. To accomplish this we have aggregated respondents to the 2008 to 2014 General Social Survey (GSS). In all, this includes 2,921 responses from people raised as Catholic.

The first set of results, in the table below (click the table image to see full-size), show where people raised Catholic have ended up in terms of religious affiliation as adults. Although two-thirds remain Catholic, 16% have become Protestants or affiliated with some other Christian church. Fifteen percent have no religious affiliation and 3% are affiliated with a non-Christian faith. Below the top line of this table are these same results by different sub-groups. People in some of these sub-groups have been more likely to stay and others more likely to leave. These differences will be explored in greater detail below. 

The second table (again, click the table image to see full-size), shows how frequently those who stay Catholic attend Mass. Overall, 25% of adult Catholics attends weekly (i.e., every week), 24% less than weekly, but at least once a month, 29% less than monthly, but at least once a year, and 22% less than once a year or never. Here again, some groups are more likely to attend frequently and others less so. 

These data reveal several narratives that can be statistically plotted. Some of these stories beg rather simple inferences, whereas others are a bit more complex. Some groups have low retention and among those who stay, low frequencies of Mass attendance. Others have high retention and among those staying, high frequency of Mass attendance. These are the “linear groups” that fall between the blue lines in the scatter plots below. Outside of these lines are some outlier groups.


You can also think of the scatter plot as having four quadrants. Two of these are “outlier zones” for Catholics. In the upper left are those with low retention rates (i.e., many raised in this group leave the faith) but have high frequencies of Mass attendance among those who remain. In the lower right quadrant are groups with high retention (i.e., many in this group stay Catholic) but lower levels of regular Mass attendance among those who have stayed. In the figures that follow a third dimension is added—the size of the raised Catholic population of each sub-group. Thus, the size of a bubble represents the relative population size for those raised Catholic, the x or horizontal axis represents the percent of this population that remained Catholic and then the y or vertical axis is the share of those who stayed Catholic as adults who attends Mass at least once a month.

The life-cycle theory of religion predicts that as people become teens and then adults their religiosity falls a bit as they leave their childhood pattern of affiliation and worship. The teens and twenties are the most common age periods for those who leave their childhood faith to make that decision. Then as people age they may choose to marry and have children and as this happens many become more religious and strongly affiliated. Finally, as they age and move into their senior years, religiosity again often rises even further. In the thirties, forties, and later some who left theory faith may even return as “reverts.”

What we see in the figure below does not represent life-cycle theory well. It is the case that Pre-Vatican II Catholics, those born before 1943, are the most likely to have stayed Catholic (82% retention) and today exhibit the highest frequencies of Mass attendance (63% at least monthly). However, the other three younger Catholic generations are clustered together around the “average” Catholic. Post-Vatican II Catholics (born 1961 to 1981) have similar retention rates to Vatican II Catholics (born 1943 to 1960). However, the younger Pre-Vatican II group is slightly more likely to attend Mass at least once a month than those of the Vatican II Generation (27% compared to 21%).


Millennials (born 1981 or later) have slightly higher retention rates than the next two older generations but are much less likely to attend Mass at least once a month (39%). There is a real divide between the Pre-Vatican II Catholics and the younger generations that is unlikely to ever be eclipsed. We can’t expect that Vatican II Catholics or those who are younger to be where Pre-Vatican II Catholics are now when they reach the same ages. As more Pre-Vatican II Catholics pass away in the future (the youngest are now 73 years old), Mass attendance and retention rates for Catholics in the United States overall are likely to fall without them being in the pews.

Where life-cycle theory may be helpful is in predicting some movement for Millennials on this figure as they age. It is likely their Mass attendance frequency will rise to levels near Vatican II and Post-Vatican II Catholics. Their bubble will also grow as more of this generation enters adulthood. The current figure includes those born 1982 to 1996 (i.e., the youngest respondents in the GSS are 18).

Marital Status
In the last few years, the Church has examined family life issues. Specifically, questions have centered on divorced and remarried Catholics as well as on declining numbers celebrating the sacrament of marriage. The figure below provides some insight into how marriage and divorce may affect Catholic affiliation and practice. The figure is also reflective of the life-cycle with younger never married Catholics looking a lot like Millennials and widowed Catholics looking a lot like Pre-Vatican II Catholics.


Following the orange lines we can see what might happen as young never married Catholics age and approach a decision to marry with likely increasing Mass attendance. Then, for some Catholics, marriage is challenged and they choose to separate from their spouse. If they cannot reconcile they may seek a civil divorce. Mass attendance is likely to fall sharply—perhaps nearly back to where it would be if one was never married. Throughout this hypothetical phasing, retention is relatively similar to the typical Catholic. Recall, that most who leave do so as teenagers or in their early twenties—likely before marrying. But some leave when they are older. Perhaps this figure reveals when that may be more likely to happen. When a divorced Catholic chooses to remarry (in the GSS we don’t know how many sought or received annulments but it is likely a small share) retention falls but also notice, among those who continue to self-identify as Catholic, Mass attendance rises a bit. It probably does not return to rates seen by those marrying and having never divorced but it is likely to be higher than those who are never married or currently divorced.

Clearly the path outlined is not generally experienced. Many marry and eventually face a life without their spouse as a widow or widower. What this figure does speak to is the crisis of faith that likely occurs with many who divorce.

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis clarified, “It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. “’They are not excommunicated’ and they should not be treated as such” (243). He adds further, “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations ‘where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate’. There are also the cases of those who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of ‘those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid’” (298).

Pope Francis calls for a consideration of these circumstances in noting, “it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (300). How Amoris Laetitia is applied in practice may, in the future, alter some of the patterns that are evident in the figure above.

So far, the figures have shown distributions that generally lie along the predicted pattern of lower retention and lower Mass attendance and higher retention and higher Mass attendance that moves from the bottom left to the top right of the scatter plots. The story of education takes a different path. As shown below, as people raised Catholic attain higher levels of education, retention likely drops and among those who remain Catholic, Mass attendance is likely quite high, relatively speaking. Retention is highest among those with a high school diploma or less with more than seven in ten staying Catholic. Yet among those who stay with this level of education, only about four or five in ten attends Mass at least once a month.


Among those who attend some college and those who obtain college degrees retention falls to less than seven in ten but among those who remain Catholic in these higher education groups, majorities attend Mass at least once a month.

CARA is currently conducting research on why some young Catholics leave the faith. One of the most surprising themes that is coming to the surface in this research is the notion among some that the Catholic faith is incompatible with science and that some have chosen science to actually be their faith. In a popular culture that increasingly sees non-belief or atheism as “smart,” some may be losing their faith and would only return if they had, as one respondent put it, “replicable, peer reviewed, conclusive proof that a deity exists and I'm guaranteed a happy after life.” That is a crisis of faith. Not the Catholic faith but just the notion of faith in general. In a culture where atheism and smart are synonymous, faith pairs with what?

Does going to college lead some to a loss of faith? Perhaps. Or is it the nature of the 21st century curriculum? I learned evolution in a Catholic school from a religious sister. A war between Catholicism and science has never seemed real to me. But most young Americans being raised Catholic today (or the recent past) are never in Catholic schools or colleges. Most aren’t even in parish-based religious education. The data seem to indicate that among those with some college or a degree who stay Catholic are more active in the faith than those with less education. Is there any correlation between these individuals ever being enrolled formally in a Catholic educational institution or program? Perhaps... Stay tuned for more on this topic as CARA is also currently conducting a major study about religion, science, and education.

Birthplace and Citizenship
Nearly half of foreign-born residents in the United States are Catholic (45%). Most are coming from countries where Catholicism is shared by large majorities of the population. When they come to the United States they encounter a very different religious culture with many new options. They may also be in a part of the country where the Church does not have many parishes or other institutions.

As shown in the figure below, foreign-born residents who are raised Catholic are more likely than those born in the United States to stay Catholic as adults and to attend Mass at least once a month. However, there is an important difference. Typically an eligible non-citizen would need to wait a minimum of three to five years to go through naturalization. Once citizenship is attained, the data indicate that retention drops slightly but among those who remain Catholic, Mass attendance is likely to rise a bit. There are many potential explanations. One possibility is that some of the foreign-born who are undocumented non-citizens may be less likely or even able to attend Mass. For example, foreign-born migrant farm workers often are visited by Catholic ministers and clergy where they work and live because it may be difficult for them to travel to the closest parish. They may also be hesitant or cautious in joining or engaging with parish communities that are unfamiliar to them.

During the period before they might be able to seek citizenship they may also become familiar with other faiths. They may be intrigued by Protestant church that is advertising an Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration. As has been frequently observed, the bigger shift in affiliation and worship may come with the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Here, retention and frequency of Mass attendance may start to look a lot like it does for all U.S. born citizens regardless of ancestry or nationality.

Race and Ethnicity
There is one noticeable outlier in terms of race and ethnicity. Black Catholics are among the most likely to leave the faith, but among those who stay, worship levels are comparatively quite high. Only 52% of black or African Americans raised Catholic remain Catholic as adults. Yet, among those who remain Catholic, a majority attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 3% to 4% of Catholics self-identify their race as black or African American. Few black or African American residents self-identify as Catholic as well—about 6% or 7%.

Why do so many Black Catholics leave? My own hunch is that it may have something to do with peers and partners. Many black Catholics may have Protestant peers and significant others. From childhood into the early twenties they may be more likely than other Catholics to be introduced to other Christian denominations and some may choose to leave the faith of their parents for the faith of their peers or partners. There may also be something related to gender that is important. In research CARA is doing in culturally diverse parishes we’ve found that 72% percent of black Catholics born in the United States, surveyed in the pews during Mass, are female and 28% are male. This is the biggest gender gap of any race and ethnicity group.

Note that non-Hispanic white adults have relatively low retention rates and among those who stay, frequency of Mass attendance is comparatively the low. By comparison, Hispanic or Latino as well as those of other some other race or ethnicity (primarily Asians, measuring approximately 4 percent of all adult Catholics) have higher retention and more frequent Mass attendance than non-Hispanic white Catholics.


Sexual Orientation
The final comparison follows the linear path. Only 56% of those raised Catholic who self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual remain Catholic as adults. Among those who stay, Catholic only about a third attend Mass at least once a month (35%). Heterosexual Catholics are at the center of the distribution with average retention rates and frequencies of Mass attendance.

As seen in the tables above, no other sub-group is more likely to have no religious affiliation than those raised Catholic who self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (28%). They are also among the least likely to switch to a Protestant denomination (11%). While a majority remain Catholic, those who do are infrequent Mass attenders, relatively speaking. Is this an issue of not feeling welcome or included in parish life?


The Catechism instructs that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Canon 2358). At the same time, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis states that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (251). Yet, he also reiterates the aforementioned teachings of the Catechism and asks pastors to “avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of various situations” (79). He adds that “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community.  ... No one can be condemned forever because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves” (297).

Conclusions and Implications
Since 1996, CARA has been conducting in-pew surveys of parishioners at Catholic parishes across the United States. Today, we have done this in nearly 1,000 parishes. About nine in ten surveyed say their overall satisfaction with their parish is “good” or “excellent.” In part, this is because increasingly Catholics are looking for and finding a parish they like best rather than attending their territorial parish. We ask parishioners what attracted them to the parish they are in. Overall, 86% say they were attracted by their parish’s “open and welcoming spirit” and the same percentage say by the “sense of belonging” they feel in their parish. The only other factors attracting them a bit more are the quality of the liturgy (89%) the quality of the preaching (87%). There are many out there selling a secret formula for parish renewal. At CARA it’s always been simple: a good pastor and ministry staff along with an overwhelming sense of welcome. If you build that it is very likely a community will form and grow—from the core, periphery, and perhaps even further out into orbit.

Demography is not destiny and there are undoubtedly many anecdotes that do not fit the stories that emerge from the data described above. However, probabilities are useful. The patterns in the GSS data reveal which groups the Church in the United States is retaining and engaging most. The table below shows how different (and similar) these core, periphery, and formerly Catholic parishes are in the United States today:

Image courtesy of Gregory Gibson.

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