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.


Jesuit Global Demographics in 2018

This post is by Georges Alsankary and Thomas Gaunt, SJ and is released for the feast day (tomorrow, Dec. 21) of St. Peter Canisius, SJ (1521–1597). It is the third post in a series (1, 2) in which CARA tracks changes among the Jesuits worldwide.

The Jesuits are the world’s largest religious order with active ministries spanning across six continents. They steadily increased in number from their restoration in 1814 until 1965 when they reached their peak membership of 36,000.  Since 1965 the total number of Jesuits worldwide has declined to 15,842 in 2017 but most notably the membership of the Jesuits has dramatically realigned by culture and ethnicity. Recent developments show a change in growth and expansion of the population of Jesuits: the largest national group used to be the US Jesuits, but now is the Jesuits of India. Africa and Asia have numerous young Jesuits, whereas Europe and North America are challenged by a large number of elderly Jesuits.

Worldwide the changing number of Jesuits is driven by three factors: the number of men entering the novitiate, the number of men departing the Jesuits, and the number of Jesuits that die each year. A growth in the number of Jesuit usually implies entrance groups being larger in number than the groups who leave or die. A steady decline would be the reverse of this.

For administrative purposes the Society of Jesus is organized into 76 provinces and independent regions.  They then grouped into six geographic conferences or assistancies:
  • Africa – All of Africa and Madagascar except North Africa.
  • Latin America – All of South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
  • South Asia – India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.
  • Asia Pacific – Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, East Timor, New Zealand, and Myanmar.
  • Europe – Europe, Russia, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa.
  • North America – United States (including Puerto Rico), Canada, Haiti, Jamaica, Belize and Micronesia
Note: Canada used to be part of the European assistancy, and Puerto Rico used to be in the Latin American assistancy. Both are currently in the North American assistancy as of 2016. Data has been adjusted to reflect these changes.

Overall Numbers:
The Data below shows the total number of Jesuits at ten year intervals (1987, 1997, 2007, and 2017).
Both Africa and South Asia are showing steady increase in the number of Jesuits, while both Latin America and Asia Pacific are decreasing in numbers. The Assistancies of Europe and North America show a steep decline in membership, more than 50% over the same 30 years.  If the trend continues the South Asia Assistancy will soon be the largest outnumbering Europe, North America, and Latin America.

Entering novices:
The number of novices entering the novitiate of each province can vary significantly year by year, therefore a more accurate picture is provided if we look at how many men enter the novitiate over five year intervals.  The graph below shows a stabilization over the past ten years in the number of novices entering in the Society of Jesus, even in places where there was previously a sharp decline.

The distribution of entering novices remains largely the same with respect to what it was 5 years ago: South Asia has the largest number, followed by Africa and Latin America. The clear majority of the younger Jesuits (64%) are still coming from Asia and Africa.


Departures from the Jesuits:
The Jesuits, like all other religious institutes experience a departure of a large number of the men who enter the novitiate, these departures usually occur in the years of formation before ordination (often ten years after entering) or final vows (often 15 to 20 years after entering). The general pattern of departures follows the earlier pattern of entrances for each assistancy, and the number of departures across the assistancies are close to what they were 5 years ago, and markedly lower than the past number of departures 15 or 20 years ago.

Entrants minus Departures:
The sustainability of the membership of a religious community relies on their being more entrances than departures over the course of years.  The graph below shows the gain or loss for each assistancy of the Jesuits in five-year periods over the past 30 years.  South Asia and Africa have had large sustained gains in members in each period of time.  Asia Pacific has shown a smaller, but stabilizing gain, and Europe a diminished but stabilizing gain. The North America has shown periods of a loss of members (more men departing than entering over a five-year period), although it now shows a net gain in recent years, while Latin America has only recently shown a small increase.

Number of Deaths
The vast majority of older Jesuits who entered prior to 1960 are in Europe and North America, and there are fewer older Jesuits in Africa and Asia. The Jesuits in Europe and North America have consistently accounted for about two-thirds of all the deaths over the past 30 years while the proportion of European and North American Jesuits have gone from 60% to 44% percent of the Jesuit membership.

Entrances minus Departures minus Deaths: Net Gain or Loss
When the number of men leaving the Jesuits is subtracted from the number entering and then the number of deaths are subtracted from that figure, we have the net gain or loss in Jesuit membership.  In combining these three basic demographic elements we see clearly the large and continuous impact of the declining number of Jesuits in Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent Latin America.  Only Africa and  Asia Pacific consistently record any net gain in Jesuits year over year, and that gain is dwarfed by the losses of Europe and North America. While Africa and South Asia may have a net gain of 100 to 200 Jesuits over a five-year period, Europe and North America have a net loss 1,200 to 1,300 Jesuits.

The membership trends observed five years ago have not significantly changed: the number of Jesuits are stabilizing across the board in all parts of the world, and there are no dramatic shifts in any particular region; there is a slight decline in the number of men entering the novitiate, but it is accompanied by a stabilization in the numbers of deaths, which makes for a reduced net decrease over time.

The very large number of Jesuits in Europe and North America who die each year is the main demographic factor driving the geographic shift of Jesuits as the net decline in the number of Jesuits worldwide is slowing down.

The continued growth in the number of younger Jesuits in Africa and South Asia means that there will be a continuing re-alignment of where Jesuits are serving the Church.  If the trends continue, the Society of Jesus will in the coming decade or two be defined more by the cultures and experiences of Asia and Africa, and less by Europe and North America.

Image courtesy of Sharon M Leon.


The Contribution of Religious Sisters to Parochial Schools in the United States

This post is authored by CARA researchers Michal Kramarek and Fr. Thomas Gaunt, SJ (also CARA's Executive Director). It provides a brief look at the contribution of religious sisters to the parochial schools in the United States. The bibliographic information for the references included in the text can be found here

Written discourse about Catholic parochial schools in the United States has been in decline since 1970’s. In fact, after enjoying over a century of higher attention, the frequency with which the topic appears in American publications in recent years is reverting to levels prior to the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore of 1884 (as shown in the chart below).

While the motto of “Every Catholic child in a Catholic school” attributed to the Council was never fulfilled (Hunt and Kunkel 1988, 286), the accomplishments of those who often committed their entire lives to its pursuit are nonetheless remarkable. The scale of those accomplishments can be illustrated by the sheer size of the parochial school system in its heyday, in the 1960’s:
  • In 1960, there were 68 Catholic schools for every 100 Catholic parishes (Kenedy 1961).
  • In 1963-1964, there was an all-time high of 13,205 Catholic elementary and secondary schools (Snyder 1993, 49).
  • In 1965-1966, there was an all-time high of 5.6 million baby boomers in Catholic elementary and secondary schools which constituted 87 percent of nonpublic school enrollment (Hunt and Kunkel 1988, 277) and 12 percent of the entire Catholic population (Kenedy 1966).
  • In the 1960s, “[t]here was hardly a town of more than 30,000 inhabitants in the United States lacking a parochial school” (Stewart 1994, 428).

Those remarkable accomplishments bring about the issue of how it was all possible. After all, the financial cost of such an undertaking must have been considerable. Or, was it? The answer to this question depends on the point of reference. For example, Burns (1912, 290-293) estimated the overall cost of education in Catholic parish schools nationwide (including cost of maintenance, salaries, supplies, apparatus, heat and light, repairs, interest and insurance), in 1909, at $9,898,008 ($268 million in 2017 dollars). By comparison, he estimated the cost of the equivalent education in public schools to be over three times higher, at $30,511,010.

The rise and decline of Catholic parochial schools appears to be partially a function of changes in the relative cost of operating those schools. The changes in relative cost were, in turn, primarily driven by the immense sacrificial service contributed by religious sisters (e.g., Burns 1912, 284; Stewart 1994, 327). In strictly financial terms, this sacrificial service can be measured as the difference between the amount of salary received by lay teachers in public schools and the amount of salary-equivalent/stipend received by religious sisters in parochial schools (i.e., the salary forgone, for a lack of better term) multiplied by the number of religious sisters in teaching positions.

In regard to the first factor, the salary forgone, the table below summarizes available historical estimates for the stipend of religious sisters in teaching positions. In available years, this stipend was roughly one quarter of the salary of lay teachers in public schools. A caveat should be added that this comparison, while illustrative, is severely limited, because it does not account for many differences between the two groups (e.g., value of room and board, educational requirements, average amount of teaching experience, additional sources of income, retirement funding, or cost of living).

It is also important to point out that the sacrifice of the sisters is larger than the ratio might be implying, because a salary’s utility does not change linearly (i.e., reducing the disposable income does not reduce the quality of life as much as reducing the income needed to cover basic expenses). Sisters monetary compensation shown in the table below is so low by today’s standards it is hard to imagine to us today. Notably, it was also hard to imagine in the past. For example, Oates (1985, 184) described a situation where “[e]ven though salaries paid religious brothers were approximately twice those provided sisters for the same work the men found them insufficient.” Stewart (1994, 322, 408) described sisters’ frugality as “extreme” and their wages to be “meager,” and only allowing for “bare subsistence.”

In regard to the second factor lowering the cost of parochial schools, the chart below shows the number of religious sisters in teaching positions. Notably, the highest number of religious sisters in teaching positions was recorded in 1965 when the parochial system was about to reach its all-time high (as described above). However, the number of religious sisters as a percentage of all teachers in parochial schools was already in decline, which might be an indication that the salary cost increase outpaced the system growth. This might have exacerbated the decline beyond what was the result of decreasing number of religious sisters in the following decades.

A caveat should be added here that other reasons also played a role in the decline of the parochial school system. Those reasons include, for example, public school systems catching up with the rapid population growth, the migration of Catholic population from cities to suburbs, and from Northeast to West (thus away from places where parochial schools were established).

So, how much of the difference did the religious sisters make? What was their contribution as measured by, so to speak, the amount of forgone salary? In 1965, when the Catholic education system was at its largest, an estimated 103,314 religious sisters held teaching positions (Stewart 1994, 419). In this period, religious sisters received approximately one third of the salaries made by lay teachers in Catholic schools (Hesburgh, Hochwalt, and Shuster 1966) and salaries of lay teachers in Catholic schools were 5 percent to 10 percent lower than salaries of lay teachers in public schools (Koob and Shaw 1970). The annual amount of salary paid to lay teachers in public schools was $6,935 (Snyder 1993, 46-48). Based on those numbers, the sacrificial service of religious sisters teaching in Catholic schools in 1965 alone allowed the Catholic schools to save an estimated $0.5 billion ($3.8 billion in 2017 dollars) relative to public schools.

It is important to point out that those large aggregate amounts are only possible due to daily sacrifices of religious sisters that accrued over a lifetime of teaching work. “[The] phenomenal expansion [of the parochial schools] would have been impossible without sacrificial giving by laity and commitment by the rapidly increasing numbers of sisters who taught without remuneration beyond bare subsistence” (Stewart 1994, 322).

While the attention of those leading the discourse about the needs of the Catholic community in the United States shifts to other, important topics, we may be well advised to remember the extraordinary financial contribution that tens of thousands of sisters made to the Catholic Church each year for decades- as much as $3.8 billion in a single year.

Top image source: Sister Joellen Kohlmann teaching religion at Guardian Angels Central Catholic High School from “Nuns getting harder to find in Catholic schools.” Please read this story for more context to the research presented in this post. Photographer and author of that story: Jerry Guenther, Norfolk Daily News.


Pain Never Disappears from Unhealed Wounds

As a survey researcher who has studied Catholic reactions to news of allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors since 2002, I have noticed that there is a detail about the crisis that seems to get distorted at times. In 2012, the last time we asked Catholics about the crisis in a national poll, 21% of adult Catholics could correctly identify that the abuse cases were more common before 1985 than since. The fact that any abuse occurred at all, regardless of when, is horrifying to me and the victims deserve justice and anything that could help them with the damages that resulted from these criminal acts. Yet, this detail is important in understanding the causes of the scandal, what legal actions are possible, and the steps that can be taken to prevent any future abuse.

The authors of the Pennsylvania grand jury report were careful to note that, “We know that the bulk of the discussion in this report concerns events that occurred before the early 2000’s” (p. 6). At the same time they correctly note that abuse “has not yet disappeared” and there are a couple of more recent allegations detailed in their findings. As they note, “Many of the priests who we profile here are dead” (p. 12). Dates for birth, year of ordination, and death are not available for all the accused in the report (some are seminarians or brothers and were never ordained). Forty-four percent of the accused in the report are known to be dead (five were born in the 19th century). Their average age at death was 73. Among the accused who are still alive or presumed alive, the average age today is 71. Priests accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, on average, were born in 1933 and ordained as priests in 1961. Outside of Pennsylvania, allegations of abuse have also been levied recently against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He was similarly born in 1930 and ordained a priest in 1958. 

There is something to this generational pattern and this finding was first uncovered in the scientific study of the abuse crisis in 2004 by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. They noted in 2004, “The majority of men in this study were born between 1920 and 1950 and were ordained in their mid- to late-twenties.” The most common decade of birth for alleged abusers was the 1930s and the most common decade of ordination was the 1960s. This profile has not changed in allegations that emerged in the 14 years that have followed—including the recent grand jury report. No new wave of abuse has emerged in the United States.

The clergy sex abuse scandal unfolding in the news today is the same public scandal that erupted with national media reports in 2002 (beginning in Boston). It is likely, but no one can be sure, that the cases in the grand jury report have already been present in existing allegation totals (reports to the John Jay researchers are cited as a source for information about allegations in the grand jury report). Just as then, the abuse in the headlines most often occurred in the 1960s through the 1980s.

What is revealed new in the grand jury report is a level of detail that previous investigations have not often included. The authors report on a “playbook” that Church leaders allegedly used to handle allegations of clergy sex abuse in the state prior to 2002. “It seemed as if there was a script. Through the end of the 20th century, the dioceses developed consistent strategies for hiding child sex abuse” (p. 297). This strategy included the use of euphemisms in documentation that minimized abuse as conduct that was “inappropriate” or related to “boundary issues.” The dioceses’ investigations appeared to be deficient or biased, according to the grand jury. Many accused priests were sent for treatment in a clinical approach to the abuse rather than what should have occurred—criminal reporting. Once these treatments were considered complete, abusers were often returned to ministry in new assignments. The allegations were rarely, if ever, disclosed publicly. Victims rarely received the care they needed, let alone justice. The grand jury concludes that, “The repeating pattern of the bishops’ behavior left us with no doubt that, even decades ago, the church understood that the problem was prevalent” (p. 300). Further, “The bishops weren’t just aware of what was going on; they were immersed in it. And they went to great lengths to keep it secret. The secrecy helped spread the disease” (p. 300).

This strategy is not entirely dissimilar to the responses of other institutions when faced with any accusations of sexual abuse of minors whether it has been scouting groups, public schools, prep schools, universities, or in youth athletics. These types of institutions seem to attract sexual abusers of minors who seek positions of trust and respect with access to young people. The the John Jay researchers noted in 2011, “Sexual victimization of children is a serious and pervasive issue in society. It is present in families, and it is not uncommon in institutions where adults form mentoring and nurturing relationships with adolescents, including schools and religious, sports, and social organizations” (p.5).

The Church failed in responding to accusations of abuse and more often chose to cover up the criminal activity than disclose and report it. The Church in some cases sought non-disclosure agreements in civil settlements with victims—a practice that the grand jury believes should be abolished. What was often different in the Church than elsewhere, especially prior to 2000, was the clinical response to abuse—sending abusers for treatment and allowing them to return to ministry after this was completed. These were grave errors in judgment. This allowed abusers the potential to return to work and continue to abuse. It also ignored the legal obligation to seek justice for crimes committed.

That playbook, to the degree it was used broadly, appears to have changed in 2002. The report authors note, “On the whole, the 2002 [Dallas] Charter did move things in the right direction” and that “external forces have also generated much of the change” (p. 302). They note concern that the Church’s 2002 Dallas Charter still leaves too much of the decision making to diocesan bishops. The external changes brought by mandated abuse reporter laws, longer statutes of limitations, and increased public awareness have created a new reality. They write, “Today we sense some progress is made” (p. 303) often by actors external to the Church rather than from within it.  

Have new allegations of abuse declined as a result? The John Jay researchers aggregated the number of allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors from 1950 to 2002. Their study included allegations made by 10,667 individuals. CARA has collected the numbers of new allegations of sexual abuse by clergy since 2004. CARA’s studies, through 2017, include 8,694 allegations. The distribution of cases reported to CARA are nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results. We know the year that each alleged abuse began for 8,206 cases. For 488, this is not known. The figure below shows the cases where we can place these in time.

New abuse allegations have not disappeared. In the last three years, 22 allegations of abuse occurring during 2015-2017 have been made. This is an average of about seven per year nationwide in the Church. That is far too many. Nothing is acceptable other than zero. At the same time, to put those reports in some context, 42 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, where the grand jury reported from, lost their licenses to educate for sexual misconduct in 2017. As recently as 2015, 65 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) were in “teacher jail” for accusations of sexual abuse or harassment in that county alone. The current wave of “educator sexual misconduct” has yet to receive the same aggregation and attention that clergy sexual abuse has by the media (although The Washington Post has rung a warning bell and Carol Shakeshaft has written extensively on it in academic work). As the John Jay researchers note, “No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church” (p. 5).

“It is happening in other institutions” is by no means any sort of excuse and that is not what is intended by referring to these realities. Instead, these other cases provide a context, which becomes important when someone who reads news of abuse occurring decades ago in churches in Pennsylvania decides to attack a priest today in Indiana or when a parent feels their children will be less safe in a Catholic school than a public school. It also points to the dangers of thinking that incidents of sexual abuse are unique to Catholic institutions.

As the grand jury report authors note, the Church has changed in the last 15 years. But you cannot “fix” the past nor can it be erased. This won’t all fade away. It’s nothing that can ever be outrun. You have to deal with it. The Church did not sufficiently do so in 2002 and the years that followed. Creating new policies to prevent future abuse are not a sufficient response to the legacy of what happened. Now, in 2018, it is time to lift the veil of any secrecy that remains. If not, the same cases will emerge again and again as if these were a wound that scabs but never heals. Every time that scab is removed it will bleed again and again. As painful as it is now, it is the time to deal with this great injury the Church brought upon itself. If anything, the re-emergence of these cases again and again should reveal that this wound has potentially deadly consequences if it is not dealt with completely once and for all.

Update 8/29: Some reactions to this post have asked about the impact of known delays in reporting by victims. There has been no substantial shifting forward in time of the alleged abuse trend between 2002 and 2017. The accusations continue to fit the historical pattern. We’d expect the trend to move forward in the last 15 years if reporting delays were evident but this has not been the case. No new wave of allegations similar to the past has occurred to date. It is also likely that most, if not all, the Pennsylvania cases are already in existing reported accusation totals.

Update 8/30: We continue to hear feedback about the delays in reporting related to the age of the victim. The data regarding accusations in the Catholic Church specifically appear to be much more event-driven than age-driven. Rather than victims reaching a certain age and coming forward, it has more often been the case that abuse being in the news that has led victims to come forward in large numbers. The figure below is from the John Jay research (p. 9) and shows when allegations were reported up to 2002. One can see the spike in the 1990s after a series of cases in the news and again in a larger magnitude in 2002 in the wake of news of abuse cases in Boston. Since 2004, new allegations have averaged 618 per year (438 in 2017). Regardless of when reports are made, the accusations often fit the existing pattern described above for when the abuse occurred. Four allegations of abuse occurring in 2017 were made in 2017.


Is It Healthy to be Catholic?

Religion and health are a thing. There is even a journal devoted to the topic. The correlations between being religious and being in good health are numerous (extensive meta-analysis here). Religious people are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise than non-religious people. Religious people eat healthier diets and have lower blood cholesterol levels than the non-religious. Yet, those healthier diets and more exercise have not led religious people to necessarily have lower body weights, on average, than the non-religious. Healthier lifestyles of religious Americans do appear though to impact heart health and blood pressure relative to the outcomes of non-religious people in the country. The religious also have higher functioning immune and endocrine systems, on average. Religious Americans are even less likely to get cancer than the non-religious and when they do get a diagnosis they often have a better prognosis for recovery. All of this leads to a rather surprising conclusion:

“The most impressive research on the relationship between R/S [religion and/or spirituality] and physical health is in the area of mortality. ... At least 121 studies have examined relationships between R/S and mortality. … Considering the 63 methodologically most rigorous studies (quality ratings of 8 or higher), 47 (75%) found R/S predicting greater longevity (two at trend level), whereas three (5%) reported shorter longevity. Another systematic review and two meta-analyses have confirmed this relationship between R/S and longer survival. The effects have been particularly strong for frequency of attendance at religious services in these three reviews. Survival among frequent attendees was increased on average by 37%, 43%, and 30% (mean effect being 37% across these reviews). An increased survival of 37% is highly significant and equivalent to the effects of cholesterol lowering drugs or exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation after myocardial infarction on survival.”
–Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Duke University, “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications

The potential pathways for these outcomes are numerous. Religious people tend to be members of religious communities and these offer support in a variety of ways. Being religious may also reduce stress and have other positive psychological benefits that are related to physical health outcomes. Religious people, on average, also appear to be less likely than non-religious people to engage in behaviors that come with increased health risks.

But how healthy is Catholicism? According to the General Social Survey (GSS) the average Catholic adult male is 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 189 pounds. The average adult female is 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 158 pounds. Body Mass Index (BMI) combines this information into a single number that indicates whether one is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. The average Catholic adult has a BMI of 27.2. This is lower than people of other affiliations. Overall, 36% of adult Catholics are of a normal weight (a small percentage are underweight). About four in ten are overweight and about a quarter are obese. Again, these numbers are generally better than those of other religious affiliations and similar to those with no religious affiliation (“None” are also disproportionately younger with an average age of 40.6 compared to 47.7 for Catholics and 50.5 for other Christians). As existing research shows, the GSS confirms that religion and spirituality are not linked to lower weights. However, among the religious, Catholics appear to be the least likely to be obese.

Most Catholics say they are in excellent or good health and are more likely to say this is excellent than those of other religious affiliations. Those without an affiliation are just as likely to say they are in excellent health. There is a relationship between one’s BMI and their self-reported health. Americans of a normal weight are most likely to report being in excellent or good health. Those who are overweight are less likely to do so and those who are obese are least likely to self-report this.

Catholics are less likely than those of other religious affiliations to report they have ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, or diabetes. Those without a religious affiliation have a similar health profile to Catholics with an additional reduced risk of arthritis (again likely related to average age differences). Here again, with each illness, the higher your BMI, the more likely you are to have had a diagnosis. Thirty-eight percent of obese adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure compared to 13% of those with normal weights. Twenty-two percent of obese respondents indicated they had a diagnosis of arthritis compared to 10% of those with normal weights. Fifteen percent of the obese have diagnosed diabetes compared to 4% of those with normal weights. Even depression is slightly more common among adults with obesity than those with normal weights (18% compared to 13%).

Thirty-eight percent of those with normal weights report that they are very happy (an additional 55% are pretty happy). Only 28% of those with obesity say they are very happy (61% say they are pretty happy). Christians in America, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, or some other affiliation, are more likely than those of other religious affiliations or no affiliation to say they are very happy.

While the GSS offers only one snapshot for these questions it is a remarkable one in that Catholics appear to be among the healthiest of Americans in body and mind. We can assume spiritual health likely correlates well with these aspects. The GSS does show that Catholics who attend Mass more frequently are more likely than infrequent attenders to say they are very happy.

Overall differences in health between Catholics and others are small but consistently positive. While no one should be writing prescriptions for Catholic baptisms yet it does appear that there are certainly no ill health effects from being a member of the faith in the United States. 

Update: I had a reader ask about running regressions and I took a look with OLS and Logit (where appropriate) to test the findings further. Catholics, controlling for age, gender, and years of education have a lower BMI (by 0.83) than non-Catholics (p = .03). Catholics are also less likely than non-Catholics to have been diagnosed with hypertension (p = .01). Note that non-Catholics includes those with religious affiliations and those without a religious affiliation. The relationships between Catholicism and self-reported health, arthritis, depression, and diabetes do not achieve statistical significance controlling for these other factors. More highly specified models may reveal more but it is safe to say two important health factors, BMI and hypertension, passed regression analysis with standard controls. There is indeed something more here to explore...

Doctor photo courtesy of Alex Proimos.


Deconstructing Viral Religion Graphics

One of the first books I read as a graduate student was Edward R. Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (from 1982; i.e., the social scientist’s coffee table book). Tufte argues that graphics reveal data and therefore should, “avoid distorting what the data have to say” (p. 13). In one section of this classic Tufte writes, “Each part of a graphic generates visual expectations about its other parts and, in the economy of graphical perception, these expectations often determine what the eye sees. Deception results from the incorrect extrapolation of visual expectations generated at one place on the graphic to other places” (p. 60).

In light of this advice, I think there are two recent graphics floating around the internet and social media could use a bit of deconstruction…

The Strangely Sliced Pie
A September 2017 report, “America’s Changing Religious Identity” from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) presents data that is said to reveal:

White evangelical Protestants, the single largest religious tradition, make up less than one in five (17%) Americans today. Compared to ten years ago, significantly fewer Americans identify as white mainline Protestant (13%) or white Catholic (11%). Mormons comprise two percent of the population. Fifteen percent of Americans are nonwhite Protestants, including black Protestants (8%), Hispanic Protestants (4%), and Asian, mixed-race, and other race Protestants (3%). Seven percent of the public is Hispanic Catholic. Non-Christian religious groups constitute less than one in ten Americans. Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are each roughly one percent of the population. Jewish Americans account for two percent of the public. No religious group is larger than those who are unaffiliated from religion [emphasis added]. Nearly one in four (24%) Americans are now religiously unaffiliated.

No religious group? Really? White Catholics? Asian, mixed-race, and other race Protestants? See what is done here? I could perhaps see a legitimate historical argument to specifically measure members of Black Protestant denominations (e.g., African Methodist Episcopal Church, National Baptist Convention, USA) but people who identify their race as Black of African American and their religion as Protestant or Christian are not necessarily members of any of these churches. It is true that pollsters often show results within religions for sub-groups (e.g., gender, generation, race and ethnicity, income) but they don't define these sub-groups as separate religious groups themselves (Look at PRRI's American Values Atlas and you'll see more of this odd segmentation).

The racial and ethnic division of Catholicism in the graphic is especially bizarre. Catholicism is a global faith and that diversity is represented well in the United States. CARA does in-pew surveys in parishes around the country. We’ve needed to translate these into 20 languages. In some cases we’ve distributed surveys in three or four languages at one parish. Pope Francis is the pope to “white Catholics,” “Hispanic Catholics,” and  “other nonwhite Catholics.” They all share the Mass, sacraments, Catechism, Canon Law, etc… Hispanic Catholics are not a different “religious group” than White Catholics (…to be a real stickler for details, in the 2016 General Social Survey, 55% of Hispanic or Latino Catholics self-identified their race as white. Hispanic or Latino is ethnicity).

Yet, even here there is an interesting religious distinction to make. I’ll let you in on a secret that isn’t often discussed or noticed in religion research. Some of the unaffiliated are likely….(wait for it, drum roll…) evangelical Christians! Many surveys ask what religion respondents affiliate with followed by a question about whether or not they are an evangelical or born again Christian. This second question was a quick rule of thumb used to classify mainline and evangelical Protestants or Christians (for more see “Measuring Evangelicalism: Consequences of Different Operationalization Strategies” by Conrad Hackett and D. Michael Lindsay. I don’t believe PRRI surveys ask the unaffiliated a question about evangelical identity). The figure below is from the General Social Survey (GSS) series. It shows the percentage of those who don’t have a religious affiliation who also say “yes” when asked, “Would you say you have been ‘born again’ or have had a ‘born again’ experience—that is, a turning point in your life when you committed yourself to Christ?”

Rather than the unaffiliated all being some universal “none” stereotype, some are perhaps more appropriately described as evangelical “dones” (For more about the concept of “dones” see Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s Church Refugees, 2015). These are people who may have left behind the brick and mortar of traditional organized religions for more personal and local expressions of their Christianity. They don’t think of themselves as members of a religion as much as they might see themselves as believers within a specific local nondenominational church and/or community.

Then again, perhaps these respondents are just misunderstanding or incorrectly answering the evangelical question (…the GSS question itself could use some improvement)? We can compare the unaffiliated with the “unaffiliated evangelicals” to see if there are any differences on religion questions. As shown in the figure below, 94% of the unaffiliated who are not evangelicals attend religious services once a year or less often. By comparison, 67% of the unaffiliated evangelicals attend this often. While they do not match the attendance levels of the typical U.S. adult, there is clearly something different going on here.

Behavior is a higher bar of comparison than belief. Perhaps the more interesting differences between the unaffiliated and the unaffiliated evangelical respondents are to be found in their beliefs about the Bible or God. The unaffiliated evangelicals indicate beliefs about the Bible that are similar to the typical U.S. adult with only 28% believing this is an “ancient book of fables” (compared to 22% of U.S. adults). About two-thirds of the unaffiliated who are not evangelicals believes the Bible is this “book of fables.”

Seventy-four percent of unaffiliated evangelicals believe in God and an additional 15% believe in a higher power. Just 7% are agnostic and 4% atheist. By comparison only 27% of the unaffiliated who are not evangelicals believe in God (33% believe in a higher power, 40% are atheist or agnostic). Unaffiliated evangelicals look very similar to the typical U.S. adult in terms of belief in God. The unaffiliated who are not evangelicals do not look similar at all in this regard.

While some researchers and the media more generally have taken to equating the unaffiliated or “nones” as a distinct group lacking in religiosity there are more interesting realities in the data. I’m not sure if this sub-group(s) is really the “slice” of the religion pie that it is portrayed to be by the PRRI graphic. It is by no means larger than any “religious group” in the United States.

If you wanted to make a pie out of race, ethnicity, religion, and evangelical identity using the GSS it would perhaps most accurately look like what is shown below (I’ve restrained myself from trying to subdivide the small slices for those identifying as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or some other religion by race and ethnicity… I will show these distinctions in another figure that follows where these can be more fully seen):

“No religious group is larger than those who are” white evangelicals at 21%? But again, I’m just not sure “white evangelicals” is a distinct religious group. Despite the apparent lack of race and ethnicity for people without a religious affiliation in the original PRRI graph, you can see there is diversity here. There are white nones, black nones, Hispanic nones, and other race and ethnicity nones. The figure below shows this diversity in a comparative context:

It seems to me the most direct measure of religion is the figure below, which accounts for evangelical identity among the unaffiliated (as in the GSS figures above):

The original pie chart is just one representation of PRRI’s use of race and ethnicity to subdivide some religious groups. They also have another popular graphic in social media that adds generation into the mix, as shown below:

Removing race and ethnicity for the measurement of religious groups and accounting for the unaffiliated who self-identify as evangelicals, perhaps a more accurate representation of religion by generation appears as such:

The Seas of Disbelief?
Another popular graphic on social media is “Faithland.” This graphic was created by Alex Egoshin, an environmental scientist, using religious “adherent” numbers from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census. These data are not actually from a census in any traditional sense. Researchers asked congregations from 236 faith groups in the United States about their members and worshipers and then derive an estimate of adherents to different religious groups. The Religion Census defines an “adherent” as such: “The adherent figure is meant to be the most complete count of people affiliated with a congregation, and the most comparable count of people across all participating groups. Adherents may include all those with an affiliation to a congregation (children, members, and attendees who are not members).” Practically speaking, a Catholic adherent “is roughly equivalent to those who are known in some way to each parish or mission.” These adherents are tallied and subtracted from the U.S. Census population to also produce an estimate of the “unclaimed.”

The Faithland graphic shows land where adherents make up 50% or more of the Census population. The water areas are places where 51% or more of the population in an area are “unclaimed” by congregations.

The graphic displays the data in a compelling manner. At the same time, there are two things that I think the general public, who are sharing and viewing the map, are generally unaware of. Knowing these might alter their interpretations.

First, adherents is not equivalent to “religious people.” A majority of self-identified Catholic adults, 57%, attends religious services only a few times a year or less often. None of these Catholics are likely to be considered “adherents” by the Religion Census. The same can be said for 25% of evangelical Christians, 65% of all other Christians, and 76% of people of other faiths. The graphic does not display the components of religiosity that are independent of a church or temple’s membership and/or attendance numbers. In other words, those seas are not necessarily full of agnostics and atheists. There are a lot of people there who have a religious affiliations but who are not “claimed” by any congregation. There is a lot more of this map that should be dry land if one were simply measuring “faith.”

Second, I’m not sure how areas where no one lives are treated in the mapping. The size of these areas in the country are larger than one may think (see below... more commentary here). The Religion Census data are reported at the county-level. However, the map is not displaying counties and some sort of smoothing is being used that viewers are likely unaware of.


Answering the Call to a Life of Service

This blog is by Sr. Florence Emurayeveya, EHJ (pictured at the end of this post). Sr. Florence has a Master’s Degree in Education and is a visiting scholar to CARA from Nigeria. Her work with us is supported by a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The research featured here is also funded by the Hilton Foundation.

The gift of God is abundant. Religious life is a gift of oneself to the service of God and to one another. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus called the first apostles and without questioning, they left their jobs and families and followed him. As I reflect on this passage, I think of how amazing the uniqueness of the call to religious life is. It is a personal distinct invitation from God which needs a response just like that of the apostles using our talent to be of service to others.

In a recent survey by CARA, men and women entering religious life in 2017 in the United States were asked several questions about what attracted them to their vocations. More than nine in ten of the respondents identified that the sense of the call and a desire for prayer and spiritual growth coupled with the desire to be of service to others “somewhat” and “very much” attracted them to the religious life.

Respondents were also asked how much each of these several aspects of religious life attracted them to their particular religious institute. Slightly more than nine in ten reported that they were “somewhat” or “very much” attracted by the spirituality of the institute and the mission of their institute. The ministries of the institute were also very important with nine in ten respondents agreeing that these attracted them “somewhat” or “very much.”

Each of the respondents answered the call in different ways through different activities, programs, invitations, and experiences which helped them in their discernment. The 2017 entrance class were asked how helpful vocation experiences were to them before they entered. They were most likely to report that contact with institute members or contact with a vocation director, “Come and See” experience, or a vocation or discernment retreat, prior to entering their religious institute were at least “somewhat” helpful.

Today, as ever before, the response to God’s call to the religious life is a free-will “yes.” God calls us to answer and live the religious life in service of God and humanity. The entrance class of 2017 is beginning this journey now.

To read more about these men and women entering religious life, download CARA’s detailed report for this study here.

Phone image courtesy of Joonas Vainio.


Got a Valentine's Date? Check the Date…

Thinking about making Valentine’s Day reservations soon? If you are Catholic and under the age of 60 you might want to look for seafood or vegetarian fare. This year, Valentine’s Day shares the calendar with Ash Wednesday. This hasn’t happened since 1945 (…but it will happen again in 2024 and 2029). That means it is an obligatory day of fasting (one full meal plus two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal) and abstinence (no meat). Also, expect some non-Catholics in the restaurant to think you and your date have dirt on your heads.

It is common during Lent for some bishops to give a dispensation when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday. But I wouldn’t expect Ash Wednesday to be treated similarly and unlike Patrick, we don’t know much about Valentine(s). As the story goes, on February 14 in the year 278, Valentine lost his head (after being beaten by clubs) at command of Emperor Claudius II. His crime? He kept marrying Christians at a time the Emperor was trying to recruit more single men for the army. And he was Christian…

There are actually three different stories of martyrs named Valentine (not a lucky name apparently…) that share a February 14 feast day. As the Catholic Education Center notes, “Unfortunately, the historical record is sparse.” In 1969, the Catholic Church removed Saint Valentine’s feast from the liturgical calendar. Yet, he (all three) remains a saint.

According to a CARA Catholic Poll (CCP), married and widowed Catholics are the most likely to abstain from meat during times of Lent (66%) and are also more likely than those of other marital statuses to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (48%). Those least likely to be bothered by an Ash Wednesday Valentine’s Day? Perhaps those Catholics who are living with a partner. Only 47% abstains from meat and 21% receives ashes.

Yet, we know this standard marital status question is not as precise as it could be. One could be living with a partner and choose to identify as “never married” and they would be answering the question honestly. A 2012 CBS news poll allows us to more distinctly estimate different sub-groups of unmarried Catholics. As shown below, half of Catholics are married and 30% are unmarried and not in a committed romantic relationship. Twelve percent are in a committed romantic relationship and are living with their partner. Nine percent are in a committed romantic relationship and are not living together.

Sub-group sample sizes are worryingly small but comparisons among these groups offer a blurry glimpse of some interesting differences. Overall, about two-thirds of Catholic adults believe in “love at first sight” (…shot by an arrow from a cherub and not from any of the Valentines who are not thought to have been archers). By contrast, about three quarters or more of Catholics who are unmarried but in a romantic relationship believe in love at first sight. Only six in ten of those who are unmarried and not in a romantic relationship agree.

Why don’t unmarried Catholics living with a partner just get married? When you believe in love at first sight and are living with someone, what happens when another person catches your eye? As shown in the figure below, those living with a partner are the most likely to think that the vow to be faithful is the “hardest to keep.” Nearly half chose this compared to only 27% of married Catholics. The latter are more challenged by “for better or worse.”

It has become common to debate the secularization of Christmas. It is hard to find anything sacred in what remains in the practice of Saint Valentine’s Day in the United States. Perhaps this is why many Catholics will find more sacred meanings on February 14 this year in Ash Wednesday than Valentine’s Day. Just to be safe you still better get your significant other a card and some chocolates (to eat on Feb. 15).

If you want to look forward to something truly unique about Ash Wednesday you’ll have to wait until (live to) 2096 when it will occur on February 29 for the first time in the Church’s history. Luckily, this is very unlikely to conflict with any of the traditions Americans will have at that time for celebrating Leap Day.

Image of the ash heap Valentine courtesy of Lester Luallin.

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