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.


The Catholic Media Renaissance?

This post is based on a national online survey of adult Catholics. CARA surveyed 1,019 self-identified Catholics from April 21 to May 5, 2023. The questions were available in English and Spanish. This survey was commissioned by a generous contribution from FAITH Catholic. The sample was provided by Qualtrics from actively managed, double-opt-in survey research panels. Self-identified Catholics were sampled randomly from these panels. Quotas and weighting for generation and ethnicity are used to ensure representativeness of the sample to the adult Catholic population relative to the most recent estimates in the General Social Survey (GSS). Respondents received incentives for their participation. Because the survey did not use probability-based sampling a traditional margin of error cannot be calculated. When opt-in panels are used a credibility interval is used. For this survey this is 3.5 percentage points. With this study we can make some cross-time comparisons to previous CARA surveys on media use. The first was conducted in November and December 2005 and included 1,260 self-identified Catholics using probability-based sampling. The second was conducted in May and June 2011 and included 1,239 respondents using probability-based sampling. The complete copy of the report is available here.

A lot has happened in the past few years to say the least. Perhaps we should begin this story by describing the current portrait of American Catholics in 2023. Here is what the U.S. adult Catholic population looks like in 2023:

  • The largest share of Catholics resides in the South (29%). A quarter are in the Northeast, 24% in the West, and 22% in the Midwest
  • 36% self-identify as Hispanic or Latino
  • 53% are female and 47% male
  • 39% are ages 55 and older, 26% 35 to 54, and 25% 18 to 34
  • 55% are in a household that financially supports a parish
  • One in ten are very involved in their parish other than attending Mass. Some 24% are somewhat involved, 24% involved a little, and 42% not involved at all

In terms of religious practice, Mass attendance is mostly back to normal with one exception. The survey asked respondents about their current frequency of Mass attendance and how often they attended prior to the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic 23% reported attending weekly. By comparison 21% said they were attending this frequently now. There are also slightly fewer saying they attend almost every week (10% now compared to 13% prior to the pandemic). Where have those no longer attending this frequently end up? We see the biggest change with the increase in “Christmas and Easter” Catholics. Twenty-one percent of Catholics said they attended a few times a year prior to the pandemic compared to 27% now.

Catholic Media Use and Technology
There has been a significant increase in the share of adult Catholics reporting that they have watched religious or spiritual video content in 2023 compared to 2011 and 2005. Currently, 45% of Catholics had done so in the three months prior to being surveyed in 2023 compared to 24% in 2011 and 28% in 2005. There has also been a jump in Catholics listening to religious or spiritual content. In 2023, 29% had done so in the three months prior to being surveyed compared to 13% in 2011 and 12% in 2005. 

We surmise that these shifts were related to new habits that formed during the pandemic, when Catholics were unable to connect to parish life as they had in the past.

Sixty-one percent of adult Catholics said that they found new ways to practice their faith online during the pandemic. And as surveyed in 2023, 58% said they continued to do these things online now even as the pandemic has passed. Here are some of the common examples of what respondents were and continue to do:

  • “Attend online church services”
  • “Bible study groups through Zoom”
  • “Church website”
  • “EWTN website”
  • “Facebook”
  • “I actually found quite a lot of things to watch on YouTube”
  • “I communicated on online forums”
  • “I would read articles”
  • “Joined a group and a bible study app”
  • “Listening to online preachers”
  • “Online church and Zoom meetings with my pastor”
  • “Read the Bible”
  • “Searching prayer”

It should be of note that younger Catholics are more likely than older Catholics to have found ways to practice their faith online and many continue to do so, as shown in the figure below.

One of the ways Catholics stay connected to their local community is reading their diocesan newspaper. The share of adult Catholics who now read their diocesan publication has risen after the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic about three in four did not read it. Now, in 2023, 49% read it with some reading it online (21%), others in print (17%), and some online and in print (10%).

Forty-two percent of adult Catholics say they read their diocesan newspaper at least once a month. Seven percent read less often.

Forty-nine percent of adult Catholics agree that they believe the print version of their diocese’s news publication is an essential part of how the diocese communicates with Catholics. Eighteen percent disagree with this. The remainder neither agrees nor disagrees. Forty-three percent agree that having a print version of my diocese’s newspaper or magazine is important to them. Twenty-six percent disagree with this. Forty-two percent agree that they would like both a print and online version of their diocesan newspaper or magazine to be produced so any interested reader has access to this. Twenty-four percent disagrees with this. Forty-one percent agree that they would be upset by any suggestion that my diocese stop producing a print version its publication(s). Twenty-four percent disagree with this.
More specifically, 62% of weekly Mass attenders agree that they believe the print version of their diocesan newspaper or magazine is an essential part of how the diocese communicates. Sixty percent of monthly Mass attenders responded similarly. By comparison, 37% of those who attends Mass a few times or less often indicated this. Fifty-four percent of weekly attenders agree that they would be upset by any suggestion that their diocese stop producing a print version of its publication. Fifty-three percent of monthly attenders responded as such. By comparison, 31% of those who attend a few times or less often responded as such.

Generally speaking Catholics are more likely to support the continued used of print versions of their diocesan publication rather than this being discontinued. This is especially important to weekly Mass attenders.

Even more widely read than diocesan publications are parish bulletins. Six in ten adult Catholics (61%) have read their parish bulletins in the three months prior to being surveyed. CARA has regularly found across the years that the most widely read type of publication that the Catholic Church produces in the United States are parish bulletins. A quarter had read theirs online and an equal share had read the print copy in 2023. An additional 11 percent read this in print and online.

As shown below, the pandemic may also have encouraged many Catholics to seek out websites related to the Catholic Church. Few Catholics were visiting Church sites in 2005. More had begun to do so in 2011 after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, which is seen as an industry changer by media researchers and social scientists. Yet, there is continued growth after and through the pandemic. In 2023, 44% of adult Catholics had visited their parish website in the three months prior to being interviewed. It is important to consider that many parishes did not have websites prior to the last decade. There has also been growth in the use of diocesan, school, and other Church websites.

At the same time, it is clear that the traditional modes of communication and news gathering within the Church remain important. A shown below, parish bulletins, simple word of mouth discussions with others, diocesan newspapers and Catholic television are widely relied upon. 

Websites, social media, as well as Catholic radio are also used by portions of the Catholic population. About 23% of adult Catholics are tuned out for the most part from Catholic media. While this might seem like a disappointment, this share was likely much larger in the past given what we have seen in CARA’s previous media use studies. Catholics in the United States are paying attention to Catholic media. What do you think the Church should be communicating?

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