Catholic Trends-Winter 2012

Catholics Show Changes in Attitudes and Behaviors—Core Beliefs Remain.
We’re becoming a younger Church in America, which reflect changes in attitudes and behaviors, according to a study conducted by the National Catholic Reporter.    Adult Catholics who were of the pre-Vatican II generation (born 1940 or before) constitute 10% of the Catholic population.  The Vatican II generation (born 1941-1960) are 33%.  Post-Vatican II Catholics (born 1961-78) is 34%.  And, the Millennial Generation (born 1979-87) is 23%.
Given the above demographic shifts, there’s been a change of behaviors:
• less likely to be married (54% in 2011);
• less likely to be non-Hispanic white (63%);
• better educated (27% with college degrees);
•  less likely to be living in poverty (only 18% had a household               income of under $20,000.

This generational change is reflected in Catholic behaviors and beliefs.  More than half (54%) of pre-Vatican II Catholics report going to Mass weekly, compared to 29% for Millennials.  Similarly, 49% of pre-Vatican II Catholic agree that “Church is among the most important influences in my life” compared to 34% of Millennial Catholics.  On the other hand, 75% of Catholics in each generation agree that “Being Catholic is a very important part of my life.”
What aspects of Catholicism are important to the generations?
The results may surprise you.
•  Jesus Resurrection (73% report being very important);
•  Helping the poor (67%);
•  Mary, the Mother of God (64%);
•  Sacraments (63%);
•  Prayer (46%);
•  Opposition to abortion (40%);
•  Devotions, such as the rosary (36%);
•  Opposition to same-sex marriage (35%);
•  Vatican teaching authority (30%);
•  Opposition to the death penalty (29%);
•  Celibate, male clergy (20%).

The study found that highly committed Catholics tend to be older, married, and Catholic-educated.  This does not mean that they necessarily agree with the Church in all aspects. These highly committed Catholics say that “Once can be a good Catholic without adhering to church teaching on specific issues,” such as: abortion (31%), divorce and remarriage (46%), weekly Mass attendance (48%), valid marriage (48%), helping the parish (56%), and birth control (60%).

–“Catholics in America,” by William V.D’Antonio, Mary Gautier, and Michele Dillon, a 28-page supplement distributed with the National Catholic Reporter for October 28-November 10, 2011.

Could Church Charity Replace Federal Welfare?
In the ongoing debate of the federal budget, it’s not unusual for someone to propose significant reductions or even end social welfare programs funded by the federal government, and that instead the country should rely on American churches to fill the gap by helping the needy and seniors.  Is this a realistic proposal?
Blogger Mark Gray  from the CARA report believes that’s a pipe dream when it comes to Catholics who comprise almost 25% of the American population.  He notes that the average parish has annual revenue of $695,000.  The average parish has expenses of more than $626,000.  So, there wouldn’t be too much left over to deal with additional needs not already committed to meeting social assistance ministries and programs.  Moreover, about 30% of parishes indicate that expenses exceed income.
The root of the issue is Catholic giving.  If Catholic parishes would be expected to take on significant social assistance obligations—such as replacing Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps, they would need significantly more in donations from parishioners than what they currently receive.  The estimated average of $9.57 per registered household.”  That translates into a total weekly offertory nationally of more than $194 million for 20.3 million households—an imposing $10.1 billion per year.  But, in 2010 the federal government spent $68.3 billion on the food stamp program alone.
Some would argue that if the federal government gutted these programs, that would lead to a sudden increase in charitable giving.
Really?!  Let’s just say that Catholics increased their charitable donations by 5-fold or $48/week; parishes would then have annual revenue of $50.6 billion—leaving $39.5 billion for other charitable giving after covering all parish expenses.
If all this were to happen, which would be a major miracle unto itself, American Catholic parishes could provide only 58% of the 2011 budget for food stamps alone, which wouldn’t even touch the other entitlement programs.
So, could parishes fully replace even a single significant social welfare obligation of the federal government.  Gray concludes, absolutely not—even if Catholics start giving five times more.”

–“Could Parishes Fill the Social Welfare Gap?” by Mark M. Gray; September 11, 2011, appears on 1964, the CARA Blog (

Irish View of Catholic Church
A recent poll by the Iona Institute, an Irish religious think tank, reports that almost half of the Irish people have an unfavorable view of the Catholic Church.  Of those with a negative view, 75%cited the recent sexual abuse scandals as a cause of their disaffection.  Nonetheless, 76% of the Irish population identifies itself as Catholic.  In the poll, 46% of respondents said they believe Church teaching is still relevant and 55% of those who self identified as Catholics agreed that church teaching is of benefit to Irish society.

Catholics More Inclined to Share Wealth
According to a study released October 31, 2012 by the European Central Bank, Catholics are more inclined than Protestants to share their wealth.  They are more likely to support government intervention in the economy and have a stronger preference for sharing wealth equally.

Religious Aspects of the Presidential Race
A survey report released November 8 by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) presented some religious aspects of the 2012 presidential race:
•  66% of voters say that it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs;
•  a majority of voters (53%) report that they would be comfortable with a Mormon serving as President;
•  36% of registered voters do not believe the Mormon faith is a Christian religion;
•  a majority (60%) of Americans agree that the country would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.  This includes 61% of Catholics.

–The 2011 American Values Survey: The Mormon Question, Economic Inequality, and the 2012 Presidential Campaign,” by Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, released by the Public Religion Research Institute (

Church Giving Compared
When Jesus said the “last shall be first,” I don’t think he had in mind charitable donations, where Catholics typically lag behind.  As found in previous research (the CARA Report), the average annual contribution of Catholic parishioners ($727) is less than half that of members of mainline ($1,627) or conservative ($1448) Protestant denominations.
Tithing (giving 10% of net income), while a biblical prescription and standard, is reported by only 11% of Catholics, compared with 18% of mainline Protestants and 43% of conservative Protestants.

Why People Leave the Church and Why They Return
Many who leave the Catholic Church, but who do return, do so for no specific reason—they just drift away.  But, for Catholics who leave and who don’t return, they do so for the following reasons:
• disagreement with Church teaching (39%);
•  lack of welcome in the Church (22%);
•  Church did not meet their spiritual needs (35%);
•  anger at Church leadership for the sexual abuse scandal (64%);
•  anger at Church leadership for other reasons (51%);
•  it was no longer relevant in my life (24%).

Reasons for returning to the Church include:
•  desire to return to faith of childhood (58%);
•  have a deeper desire to know God (49%);’
•  miss the Catholic Church in general;
•  just decided it was time to return (47%);
•  miss the sacraments (36%);
•  for the sake of the family (27%);
•  miss the liturgy (24%);

Religious Change During Adolescence
The most consistent indicator of whether an adolescent will be practicing his/her faith is the parent’s participation in the life of the Church, especially weekly attendance at Mass.  Sociologists Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lunquist Denton conducted the National Study of Youth and Religion, which generated the book A Faith of Their Own.  The authors describe five profiles of religiosity, which are apparent in the youth population of the United States and which they call abiders, adapters, assenters, avoiders, and atheists.
Though abiders and adapters may be active in their faith, they are very loosely tethered to the Magisterium and official Church teaching.
The authors show that “the religious trends documented point to a straightforward general conclusion: no indictor of traditional religious belief or practice is going up.  There is much continuity and some decline.  There is more religious diversity and there are troubling signs about the state of religious leadership.”

–These trends in the American Catholic Church are taken from The CARA Report (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate); Georgetown University; Vol.  17, #3; Winter 2012.
–Deacon Jim McFadden