Catholic Trends–Summer ’13


Parish life is changing.  American parishes are moving towards a more collaborative, competent, and mission-focused pastoral leadership, strengthened in their service to ministries at all levels.

CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) surveyed 800 parishes, which resulted in the following:

• 58% of parishioners surveyed in-pew rate their overall                                    satisfaction with the parish as excellent.

• Parishioners were most likely to evaluate the following as                         ‘excellent’:  (1) celebration of the sacraments (70%), (2)             hospitality and a sense of being welcomed (62%), and (3)             promoting important Church teachings and causes (62%).

• 60% of parishioners say the following very much attracts them             to their parish: (1) it’s open, welcoming spirit (67%), (2) quality             of the liturgy (63%), (3) the quality of the preaching (63%), and             (4) sense of belonging (62%).

• A majority (55%) say that they’d feel comfortable talking to             their pastor, but only 18% strongly agree that they have an impact             on decision-making.

• Half of parishioners “strongly agree” that they are encouraged to             participate in parish ministry.

• Majorities of parishioners “strongly agree” that they are             comfortable with the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of their             parish.

• 75%  of those in the pews say they’ve been active Catholics since             their birth.

• Parish-shopping: more than a third of parishioners (35%) say             they pass by a parish closer to their home to attend Mass in the             parish where they were surveyed.


American Catholics in Transition  by William V.D’ Antonio, Michele Dillon, and Mary L. Gautier (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 2013) show how positions have shifted among generations of  American Catholics.  While there is unanimity on such beliefs as Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary as the Mother of God, and the sacraments, there are major differences about the importance of other aspects of Catholicism which some see as less central to Catholic identity, such as private devotions, opposition to same-sex marriage, the teaching authority of the Magisterium,  and opposition to the death penalty.  Another major finding relates to the declining commitment to the Church of women, especially younger Catholic women.

• The Persistence of Catholic identity.  How American Catholics construe what it means to be a Catholic is resilient.  For most, being Catholic is motivated largely by participation in the sacramental and communal life of the Church and the spiritual and communal nourishment this provides.

Church Authority.  Younger generations of Catholics increasingly see individual conscience rather than the Magisterium (Pope and College of Bishops) as the final arbiter of what is morally permissible when it comes to decisions regarding contraception, choice on abortion, same-sex marriage, and non-marital sexual activity, and divorced Catholics remarrying without an annulment.

Women’s Declining Commitment to the Church.  Women are changing their relationship with the Church.  Today, women live in a society where the institutional barriers to their full participation in all domains of life  other than Church are eroding.  This is coupled with women’s everyday experiences of Church prohibitions regarding contraception, marriage and divorce, Catholic women, especially younger cohorts, are less willing than in the past to live with the tension posed by loyalty to the Church while simultaneously being excluded from full participation in all aspects.  This is a major development.  And given women’s anchoring role in motivating family religious participation, the ramifications of an ongoing decline do not portend well for the vitality of the Church in North America.

The Growing Presence of Hispanic Catholics.  In 1987, Hispanics accounted for 10% of American Catholics; today they compose more than a third.  This demographic change has important consequences for American Catholicism: it is changing its face and its geography and mediating its culture and practices.  Hispanic Catholics as a whole are more devout and more deferential to the Church hierarchy’s authority.

new Infrastructural and Mission Challenges.  The combination of geographic transition,  a rapidly aging and declining priest population, and financial pressures brought about by the sluggish economy and clergy sexual abuse settlements culminated in a reconfiguration of parishes.  In the Northeast and upper Midwest parishes and schools are being shuttered, whereas in the South and Southwest, churches that can accommodate 1,500 for a single liturgy and offering multiple Masses in Spanish as well as other languages are becoming the norm.

The dwindling of the Pre-Vatican II Generation.  Catholics over 71 account for only 10% of the Catholic population, down from a third 25 years ago.  The impact of this change can be seen in the general decline in weekly Mass attendance among Catholics.  The Pre-Vatican II group is the only one in which more than half (54%) attend weekly Mass.  For other Catholics less than weekly attendance is more normal.

Moving Forward.  The survey suggests that Catholic disaffection is fueled by indifference toward the Church,  which is particularly evident in the attitudes of young non-Hispanic women.  They are the least connected to and appreciative of, various aspects of the Catholic tradition, and the most skeptical of the hierarchy’s teaching authority and its teachings on sexual issues.

Losses and Gains.  As Pope Benedict (2007) affirmed: “The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change the Catholic doctrine on the Church, rather it developed, deepened, and more fully explained it.”  The history of the Catholic Church is a history that exemplifies doctrinally reflexive change and underscores the centrality of change to its own self-maintenance as a living tradition.  These surveys contained in American Catholics in Transition, spanning 25 years of American Catholic attitudes on the broad range of dimensions of Catholic life, and the patterns evident in the data, speak to both the resilience and the dynamism of Catholicism.


Catholic High Schools Average 554 Students; Tuition $9,600.  CARA recently completed an annual report called Dollars & Sense, 2012-13, which contained the following major findings regarding American Catholic high schools.

• 70% are co-educational.

• Schools are almost evenly divided regionally.

• Schools reported an average student enrollment of 554, with 41                            full-time faculty and four full-time administrators.

• 70% estimated that more than 90% of the students remain in                                their school through graduation.

• The majority of schools (55%) operate under a                                                     President/Principal model than a principal only model (35%).

• 75% have a lay leader who is not a member of a religious                                          congregation.

• 30% have no religious or clergy working full-time at the school.

•  Nearly all schools (88%) have an official salary schedule for                           determining teacher salaries, based on levels of education and             years of experience.  Almost 90% report that merit is not a                                        factor in establishing teacher’s compensation.

• Schools an average tuition charge of approximately $9,600 for                         grades 9-12 for the 2012-13 academic year.  Most schools have             increased their tuition from 2011-12 by an average of more than             $360 or 4%.  Average tuition charges are lowest in the Midwest             and highest in the West.

• Regarding sources of income, an average of 80% comes from             tuition.

• On average salaries make up more than half of operating             expenses for these schools.  Schools pay an average of more than             $3.4 million in salaries to lay professional staff.


Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  When clergy are ordained, they make a promise to say Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church.  While not all clergy honor their duty, most do.

According to a Mary Gautier, a spokesperson for CARA, the last study done in 2005 found that 62 percent of diocesan priests and 59 percent of religious priests say they pray the Divine Office daily.

Along this line, CARA surveyed a national random sample of US priests in 2009 (for the book Same Call, Different Men: The Evolution of the Priesthood since Vatican II) and found that 43 percent agree at least somewhat with the statement “I am too busy to pray as much as I would like.”  Fewer than one in ten agree strongly with that statement, however.







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