Catholic Trends–Fall (2013)

Catholic Trends—Fall 2013


Mission & Vision key to parish giving.  For the past fifty years, studies on charitable giving have consistently shown that  American Catholics are the least likely than the rest of the population to report giving 10% or more of their income as voluntary contributions, and are less likely to report donating money to specifically to religious causes in the past 12 months.  Why are American Catholics the least generous, even falling below atheists in terms of giving?

A recent study (Unleashing Catholic Generosity: Explaining the Catholic Giving Gap in the United States) by the University of Notre Dame (Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative) offers some valuable insight.

Their data shows the single most important factor in explaining this giving gap is a lack of spiritual engagement with money on the part of most American Catholics.  Rather than seeing their use of money and possessions as part of their spiritual life, as a part of Christian formation and faithfulness, American Catholics tend to compartmentalize, to separate money from matters of faith, to think that money and material possession do not have much to do with spiritual and religious issues.  Catholics who do engage with money as a spiritual matter, and who see their money as ultimately God’s, are much more financially generous, reducing the Catholic giving gap almost entirely.

Some ways of discussing money with church attenders are simply not helpful.  A “pay the bills” culture that focuses on the parish’s need and scarcity (as opposed to opportunities for spiritual growth and world transformation) and is separated from a sense of mission, is associated with less spiritual engagement with money and with lower rates of financial giving.  This suggests that discussions of money in Catholic parishes should not center on meeting basic organizational needs, but rather on personal and world transformation.

Catholics need to know that they cannot compartmentalize their financial dealings with their life of faith and still hope to flourish as Christians.  When parishioners feel a part of the planning and vision for their parish, and when they get excited about all of the great things that donated money can accomplish, this empowers them and engenders a sense of ownership, all of which leads to more generous giving.


The Priestly Ordination Class of 2013.  497 priests were ordained in the United States this year.  The average age for the class of 2013 is 35.  Regarding background, the race/ethnicity of the ordinands is 67% Caucasian, 15% Hispanic, 10% Asian, and 5% African/African American.  30% were foreign born, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Columbia, Poland, the Philippines, and Nigeria.m On average they have lived in the United States for 14 years.  Re. education, before entering the seminary, 63% had completed college and 23% had a graduate degree.  The most common fields of study before entering the seminary were theology or philosophy, business, and liberal arts.  Just over 25% carried educational debt averaging just over $20,000.


Hispanics under age 40 outnumber other U.S. Catholic groups.  The Instituto Fe y Vida Research  and Resource Center of Stockton, California, has begun a blog with weekly commentaries on ew research findings regarding Hispanic/Latino youth and young adults or on Hispanic youth ministry/Pastoral Juvenil Hispana.  The previously mentioned demographic fact indicates, if current trends continue, that Hispanics will  become  numerically the dominant group in American Catholicism.


Declining Proportion of Baptisms a Cause for Concern.  From 1995 to 2004 there was about one Catholic infant baptism for every four births in the U.S.  This is how Catholicism remains a quarter of the U.S. population.  But 2004 the pattern begins to shift with several years of more births and fewer Catholic infant baptisms, according to analyzing data from The Official Catholic Directory. 

            What explains the drop.  One contributing cause is the soft church attendance of most American Catholics.  On any given Sunday, a whopping 75% of Catholics do not attend Mass, but find solace in the NFL, gym, or the mall.  When Catholics, who are loosely tethered to the Church, marry each other,  they will be less inclined to have their children baptized.  If the Sacrament of the Eucharist is of marginal commitment, then the Sacrament of Baptism will predictably be met with the same kind of indifference.

In any case, without baptisms of tweens and teens, the Catholic population percentage will begin to decline later in the next decade as older Catholics, who have the highest percentage of church attendance, die and are replaced by a younger generation who are less likely to attend church and have their children baptized.   This should be a wake up call to address the situation in the interests of long-term health and stability of the U.S. Catholic Church.

Who is a Traditional, Moderate, or Liberal Catholic?  According to Notre Dame researcher Brian Starks, they take on the following characteristics as reported by the Summer (2013) CARA Report:

Traditional Catholics—emphasize the central importance of the Mass.  They speak of a desire to live in a world of black and while, where the rules of what is right and what is wrong are clearly laid out by an enduring and steadfast church.  For them, maintaining links to the past and respecting the rules of the Church are of the utmost importance for ensuring strong Catholic identity.  They find it necessary to preserve and uphold the institutional Church because it is a source of comfort and stability in their lives and, as the repository of the “deposit of faith,” provides moral certitude in uncertain times.

Liberal Catholics—reject some of the rules of the Church and seek to change the Church and its rules because they want it to be a more inclusive institution.  They speak of a desire to live in an open-minded world, where including individuals is more important than following rules.  Their search for an inclusive Church through change requires fearlessness in moving outside their comfort zone and the courage to seek continued personal and institutional growth.  They are vulnerable to the charges that they are self-centered or “radical” in their beliefs and lack a genuine commitment to the Church.  Liberals believe that it is important that the Church change and become a more inclusive institution because, as the Body of Christ, it should be a source of prophetic action in the world.

Moderate Catholics—often take a both/and approach to the world or seek to avoid extremes.  Like traditionals, they are “comfortable” with the Church, desire continuity with the past, and are partial to its many traditions.  But, like liberals, they question whether some of the Church’s rules are too strict and often stress the importance of individual judgment in applying Church beliefs.  In the end, moderates desire openness alongside reverence and stability, but value pragmatism most of all.  They are sometimes characterized as “lukewarm” or of “tepid fervor” by other Catholics but most often, other Catholics have very little impression of moderates at all.  While there seems to be a clear role for moderates as “mediators” within the Church, they do not see themselves in this role.


Mary, Queen of Parishes.  Fifty years ago, the most common name among Catholics females  was ‘Mary’.  Recent studies have shown that our Blessed Mother’s name doesn’t even make the top 20.  As anecdotal evidence, among my 125 freshmen, there is only one student named ‘Mary.’

But, among American parishes more than 20% of the 20,150 Catholic places of  worship in the U.S. are named after the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Trailing Mary by a large margin is her husband Joseph (1,240).  Next in line is the Beloved Disciple, John (969).  Others include, in order,

Sacred Heart (877), Paul (582), Peter (539), Patrick (533), Francis (514), Immaculate Conception )469), and Christ/Christo (465).


Most Catholics Support Bishops on Religious Liberty.  A report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that Catholics are aware of U.S. bishops’ concerns about restrictions on religious liberty generally agree with the bishops’ positions.  But the bishops’ protest have not elicited the same strong reaction among the general public.


Differing Opinions in New Mass Translations.  A CARA poll of a random national sample of American adult Catholics reported a favorable reaction toward the new Mass translations.  Overall 75% of the laity strongly or simply agreed that they thought “the new translation of the Mass is a good thing.”

This consensus contrasts remarkably with the presiders, who are very cranky about the new translations.  According to a survey by the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at St. John’s School of Theology-Seminary (try putting that on your business card!) found that the majority of priests did not like the new translations by a 3-2 margins with 59% saying they do not like them compared to 39% who do.  Those who are not enamored by the changes do not like the more formal style of language.  An overwhelmingly 80% think that some of the language is awkward and distracting.  Nearly 61% of the priests think that the new language needs to be revised.


Catholic Worldwide Church Statistics.  The latest edition of the Vatican’s Statistical Yearbook of the Church reports demographic information on various categories of church life.  In general the number of Catholics in the world increased over the previous year, as did the numbers of bishops, priests, permanent deacons,  religious brothers, and seminarians, but the number of religious sisters continued to decline.


Category            Worldwide                        United States                        U.S.% of Total           

Bishops              5132                               450                                                8.8%

Priests            413,418                        42,261                                             10.2%

Perm. Dcns     40,914                          16,919                                              41.4%

Rel. brthrs.      55,085                             4,736                                                8.6%

Rel. sisters            713,206                          55,129                                                              7.7%

Catechists  3,125,235                 415,179                                                        5.8%


The Church Worldwide Changes from 2006 to 2011

Region                                    2006                  2011                                         Change

Africa                        Catholic pop.            158,313,000            193,667,000     +22%

Priests                                33,478                       39,057     +16%

Catholics/priest                          4,729                4,959


North Am.   Catholic pop.               81,783,000                85,535,000                +4%

Priests                                    53,260                         50,000            -6%

Catholics/priest                     1,536                             1,711


Central Am. Catholic pop.            156,996,000               164,123,000                +4%

Priests                                22,537                          24,175                +7%

Catholics/priest                6,966                              6,789


South Am.   Catholic pop.            324,256,000                342,652,000                 +5%

Priests                                45,322                            58,678                +14%


Asia               Catholic pop.            118,466,000            132,238,000                      +11%

Priests                                 51,281                     58,678                      +14%

Catholics/priests                 2,310                        2,254


Europe          Catholic pop.            282,108,000            285,746,000                          +1%

Priests                                 196,653                     187,864                      -4%

Catholics/priest                     1,435                           1,521


Oceania            Catholic pop.                 8,828,000                  9,630,000                   +9%

Priests                                      4,731                                4,805

Catholics/priest                          1,866                             2,004


Worldwide     Catholic pop.            1.1 billion                      1.2 billion                      +7%

Priests                                 407,262                       413,418                   +1%

Catholics/priest                     2,777                             2,936


(For further information, see The Cara Report (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; Georgetown University; Vol. 19, #1; Summer, 2013)





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