Is the Bottom Really Falling Out of Catholic Mass Attendance? A Recent CARA Survey Ponders the Question

Is the number of Catholics really dropping? Is the bottom really falling out of Catholic Mass attendance? If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I have written several articles and cited several studies that detail an increasingly grave situation for the Church (e.g. HERE). Most of us are familiar with a significant number of Church closings, school closings and the like thought Catholic America. These surely strengthen the view that we are in an increasingly grave condition.

However, there are other views that see the statistics very differently and argue that the number of Catholics is about steady and even slightly growing. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has a blog edited by Mark Gray which presents a more sanguine view of the situation and argues that, while there are concerns, the bottom is not falling out of Catholic Church membership in any statistically significant way. I would like to present excerpts of the CARA blog post and do a little running commentary. As I often do, the CARA material will be in bold, black, italics, and my remarks will be plain text red.

At the end of this post I will still argue that I think we are heading into a grave condition, However, I have great respect for the work of CARA and think their data is an essential reality check that helps us to see what is really going on.

Here then are excerpts of the CARA blog post. The complete post can be read here: CARA Blog Post

Since the end of World War II, on average, 25% of the U.S. adult population has self-identified in national surveys as Catholic (±2 to 3 percentage points attributable to margin of sampling error). This spans many trusted sources from commercial polling by Gallup and others, news media polls, exit polls, and academic surveys such as the General Social Survey and the World Values Survey…..Thus, notice that we are fairly steady in terms of our percentage of the U.S. population. That also means that, as the U.S. population has grown significantly since WW II so have our numbers. In the early 1950s there were about 35 million Catholics in the US. Today there are are over 75 million. This number however does not distinguish between practicing and non practicing Catholics. It is estimated that just over 80% of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday in the 1950s. Today it is estimated that about 25% of Catholics go each Sunday. That means that in the early 1950s about 28 million Catholics were in Church each Sunday. Today that number, even with a growing Catholic population, has dropped to 19.2 million. In other words, almost 9 million fewer Catholics are in Church now as compared to the 1950s.

The chart [at left] tracks growth in the Catholic population percentage from 2% in 1776 (45,000) to 25% in 2010 (77.7 million). The size of the circles represents the total size of the Catholic population…..In the last 40 years, the Catholic population has grown by about 75%. If it did the same in the next 40 years it would be 136 million in 2050 and represent about 31% of the projected U.S. population at that time. This however is an unlikely scenario as overall population growth has slowed in the United States and is expected to slow more as the Baby Boom, and the “echoes” from it, fade…..The highest projection accounts for differences by race and ethnicity. In recent years, polling has consistently indicated that about 60% to 65% of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States self-identify as Catholic. However, there is also evidence that this percentage is dipping slightly lower. This projection assumes this falls even further—to only about 55% and that Catholic self-identification among the non-Hispanic population measures about 18.5%. Both assumptions are on the conservative side. However, even with only assuming 55% Catholic identification among Hispanics/Latinos, the rapid growth expected in this sub-group will likely boost Catholic population numbers significantly (this is even the case if it falls further than 55%). This projection leads to an expected growth in the Catholic population of 65% between 2010 and 2050 with a Catholic population total of 128 million in 40 years, representing 29.2% of the total U.S. population. OK, so the bottom line is that our numbers of overall Catholics will continue to grow significantly even using rather conservative premises. It looks like, within forty years we will surely top 100 million Catholics in the US. A huge number overall. However, will they attend Mass and support the work of the Church? What if the U.S. numbers of practicing Catholics drop to European levels which are currently only 10% going to Mass each week. That means there would be only 10 million at Mass on Sunday, a drop of another 9 million. It is not clear that the numbers will drop that low and as well will see, the 25% practicing Catholic number seems to be rather a stable number at this time. If it holds steady then we will see growth in the numbers in our pews each Sunday. But the key question is, will it hold steady or grow? Or will it drop further? That surely depends on us evangelizing and working to restore people to the Sacraments! It may also be affected by other things such as the economy, the emergence (or not) of some significant crisis and so forth. A final factor that is probably hard to guage is what happens to the children and grandchildren of non-practicing Catholics? Will they continue to self-identify as Catholics or will that “identity” fade as the generations proceed? It’s hard to know. Thus, while the overall news of a growing Catholic population looks good, there are on-going questions about how many of them will, in any meaningful way, practice the Catholic faith and/or hand it on to their children and grandchildren.
Question: Didn’t Pew find that nearly “one in three” people raised Catholic leave the faith leading to an astounding “one in ten” adult Americans who are formerly Catholic? How could the population grow with losses like these?  Answer: …the “one in three” finding drawn from the Pew study is consistently quoted without context. Most often the number is used to drive a narrative—an undeniable signal of extraordinary crisis…..All things considered, Catholicism does a better job of keeping those raised in the faith than any Protestant denomination (68% of those raised Catholic remain so as adults). The Chart at left shows the data for other denominations. I would like to mine the data deeper on the “unaffiliated nones” category which I presume refers to the mega church members and/or evangelicals. I have long thought that we too quickly admire the numbers present in mega-churches and have long suspected that they don’t keep their members for a long time. I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that people go for a year or so and eventually get bored or disillusioned and move on to another mega-church, then to another. At some point they leave the system altogether and I thus suspect the mega-Church phenomenon will run its course and the numbers overall will diminish in that “branch of Zion.”  But there is good news here if we compare ourselves to other Churches. However, it is still an awful fact that one-third of those raised Catholic later leave the Church and lose the sacraments. This is still an awful number..

The CARA post then addresses the Church closing phenomenon.
 …..For generations Catholic immigrants have often started their new lives in industrial urban areas. They created parishes where others spoke the same language. Sometimes a Polish parish would be built across from a parish where Italian was the language in use. The sheer number of people involved led to a boom in parish construction and along with schools—often in close proximity to each other. Yet, in the post-World War II era things began to shift. Many Catholics moved to the suburbs and away from the Northeast and Midwest into the Sunbelt. New waves of Catholic immigration from Latin America have led to even more growth in the South from coast to coast. The Catholic population has realigned itself in the course of a few generations. People move, parishes and schools do not. Many of the parish and school closings one reads about are in inner cities of the Northeast and Midwest where Catholic population has waned. ….OK fair enough. But I would argue that we still cannot avoid the fact that there are 9 million fewer Catholics in Church on Sunday than in the early 1950s. The other factors mentioned here are not insignificant, but neither is 9 million fewer Catholics in the pews. Many of the over-churched urban areas would still have many more thriving parishes if even 50% were still going every Sunday. I surely doubt we would be closing as many parishes, even in depopulated urban centers, if Catholics were, as a whole, more faithful.

Although Catholic Mass attendance did decline in recent decades from a peak in the 1950s, there has been no decline in Mass attendance percentages nationally in the last decade. Just under one in four Catholics attends Mass every week. About a third of Catholics attend in any given week and more than two-thirds attend Mass at Christmas, Easter, and on Ash Wednesday. More than four in ten self-identified Catholics attend Mass at least once a month. So the good news is that we may have bottomed out. You can click to the “no decline” study at the blue text above and sure enough, the number of weekly attendants has hovered steadily in the low 20%s for over ten years now. There is little guarantee we will stay here however and I remain concerned that the number is going to head even lower as secularism continues to increase and the unchurched generations become even more detatched from things spiritual. Even the great Christmas and Easter holy days are becoming silenced in our culture.

In the end, I find looking at the CARA analysis helpful in distinguishing the true problem. The overall number of Catholics is, in fact rising. However the critical factor seems to be that Mass attendance has dropped dramatically since the 1950s, from over 80% to around 20-25% now. This indicates a very critical condition indeed. Tell me any organization in which 80% of its members were inactive that you would call healthy. Our condition is critical. It is helpful to know that we seem to have stabilized at this number. That is, we haven’t gone lower in over ten years. However I am concerned that the 25% number is soft and wonder if it will be stable for long. Rampant secularism, the moral malaise of many, a hostile culture etc. all stand to likely erode that number even further.

I pray for a miracle to be sure. I pray for an evangelizing spirit among Catholics. The Church at the upper right of this post is St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago. Ten years ago it was boarded up and slated for demolition. But Opus Dei agreed to take it and brought it back to life. Today it is a thriving parish. But generally, we have become very sleepy and many have barely noticed as large numbers of fellow Catholics  have slipped away. In the end, the greatest tragedy is not the numbers per se but the fact that almost 80% of our Catholic brothers and sisters are away from the sacraments, away from the medicine they need, and not having the gospel preached to them. These 80% live in a poisonous culture wherein their mind will increasingly darken without the help of the Sacraments and the Word of God. This is tragic and if we have any real love for them we will not rest until they are restored to God’s house. God asked Cain one day, “Where’s your brother?” And God still asks this of us. We may protest that we have murdered no one. And yet, many of them will die spiritually if we remain indifferent. “Where is your brother?…Where?”

This song says, Come and go with me to my Father’s House

70 Replies to “Is the Bottom Really Falling Out of Catholic Mass Attendance? A Recent CARA Survey Ponders the Question”

  1. Maybe things are not as bad as they seem. Maybe.

    It is rather difficult to compare the two eras.

    It is estimated that just over 80% of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday in the 1950s.

    Emphasis on that word “attended.” Sure, there was a greater percentage of Catholics physically present, but what percentage was spiritually present? No one can say. But, it was not as great a percentage as the Church would have liked because there was such a big push on promoting “active participation” back then (when, it should go without saying, that the Mass was in a language that people did not speak and there were few places for “the people” to respond at Mass). That is, it was known that a large portion of that 80 percent did not “actively participate” and probably a good portion did not even passively participate. And that is clear even without getting into the big argument with today’s traditionalists over what constitutes “active participation.” But because you cannot measure what went on in a person’s head (or soul), it cannot be known precisely how many of those 80 percent were truly and fully present at Mass.

    Thus, again, it is rather difficult to compare the two eras based on Mass attendance.

    It might be that things are worse now. Or, it might be that things are actually better now, that we have that smaller-but-purer Church or perhaps a smaller-but-purer core of the Church.

    Certainly, compared to the Protestant mainline denominations or Judaism, the Catholic Church is booming. We have been able to withstand modernity and the turbulent 60-70s far better than they have. (That lower percentage of people leaving the “Jewish faith” is misleading. Judaism is as much as an ethnicity and culture as it is a faith. That is, they are a people, and you cannot leave a people. A secular Jew might not practice and might not even believe, but he is still “Jewish.”)

    We can do better. We will do better. Not only because the Church is a rock and refuge, but because the generation of confused Catholics is passing into the sunset. The seeds planted by John Paul II and Benedict will bear fruit, including priests and religious and catechists who are not only more knowledgeable, but understand the Faith better, such that they can explain the Faith and be that light to a dark world that others before them were not. Once people see that light of love and truth, they will be attracted to it and they will come.

    1. I am inclined to agree with a lot of what you have said here. Big numbers don’t necessarily mean things are great. Jesus didn’t really trust big crowds and usually gave a tough teaching in such settings to “thin the ranks” and distinguish the true believers. However, you may recall a few months back when I wrote on the theme of the “smaller but purer” point of view some one responded with the challenge: “The Protestants have trotted this this arguement out for years and have generally found that those who looked for a smaller but purer church got only a smaller one.” I see the danger to avoid here and we must be careful not to be obsessed with numbers but also not to be wholly dimissive of them.

  2. Regarding the 80% who do not go oi mass:
    They are mot merely victims of secularism but also of the ‘new age’ line of thought, where ‘you find God everywhere so you do not need to go to church and listen to the boring priest’.

    I think one of the main problems is that many people do not understand tha grat value of the sacraments. They need to be instructed why the Eucharist is vital and why confession is important.

    The other problem is militant atheism/secularism. This goes beyond stupid ads and lame books by Dawkins & co. (new atheism is a symptom not a cause). The whole society made religion taboo.

    I work in science (physics) and as many know abo0ut 40-50% of scientists is non-religious (I would not say hardcore atheist though).
    In an environment such as academia Religion is somewhat taboo. I do not say religion should take part of scientific theories (that would be bad science of course) but religious people must be religious in secret. Confessing your faith, I am sure, might even harm your career in certain places.

    I am sure that this is true not only in the physical sciences, but also in other academic branches such as literature or economics or history.

    Then if you go in many schools, the feeling is the same. Your religion must be kept secret, like it was a bad habit.

    Basically in the last 30 years secularism, in a quiet way slipped poison through the media (e.g. songs, newspapers, movies, etc…) with one message: it is wrong or stupid or shameful to be religious.

    Catholics and religious people everywhere should strike back and show that to be religious it is not stupid, nor wrong nor shameful.

  3. Although it is disturbing that so few Catholics attend Mass regularly, it is much easier to speak with a cultural Catholic and bolster their faith than it is to convert a Protestant (heretic). The ecclesiastical language barrier is significantly smaller, and therefore, as the New Evangelization begins, hopefully the Holy Spirit will bring the Church into a period of renewal.

    1. Yes there are still some connections with fallen away Catholics that we can tap into. However, I find many Protestants also very open to discussion. I would be careful using the word heretic in the sense that many if not most Protestants are not heretics formally speaking. Most often they have been born or reared in their faith and while the Protestant theologies contain heretical notions, not every one holds them formally but only materially.

  4. In order to draw people into and back to the Church, the faithful must make such an option attractive. Are we kind? helpful? honest? fair? patient? loving? accepting? humble? gracious? In other words, do we model ourselves on Christ? Christ is the most attractive person ever to walk this earth, but we must let His light shine through us in order to attract others to Him.

  5. I was raised Catholic, but am now non religious. No traumatic occurrences, I just grew out of my faith. WIth all honesty I’m much happier now than before. No poisonous culture of the mind for me, just the realization that my life is better spent improving this world for myself and others than struggling over how trying to conform my life to an incrutable God and living for the next life when I leave this “vale of tears”.

    Keep you faith if you want or need to but leaving faith is not tragic. You, like me, might find it peaceful and liberating.

    1. I am sorry Michael that you apparently were never taught or informed about authentic Catholic faith.

      The authentic Catholic faith is nothing less than the fullness of Love and Truth. It can be nothing other than the fullness of Love and Truth because that is what Jesus Christ, her Holy Spouse, is. I assume that you are not opposed to love and truth, but, in fact, desire them both as the supreme good in life. Well, that is what the Catholic faith proposes to the world.

      It is tragic that such was never conveyed to you as you were growing up. I pray that, in your personal journey through life, you discover the truth of the Catholic faith and Church.

    2. Dear Michael,

      I suppose in one sense you are the best one to assess your relative condition at least in terms of how you feel. But in another sense, no one is a judge in his own case. There is more to life and to our condition than being happy. There have been times when I went to the doctor and was feeling fine, just an ordinary check-up and though I felt fine some problems were discovered. Hence there to life than feeling fine or just being happy. You have said: “my life is better spent improving this world for myself and others” But I must ask you, then what? You will die and what will become of you. What will be your choice?

      As for me, I do not find God “inscrutable” though there are mysteries of his being. But his basic demenor was best articulated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Having forgiven his one son and invited him to the feast of the redeemed his other son approaches, sullen and angry at the Father’s mercy on his brother whom he does not like. But the Father mearly pleads with him to also enter the feast. Then the story ends. It ends because you and I have to answer it for ourselves. Will we accept the Father’s invitation and hear his plea to enter the feast, or will we stand outside and refuse? In the parable the Father does not force his second son to enter, but he pleads him to enter. Neither are you and I forced, but the Father is clearly calling for you Michael and pleading for you to enter. THis is not inscrutable, it is quite plain, at least to me.

    3. Amen, Michael (irony intended). Kudos for seeing through the lies and guilt that the church spreads to its flock. A life of reason is not devoid of purpose; rather, a life of reason forces the non-believer to find what is actually valuable and true in this world. Religion’s influence can and should continue to decline in our culture.

  6. I believe the school system is making our kids go ape. By that I mean the secular prophet Darwin and his pope Huxley are one reason we are losing our younger generation to atheism. We started to lose the battle at the famous Scopes Trial (State v. Scopes, Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 – Tenn. 1926), the Monkey Trial when the ALCU fought to keep religion out of school, and to teach that man decended from a lower order of animals. The Scopes Trial was made into a movie named “Inherit the Wind.” I remember a poem from my early years in school about “Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow,” the poem when on to say “Mary’s lamb was not allowed in school.” What a clever, and sublime message about The Lamb of God, son of Mary, not allowed in school. The message is being driven into our culture in many areas where any mention of the Divine is taboo. Didn’t Sara Palin recently get alot of negative comments for saying she had read C. S. Lewis for “Divine Inspirition?” One negative comment came from that atheist lady Joan from the View. Another problem I have witnessed, is Catholics who are attending other churches because they are looking for something other than ‘tradition.’ Something like those ‘feel good churches’ you have blogged about in the past.

    I’ve seen Catholics who are experiencing hardships, and turn to the Mormon chruch for assistence to pay the rent and get food. These people become Mormon through baptism. I have told them they are prostituting their soul. Selling their soul to the devil in exchange for temporary comfort. Other Catholics simply grow cold in their faith, unless there is a medical crisis, then when flat on their back, they look upwards. I go to mass every Friday morning, and I have a pew all to myself. There is seating for about 900, but only about 12 to 20 people are at morning mass, which is a ‘lower’ mass, mass without the hymns being sung. But on those three days Msgr. Pope said, Christmas, Ash Wenesday, and Easter, I can’t even get to a pew. Standing room only. Msgr. Pope, your should know better than the public if your Chruch is becoming empty, or has fewer attendants, or if there is an increase in the flock.

  7. What’s the ratio of cradle Catholics to the overall population vs. the ratio of Catholic immigrants to the overall population? The US population has skyrocketed, while the number of cradle Catholics have not kept pace. That the ratio seems comparable to what we saw 50 years ago is due largely to Catholic immigrants.

    Of those who call themsleves Catholic, how many accept all the dogmas? How many accept as a matter of Faith the True Presence, Papal infallability, and the Immaculate Conception? Attend Mass *every* Sunday, keep their Easter duty, and refuse the use of artificial birth control? Only a minority of those who call themselves Catholic.

    The problem stems from the highest levels, where Churchmen from Rome on down have parted from the faith of their fathers and embraced a new modernist creed. The children have asked for bread, and their modernist spiritual fathers have given them stones. The situation is grave indeed.

  8. Grandpa Tom – The problem for you with evolution is that it is one of science’s best support theories. It is a fact as much as the germ theory of disease, the heliocentric theory of the solar system and the theory of gravity. If it makes you “feel good” to decry evolution because you find the theory uncomfortable how are you any different from those people who attend those ‘feel good churches’?

    1. Michael Hogan: I concur about micro-evolution, and bacteria. However, where is the missing link, the transitional fossils which would support macro-evolution. I came from God’s creation, Adam being the progenator. I have taught my children we do not evolve from the ape. Where is the missing link.
      Concerning Gravity: It is a mystery. The theory behind gravity is that every mass in the universe pulls on every other mass, and the strength of that pull is effected by distance. The greater the mass, the greater the pull. The greater the distance, the less pull. But why does every object in the universe pull on every other object? Can science please explain this. No science cannot. No one knows. Only God knows. Evolutlion also requires faith, faith that pope Huxley’s drawing are correct.

      Nope, I don’t have a problem with evolution. But science has a problem with explaining evolution of evolutlon, because science keeps shifting the language like smoke and mirrors. Darwin himself said the lack of transitional fossils would undermine his argument for science kids who want to have a ape for the root of his family tree. Don’t dodge the question, where are the fossils to prove this link between man and the ape.

      My difference between those who have migrated to the feel good church and those who remain Catholic are like the difference between lightening and the Lightening Bug. Mr. Hogan, I would recommend you read “Mere Christainity,” by C. S. Lewis.

      Another excellent book is the Bible. Scientist have wisdom because God gave it to them, it did not evolve, or why are there still apes and monkeys? The Bible has many scientific principles throughout scripture. In the Book of Wisdom (11:20), it says God disposed all things by measure, and number and weight. God knows geometry Here are a few examles: Hydrology – Hydrologic Cycle, Ecc. 1:7; Isaiah 55:10; Evaporation, Ps. 135:7; Jer10:13; Condensation Nuclei, Proverbs 8:26; Condensation, Job 26: 8, 37: 11, 16; Precipitation, Job 36: 26-28; Run-off, Job 28:10; Oceanic Resevoir, Ps 33:7, Snow, Job 38:22, Ps 147:16, Proverb 25: 13, 26; Hydrologic Balance, Job 28:24-26, Springs in the Sea, Job 38:16; GEOLOGY – Principle of Isostasy, Isaiah 40:12; Ps 104: 5-9; Shape of Earth, Isaiah 40:12; Job 26:10; Dinosaurs, Job 40, 41; II Peter 3:4.

      I haven’t even got into Astronomy, Meterology, or Biology in scripture. I will pray that the intellect of your soul will gaze with the pupil of faith, upon the face of God, as revealed through nature, and scripture.

  9. Catholics need to stop moaning about things that they have not been given responsibility for like the liturgy or wheter other people are examples of the faith. Stop worrying about monkey trials, low mass, whether we are “Attractive” people or what secular society says or does.

    Faithful Catholics need to start studying the Catechism, be ready to defend their faith and get used to simply saying, “Would you like to go to Mass?” like a broken record.


    1. Timothy. I guess your comment about “stop worring about monkey trials was directed at me, Grandpa Tom. Yea, right! Stop worring about evolution (Monkey Trials). Why defend the faith. Ignorance is bliss! Right, Tim?

      Actually your second sentence is in conflict with the reasoning in your first sentence of ‘stop worring about monkey trials,’ and then you say “be ready to defend the faith.” So which is it, Timothy? The claim to not concern ourselves with monkey trials and evolution being taught in our schools, or should we be aware of the attacks on Christainity, and as you say defend the faith. Either way, your answer will make one of the two sentences an un-truth. Not a good starting point for a Witness of Christ. Bye now!

    2. Well, I agree with your bottom line. However there are significant matters to consider in some of the other things you list. In the end though, as you state we cannot forget job one: making disciples of all nations.

  10. So, why did you post a You Tube video of the USF Gospel choir? USF? USF has sold its Catholic identity down the river ages ago, and everyone who goes there knows that. Gospel Choir? Really? Churches with gospel choirs are losing the 18-22 year olds by the droves. We are no exception. We do not induct our young into the sacramental life of the church and its lay expression. There is no reason for them to hang out. At college they are away from Mom and Dad, so they do not worship the way Mom and Dad do…that is, if Mom and Dad actually cared about church attendance, confession, and other disciplines of the Faith rather than sending their kids to a party school. For the sake of Christ and His kingdom, give the young reverent and fullsome liturgy, give them Latin, give them Gregorian chant. Stop denying them their heritage as baptized members of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. They will stay for something, but have no incentive to stay for nothing. If you must, keep the gospel choir; but give the people a Gregorian chant choir and the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. Do that at every parish, leaving all other questionable or just plain silly liturgical practices in place, and you will see Mass attendance rise–everywhere. Give Catholics Catholicism. They can get Protestantism anywhere. And, if the Pew/CARA numbers are right, the Protestants will be glad to see them.

  11. Mr. Hogan,
    I also was raised a Catholic. I fell away from the church as a young adult. No traumatic occurences here either. It was easier(at first) to think that I only had to listen to my own conscience to be a good person. And that to be a “good person” was enough. Trouble is, humans are really good at rationalizing and it is easy to become a slave to sin.
    I thought I knew the Catholic faith- I attended Catholic school and went to church every Sunday as a child. I am amazed at how different my understanding is of it now. I read works by Dr. Peter Kreft and Mother Angelica. I watched Father Robert Barron, and many others, esp. from EWTN.I studied saints like St. Augustine ,St. Gertrude the Great, St. Therese and St. Edith Stein. I found that as an adult I could now appreciate the fullness and beauty of the Catholic faith in a much deeper way.
    God continued to call to me as He is still calling to you. It is liberating and peaceful to answer God’s call.

  12. I suppose that you can come up with all kinds of numbers to show increases or declines but the true facts lie in every diocese. In the southeast United States there are more Catholics who do not attend Mass than there are who do attend Mass. 80% of Catholics do not avail themselves of the Sacrament of Pennance and therefore attend Mass when the mood strikes them. Recently we had a Penance Service with five Priests available. 23 people attended in a parish of 654 families. Sunday attendance is about 312 people in two masses. Christmas and Easter will increase the attendance by about 20% if the weather is favorable. If the number of Catholics is growing they are simply replacing the number that fall away each year. And thanks to the idea of teen mass very few people attend mass as a family. 70% of the teens do not attend at all.

      1. In our parish, we have over 1800 families and are only offered reconciliation for 1/2 hour per week with two priests and sometimes only one shows up. My older children have left the church and attend non-denoms because of the upbeat message and their spouses think coming into the Catholic faith is too “difficult” with RCIA classes and all the rules and doctrines. Plus the offertory baskets, to them, means it is all about the money. I love the Catholic Church and the wonderful fullness it offers. I tell them they are getting entertained and hearing some good stuff but if they really get into understanding scripture and all Jesus taught, they will someday walk through the doors of His church and wonder why they walked around the mountain to get here. My husband uses the analogy of having a feast without the “meat” (being protestant). All being said, I do wish there was a way around the RCIA classes. Families are very busy and it often takes a leap of faith for them to even “show up” on Sundays, much less participate in the Banquet.

  13. re: Michael Hogan-supporter of the THEORY of evolution

    I quote Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder from ” The hidden face of God: Science reveals the ultimate truth:
    (Elso Barghoorn of Harvard) searched the polished slabs of stone taken from the oldest rocks able to bear fossils. To the amazement of the scientific community, fossils of fully developed bacteria were found in rocks 3.6 billion years old…. Overnight, the fantasy of billions of years of random reactions in warm little ponds brimming with fecund chemicals leading to life, evaporated. Elso Barghoorn had discovered a most perplexing fact: life, the most complexly organized system of atoms known in the universe, popped into being in the blink of a geological eye. -unquote.
    Biologist Lewis Thomas has pointed out that every new species to appear in the fossil records is perfect according to its kind.
    Evolution, it appears, is NOT a fact, but a THEORY.

  14. Up until a year ago, I was one of those Catholics who claimed to be Catholic on paper but I wasn’t attending mass. Not only was I not attending, I was ignorant to what being Catholic was. At the age of 32, I just recently began attending mass on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis. I am also more concioius of what being Catholic means and take time to educate myself. Out of curiosity, I find myself looking at the facebook status of my old friends from high school to see if they are claiming “Catholic” as their religious status. Most are not. These are people who were raised by Catholic families. These are people who I saw in my CCD class every week. These are people I went to a Catholic university with. More importantly, these are people I was confirmed with. Where are they? Are they still Catholic or are they just embarassed to claim Catholicism as their religion? I tend to believe that my generation is a generation that doesn’t put much thought or time into religion. Its very sad, but true. Everything is so fast paced & there is so much noise that people cannot relate to being religious. Because God isn’t appearing at the speed of the internet, people aren’t putting much stock into it. They tolerate it on special occassions & during the holidays but that’s about it. With that in mind, we should be doing whatever we can on the few occassions when we have their attention (Christmas mass, Easter Mass, Pre-Marriage classes, baptism classes, etc). Because eventually, Christmas & Easter mass for the non-practicing Catholics will soon be a think of the past.

    On the flip side, I do believe that the Catholic church was founded by Christ. That being said, Jesus would never allow His one and only church to perish. I don’t think we should be sitting on our hands and doing nothing but I also have a hard time going into “Panic” mode over the stats.

    1. Mr. Hogan! If you are really freefrom oppressing faith,why do you spend time reading this post?
      Another point I would like to adress is what is happening to Europe. There is overall decline in natural births and overall population statistics show grave trends towards self-annihilation . I find it ironic that secular culture engages itself in this process through contraception, abortion support etc. Evolution selects species for either life or death. The so called rational atheistic culture is choosing the latter.
      I don’t worry about the Church because it rests on Jesus Christ. Do not forget those who went to the Lord before us! They are still part of our Church.

  15. I’m not certain I agree with the historical data. I have, for various reasons, 3 sets of encyclopedias at home from the early 1970s, from when I was a kid. All three, World Book, Brittanica, and Funk and Wagnalls. All three have large articles on the Roman Catholic Church. All three list the number of US Catholics in 1970 as being about 65 million – around 33% of the population. Almost all data reveals that self-reported Catholics now make up a little less than 25% of the population, and number about 57 million – and given the very large number of polls on this data, Census data, etc, and the convergence of results, the margin of error is, I would hazard, much less than 3% in the aggragate of all results. Did those encyclopedias all use bad data? I know World Book used Census data, maybe the others did, too, I’ll have to check, but why then would the 1970 Census diverge so much from reality?

    It is widely agreed that the number of US Catholics peaked, percentage wise, around 1970. This is the first time I have seen a source claim that the percentage of Catholics at these points in the past, after the great immigration booms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was as low as 25%. I had always read that Cathoilcs, by 1970, made up about 1/3 of the population. Given the source of this study and the affiliations that source has with the Church, I’m a bit skeptical about some of this data. I’d have to go into it in detail.

    1. Well in think CARA is pretty reliable. I am not sure if encyclopedias are the best source for statistics, that really insn’t their purpose which is far more general.

      1. Msgr Pope – Check out this site:

        Pretty detailed data on estimates of the Catholic population from 1960 to 2000. In that 40 year period, the US population increased from 180 million to 300 million, a 67% increase. According to this data, the number of Catholics increased from ~42 million to ~62 million over that same period – an increase of about 48%. Make of it what you will, but that tracks more with my experience – while the Church is growing, it has not kept pace with percent of population. If you look more closely at the CARA data, you will see that the median point of the population “dots”, or bubbles, actually did peak out around 1970 as a percentage of population, but the margin of error they ascribe to the data makes it hard to see. Again, given the huge number of studies and the correlation of data, I don’t know that the margin of error should be so great, but whatevs.

        One more final point, I’ve heard the term bandied about that there are 30 million former Catholics in the US. That figure seems to have come from this Pew study here -> 30 million former Catholics would be almost 10% of the present population of the US. Given that most of the immigration to the US over the last 50 years has been predominately Catholic, it is possible that 30 million people have left the Church, and yet the Church has still managed to grow.. Even if the number is not 30 million, I think we are all aware that a very large number of people have left the Church. I certainly run into quite a few. Each individual case is a tragedy – in totality, it’s almost mind-numbing.

        Anyway, some more data to consider. I continue to pray for you and your apostolate!

  16. I tend to believe that my generation is a generation that doesn’t put much thought or time into religion.

    While it would not explain the overall numbers across multiple generations and age groups, there is a tendency for young adults to want to drift and learn things for themselves. The Prodigal Son might have gone a bit overboard with his “party all the time” ways, but Jesus was well aware that many young people will drift — but many will come home too. Thus, on the one hand, because of this expected tendency, we probably should not “panic,” or otherwise operate from a defensive posture, trying to keep and hold on to something we never really had in the first place. Rather, understanding that we have always been “smaller” than body-counts would indicate, we should instead operate from an affirmative posture, going on offense and seeking to accomplish the mission that we have been given.

  17. In response to the 1962 Missal and active participation (sorry but a pet peeve), AP is above all else interior not exterior. A person just sitting may be more APing than someone running around do a million different things, is it for us to speculate?. Even Pope Benedict has had to write on AP, so not APing goes for both forms of the Mass. There are however many gestures in the 1962 Missal that the laity can do, responses and antiphons they can sing (et cum spiritu tuo etc), sacred silences and of course they can follow along in their missals as some even do when they go to Mass in English.

    While the Catholic population in the US is increasing Mass attendance is not. So countless Catholic don’t go to Mass, this is very sad. Thus we need even greater catechesis on the Sacrifice of Mass esp. the Eucharist. Even with Mass in English, belief in the real presence has plummeted in the US. A smaller but purer Church may be a good thing, and be better equipped to tackle the evils of the world and proclaim the fullness of truth.

    There is hope however. Great new Priests and Bishops and steeping up to the plate. So lets grab out Rosaries and keep praying. God bless all.

  18. So if 40% of Catholics come to Church once a month, and supposing that they all heard something they liked, and started coming every week, it should be possible to almost double Mass attendance in a month. Of course, depending on the homily, some percentage of cultural Catholics may never come back, but a parish could have a massive change in attendance, in numbers and/or people in the pews, quickly.

    That’s my experience. When we get a new priest, it takes a month or two but eventually the numbers stabilize (higher or lower) and sometimes the makeup of the parish changes.

    If we did indeed get to 40% attendance, we’d have to rent out the basketball arena to hold them all. (this is in Dallas) We currently have 5 Masses on the weekends in a building that holds about 1000 people and all the seats are filled in every Mass and a couple of the Masses are SRO. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also a little mind boggling to think of the numbers going up by that amount.

    1. Yes I remember when it was usually SRO here on the east coast too. Your point is well taken that our liturgies and preaching have to be able to engage people more so that those who come in freqently will be apt to come more often.

  19. The question is how to bring knowledge of Christ to other Catholics. Had they never heard of Christ the task would perhaps be simpler. But Catholics have heard and if they are not devout, they either believe “in their own way” or not at all. Furthermore, if they are adults they often resist anyone telling them what to believe or what to do or not to do. This is the kind of diagnosis which it might seem we have to complete if we are going to be effective. Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Perhaps what we need to do is love separated Catholics by praying for them. My own personal return to Christ came through my own search. No one convinced me. The church’s arguments helped only after I had returned. So why did Christ touch me? Perhaps he heard someone pray or perhaps he just heard me. It’s a mystery and what is happening in some sense is a mystery too. But we should pray for them and we should put the arguments out there so that they may find them when they finally start looking for God or try to make sense of existence. We should also clean up the house. In his sacramental presence Jesus is not respected as He should be by some believers. Some, including priests, don’t even kneel.

  20. Didn’t read all the comments so I may have missed it, but I saw nothing about the effects of Vatican II. This has been a big shock to many and has undoubtedly resulted in some leaving the Church or their decreased attendance. Some examples – Jesus (in the tabernacle) is no longer the center of anything, not the church building (his home), or the Mass. He is set off to the side and ignored by most, especially during Mass. Sometimes the tabernacle is not even easily found if you don’t know where it is. The Priest, and others going forward, bow to an empty alter, before, during and after Mass. We no longer kneel to receive communion.

    I was absent from the Church for a long time and the things I now observe constantly made it a real struggle to come back. I atttend Mass regularly now but don’t like many of the things I see.

    1. Yes, VC II was a shock. There are all kinds of speculations however as to what would have happened had VC II not been held. Some argue plausibly that things would have been worse. In the end it did happen and its been fifty years. Hence most younger folks knew nothing of before. The return of the Latin Mass attracts only some. At any rate you are surely right that we have to get the essentials like true presence back in place in people’s minds

    2. If Vatican II was ill-advised, then that would suggest that either the Church was acting contrary to the Holy Spirit, or the Church and the Holy Spirit which guides the Church made a mistake.

      But if neither of these two things can be, then Vatican II could not have been wrong. The implementation was misguided by some people, perhaps, but the purposes and reason for the Council were not.

      There has been much talk the last few months about a “New Evangelization.” That is what Vatican II was supposed to be — a new Pentecost, a new springtime in the Church. Not to change the Faith, but to revitalize the Church and try to find better and more effective ways to spread the faith, both to those already in the Church and those outside of her.

      I had my suspicions of Vatican II once upon a time. But it was clear that the Church, facing the challenges of the modern world, could not speak to the world in the language of the 16th century. That the Church necessarily needs to speak to people and explain the Faith in words that they can understand does not mean adopting and giving into modernity or hip trendiness — the substance of the Faith remains the same — but people in the street no longer respond to quotations from Trent or Thomas Aquinas.

      The implementation of “how do we best present the Faith and be a light to the world” may have had more misses than hits in the period immediately after the Council, but the question remains the same today, and that was largely the purpose of Vatican II.

  21. Monsignor, one area that has concerned me as a pastor has been Catholics who cannot fully practice their Catholic faith due to a previous marriage bond and subsequent re-marriage. In the US alone, I suspect that there are probably over a million couples or more in this general state, and it is sad indeed. While fully affirming the teaching on the sanctity of marriage, is it possible to create a streamlined tribunal process, similar to an absence of form declaration, that would bring people back to the Church? There are not enough diocesan tribunals in the world to handle a million solemn annulments. Any thoughts?? God bless you.

    1. Yes, the whole proces is bewilderiing and long. Herein DC we have one of the better tribunals and they turn things around quickly but I know of dioceses where the wait is often two years or more. Really there isn’t an excuse for that sort of time. I am not sure that we could streamline it as much as a defect of form case since there does have to be investigation. However, shorter and more coherent would surely be a good goal!

    2. “…Catholics who cannot fully practice their Catholic faith due to a previous marriage bond and subsequent re-marriage…”

      A “previous marriage bond”? According to the gospels and Catholic doctrine one can only have one living spouse. Therefore Catholics can’t leave their spouse and “remarry”. If the first marriage was valid, the second union is adultery and they must repent, stop sinning and seek forgiveness and absolution.

      1. Well OK fair enough but sometimes you have to allow a little shorthand in the discussion. Noether Fr. nor I are unaware of what you say here. The expression prior bond is used of putative marriage being investigated. Obviously if a pututive marriage is upheld as a valid marriage then one has prior bond and this is a diriment impediment.

    3. Then again, the United States has long been known as an annulment factory in the Church. And perhaps that is one reason that so many people are so confused as to the nature of the Sacrament of Matrimony and why so many no longer take the Church seriously. They see annulments as de facto approval of divorce, a wink and a nod just to regularize people, even if those involved in the annulment process continue to strenuously deny it and argue that “people just don’t understand.”

      And perhaps, on the opposite end, it is fear of losing people that keeps people involved in the marriage process from imposing stricter requirements on engaged couples to ensure, before the wedding, that grounds for later claiming invalidity do not exist.

      What is more important? To “bring people back to the Church,” to simply have more rear-ends in the seats? Or to respect and defend the truth of the sacraments?

      Besides, there is NOTHING to prevent even non-annulled remarried people from coming to Mass. In fact, they still are obligated to, and still would be greatly beneficial to, even if they cannot physically receive Communion.

  22. I note that you mentioned that Opus Dei brought a parish back to life. I’m not surprised, as this is entirely consistent with my experience with Opus Dei. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened to my faith when I came back to the Church 5 years ago after an absence of 20 years. Opus Dei provide monthly Recollections, where we are given talks/meditations on the Faith, then Benediction and an opportunity for Confession. No one else does this in my area. We are a in a faith dead-zone where most Masses are liberal nightmares and there is very little fidelity to Catholicism, even in the Bishop’s parish.

  23. I’ve recently retired from the workforce, & printed “DEI VERBUM” from the Vatican V2 site, & plan to print & read them all, though I’m already pretty sure there’s nothing in the documents that laid the groundwork for the systematic destruction of most of the reverence & awe for God in His own house.Yes, there are holdout parishes where the laity are reverent & silent upon entering the big doors, but in my travels I seldom find them. Instead I enter to the sound of bull sessions, which makes it real hard to prepare for Mass or talk to God.
    That said, what I see as very promising is hours of adoration being started in many parishes. And of course it’s true that God is everywhere & always with us, but in a very special way in the Blessed Sacrament. I think those adoration hours will eventually destroy the indifference.

  24. We need stronger catechesis, religion textbooks which aren’t “comic books” as Peter Kreeft calls them. We would be blessed if we had universally strong CCD programs which teach students to love and defend the faith in the fullness of Catholic tradition and the depth of Catholic theology. But, largely, we don’t.

    We need CCD programs which are like little seminaries, with no truth distorted for the ears of children, no conviction weakened out of a misguided attempt to not scare children.

  25. I remember when I stopped going to mass. It was in the late 1960’s & I was a 14 years old hippie with long hair.

    I was still open minded about the new mass when our parish’s beautiful choir of nuns was replaced by what sounded like the croaking of a bunch of old frogs. The priest always promised that the singing would get better as the laity got used to it. Well that never happened.

    I also remember that the clergy back then were trying to act all hip & modern. I always found adults trying to act “cool” to be immature & embarrassing. The rock of Peter was replaced by the rock ‘n’ roll. The mass of ages was replaced by hippie styles that now horribly cheap & dated. What a mess!

    Church no longer seemed a sacred space so I began to think why go to mass when it only irritates me? I can talk to God in my own home.

    One more thing. I must say that I admire the Muslims who face Mecca 5 times a day to pray to God. I miss the Angelus bells.

  26. Just how concerning this – if the usa economy continues its amount of decrease, in the near future you actually won’t experience any kind of visitors irritating anyone because they aren’t going to be in a position to manage to pay for. a completely happy thought, eh? hmm… can’t come up with almost any true joyful opinions. It is a fantastic afternoon outdoor now and yet We’re stuck inside searching in it. Gonna take a look inside your web page ever again the day after tomorrow, good night 🙂

  27. The center of the Catholic faith is the Mass. The Mass is why we need Holy Orders so we have priests to change unleavened bread and wine into the body and blood of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.
    Why did the second Vatican council change this liturgy of the Mass into the Novus Ordo? The Tridentine Rite was given to the Church by the council of Trent and St. Pius V. The Tridentine Rite has prayers that date to the earliest days of the Church. The Novus Ordo is a new prayer with new origins (thus the name Novus Ordo).
    The Tridentine Rite comes with an indult guaranteeing it forever. It also has consequences for those who disagree. The Church has defined that the Canon of the Tridentine Rite is a perfect prayer.
    Why in the world would any Pope or council change it!
    Pray tell me!
    Out of ignorance or….intelligences?!

  28. The parameters for goodness and success when determined by the human mind are colored by our feeble brain. and limited by the input of our six senses. Everyone must occasionally think that there is more to this life than we can imagine or dream or figure.
    Reading of Edith Stein and Pope John Paul’.s foray into phenomenolgy should reveal our meager abiity to formulate and conquer the mysteries of our universe .. Those who find happiness and comfort outiside of religion are deluding themselves.
    You cannot find ta satisfactory final answer outside of religion . and for me i is the Catholic religion so well analyzed though the ages.

  29. Once again I was very impressed with your article on the Catholic Population in general. The increase in Catholics around the world is most impressive. However, considering these statistical accounts then why are so many churches and schools closing?

  30. There are so many things in the world that affectively alter our religious practices that I found myself questioning the wisdom of the dissolved Italian Monarchy. In England the Monarchy appears to keep the Church of England fairly stable and continuing a steady growth over the last 50 years within the confines of England. This made me think that perhaps the church acts or represents some sort of bridge between the active government, the Church of England and the people of England? If this is true, then why would not the same concept work for the Catholic Church and its Roman Catholic people of Italy? Since the Monarchy of Italy was dissolved it appears that the Catholic people of Italy have become complacent in their Church activates. Certainly in the last 50 years it has become increasingly evident. Perhaps the reason is without the Monarchy in Italy there is no bridge between church, people and government? Could you respond to this theory?

  31. My feeling is that I have no resposibility to encourage a fallen away Catholic to return to the Sacraments or weekly mass attendance. However, if a fallen away Catholic were to say to me I think I need some spirtuality in my life or I think I need to go to church, then I think I would say “Would you consider coming back to the Catholic Church?”

    An individal needs to sort out for himself the reason or reasons he left the Catholic Church completely or why he only goes sparingly but still calls himself Catholic. Part of being an adult is making one’s own spiritual decisions, just as part of being an adult is deciding whether and when and whom to marry, what career path to take, and so forth. Although I attend mass every Sunday, I realize as I am sure that most Catholics now realize that non-Catholic Christians also go to heaven or to hell. It is less about which “Cross and Resurrection” Christian Church (Catholic or non-Catholic) one attends than it is about the life that Christian leads, and whether or not he repents of serious sin.

  32. I left the Catholic church because I was interested in learning the Bible. My parents spent a forture to get us 5 kids a Catholic education. When I graduated I knew nothing about the Bible. Oh a few stories here or there, yes, but i wanted to understand it better. I prayed for God’s direction and after 8 years of Bible study on my own I found an organization that not only teaches the Bible but I am now teachings it to others. I have found the truth!

  33. In my part of the country Catholic Church Attendance is dropping! —- This is not surprising when you consider that the leadership of the Catholic Church has defended nuns and priests who have abused children in Catholic Schools and Orphanages. —- Why would anyone in their right mind support an organization that destroys the lives of young people? —– This is not only a crime against “God’s law,” it is also a crime in “civil law!” — In addition, the Catholic Service (Mass), does nothing to make the people feel good about themselves. The sermons like meaning, and they do not relate to the “here and now!” If you want to hear an “up lifting sermon” turn into Joel Osteen on a Sunday morning! —– The hymns in the Catholic Church cannot be sung by the average person. Who writes the music for the Catholic Church? —- Everything about the Catholic Church is NOT “user friendly.” From their schools, to their marriage ceremony, everything is all about “rules and regulations” that only benefit the Catholic Church, not the individual. —- I attended 12 years of Catholic School. On a scale from 1 to 10, ten being “outstanding,” I would say that my Catholic Academic Education was about 5 at best! It was all about religion, not about academics. —- The priests, brothers and nuns are fakes, frauds and phonies, and “now” the people know what they are all about, and they are leaving the sinking ship! —– Dwayne

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