..about the Pew study on religious affiliation.
And here’s the part that interests Catholics, quoted from an LATimes article:
But Catholics also lost more adherents than any other single religious group in the United States, with one in three adults who were raised as Catholics no longer in that church, the study said. Roughly 10% of Americans are former Catholics.
Evangelical Protestants outnumber Catholics by 26.3 percent (59 million) to 24 percent (54 million) of the population, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, a massive 45-question poll conducted last summer of more than 35,000 American adults.
“There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches,” said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. “They are now the mainline of American Protestantism.
The traditional mainline Protestant churches, which in 1957 constituted about 66 percent of the populace, now count just 18 percent as adherents.
Although one in three Americans are raised Roman Catholic, only one in four adults describe themselves as such, despite the huge numbers of immigrants swelling American churches, researchers said.
“Immigration is what is keeping them afloat,” said John Green, a Pew senior fellow. “If everyone who was raised Catholic stayed Catholic, it’d be a third of the country.
Those who leave Catholicism mostly either drop out of church entirely or join Pentecostal or evangelical Protestant churches, Pew Forum director Luis Lugo said. One out of every 10 evangelicals is a former Catholic, he said, with Hispanic Catholics leaving at higher rates; 20 percent of them end up in evangelical or Pentecostal churches
Sherry Weddell takes gentle issue with the WaTimes angle, pointing out that the shifts in Catholicism are nothing compared to the shifts within Protestantism:
I think the story really should have been titled “Mainline Protestant tradition fading in the US” – but I guess that’s not a surprise anymore.
But this figure did startle me: In 1957, 66% of Americans were members of mainline Protestant churches. 50 years later, only 18% are part of mainline Protestantism. Now that’s what you call a major fade!
It’s interesting to see the numbers on Catholicism but not huge. The idea that the second-largest religious group in the United States is lapsed/former Catholics has been around for a while. And really, unless you live in a Catholic ghetto, it’s not news either. My daughter, a student in a public high school has an amazing number of friends and acquaintances who come from Catholic backgrounds but whose families don’t go to church – at all. Although we have to allow for self-satisfied exaggeration, ask any evangelical pastor, and he’ll tell you about the percentage of former Catholics in his group. For ages, we’ve been following the adventures of Episcopalians in the United States. No small number of, say, folks who people the pews of Episcopal churches – both liberal and conservative – are former Catholics, there for many reasons including marriage issues. I once heard the stat that 40% of those attending Willow Creek in Chicago were former Catholics. Again, I don’t know how much of that is true and how much is in-your-face competitive pridefulness.
But yeah, there are a lot of non-practicing Catholics out there.
But does anyone care?
I invite you to take a look at the agenda items for the USCCB spring and fall meetings over the past years. Is “evangelization” or “helping people have deeper faith in Christ and his Church” on the agenda? Ever?
Part of the problem, quite honestly, is the fact that in certain parts of the country, the demographic shift has worked to the effect that there is no immediate visible sign that anyone is leaving the Catholic Church at all. In the South and the Sunbelt, you have two factors: the fact of simply demographic shift to those parts of the country away from the Midwest and the Northeast combined with Hispanic immigration.
In those parts of the country, they can’t build big enough Catholic churches fast enough. They can’t build Catholic schools fast enough. Ages ago, I was part of an accreditation team visit to a then-new Catholic high school in Northern Virginia. Within four years of their opening they had 1200 students, and the principal told us they could open up another school a mile down the street and it would fill up immediately to the same level.
So when that’s your reality – your Masses are packed, you don’t have enough priests to staff the parishes you could be building, the capital’s not there to build the Catholic schools you know you could fill – you read numbers like those presented in the Pew study and you think, “Well, that’s probably true, but…I’m not seeing it.”
But of course they are, if they’re honest. To me, several factors are key in Catholic contemplation of this problem:
*The spiritual shifts brought on by the Second Vatican Council. Follow me carefully here. Remember that in Church Time, 40 years isn’t very long at all. It’s not long enough to measure the true impact of events or responses. But I think what we’re in the middle of is a readjustment that’s a consequence of both the Council and modernity.
To put it simply and simplistically: You saw much higher levels of adherance and external practice among Catholics before the mid-60’s in the West because many people believed they’d go to Hell if they weren’t there.
People don’t believe that anymore.
(Read Souls and Bodies by David Lodge to get insight into this. The British title of the novel was How Far You Can You Go? which had a double meaning – in terms of sexuality, but also in terms of how far can you go in taking bits of the Catholic schema apart before the whole thing collapses? The loss of the fear of Hell plays a major role.)
I’m not commenting on that reality per se – I’m saying that centuries of Catholic confidence, if you will, on the power of the faith to retain practicing members was rooted in that. That’s gone, for the most part, and not even a part of the picture in catechesis or formation.
And nothing has stepped into replace it – no real recognition of the situation in which we live today, in which the religious marketplace is truly that, with the shoppers carrying around totally different shopping lists than they did 60 years ago.
I’m not saying return to the past. I’m saying that what we’re seeing is in part the fruit of depending on both the pull and hold of cultural and ethnic Catholicism as well as the fear of eternal damnation to keep people in the pews, without really thinking through the consequences. The call of the Second Vatican Council was for the laity to step it up and embrace their faith more intentionally and deeply as a positive response to the redeeming love of God through Christ, but given the cultural and social shifts in the world among other factors, there was bound to be a gap – and we’re living in it now, I’m firmly convinced.
*Why do people leave? There are dozens of reasons. Some are concrete: marriage issues are a big one. Another huge issue is simply that for many, there is no perceived need for Church. What does that have to do with me? I’m busy, I’m happy, I have enough questions about some Church teachings…I have no reason to connect.
But others are harder to pin down, but I think they all – whether you want to mention bad, contentless preaching, poor catechesis, the church-as-sacrament-dispenser-mentality – they all come down to this:
In the US, at least, the Church (we’re generalizing here) hasn’t made the case for Christ.
Hasn’t made the case for the necessity of Christ being the center of one’s life and the sure means of finding and staying connected to Christ being through His Church.
Part of what makes me cringe as I read studies like this is that I imagine the response of Church bureaucrats, ordained and lay – when they bother to respond. At that response always seems to involve “programs” that will “energize” and make everyone all “vibrant” and everything.
Which is not the answer.
What’s the answer?