There are 69,470,686 registered Catholics in the United States (22% of the US population) as of 2015, according to the American bishops’ count in their Official Catholic Directory 2014. A Pew Forum report counted only 50.9 million adult Catholics as of 2014, forming about 20.8% of the U.S. population. This is down from 54.3 million and 23.9% in 2007 (Note, this survey did not include children under 18). How does one account for the discrepancies between the Pew survey and the bishops’ tally? Certainly the bishops counted children under 18 in their statistics, which comes from a census done in most parishes every October, the so-called October count. I have never known a priest to under count the house.
When considering the closing of churches, most of us assume that to lose population in a parish is to be at risk. The survey also found that the Catholic population is aging. There is a higher percentage of the elderly than the young. In addition, young people who are raised Catholic are much more prone to leave the Church than are the elderly, Hispanics are particularly prone to leaving the Church when they migrate to this country, abandoning it not for atheism, but for Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity. In 2007, 58% of Hispanics in the United States identified as Catholic.
In 2015, less than half of Hispanics (48%) in the US identify as Catholic. These numbers are pretty grim. My own take is far grimmer than that of the Pew survey. People who self-identify as Catholics divorce and re-marry at the same rate as non-Catholics. They abort the child in the womb at the same rate as non-Catholics. They practice artificial birth control at the same rate as non-Catholics. They live in concubinage (that’s a ten-dollar word for shacking up together) at the same rate as non-Catholics. And a lot of them go to Mass and Holy Communion at the same rate as non-Catholics, which is not at all. About 1/4 of Catholics go to Mass on a regular basis, and as far as I am concerned if you don’t go to Mass you are not a Catholic. You may have a heartbeat and a baptismal certificate but you are not a Catholic. I admit that my refusing to acknowledge the Catholicism of people who don’t participate in the faith flies in the face of the “once Catholic, always Catholic” standard so cherished by Catholic statisticians, but I would maintain that this very attitude is part of the problem. We refuse to let them go, and when people say “I know some pretty bad Catholics”, we just shrug our shoulders. It’s like counting a dead carp floating down the river as a fish. It has ceased to be fish. It has become a stench. Here’s a real stinker:
There is an organization called “Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good” which claims to be a non-partisan, Roman Catholic, non-profit 501(c) (3) organization in the United States. Its aim is to promote, “the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square”. The organization was founded in 2005 by Tom Perriello, but just recently uncovered e-mails linked to a politician named John Podesta to the organization as one of its founders. Podesta, in a private email claimed to have founded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in order to organize Catholic opposition to Church teaching, particularly about gender issues and abortion. Apparently these faithful Catholics think that the Church oppresses women. One of these liberators of women from the shackles of Catholic medievalism is one Eric McFadden. Allow me to quote the Catholic news agency:
Dublin, Ohio, Jan 14, 2009 / 09:22 pm (CNA). -The former director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for the governor of Ohio was arrested Wednesday for his involvement in an online prostitution ring. Eric McFadden, who has also formerly served as the president of the organization Catholics for Faithful Citizenship and spokesperson for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, will face seven prostitution-related charges tomorrow in court. Eric McFadden, 46, the former head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, was arrested this morning and faces two counts of promoting prostitution, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a nude minor and one count of compelling prostitution,
I would simply venture that Mr. McFadden may not be the one to reform the way the Catholic Church treats women. I would also venture that perhaps he is not really a Catholic, except that he perhaps had some Catholic ancestors who are currently rolling in their graves. Let me retool the statistics with my own narrow-minded and judgmental methodology. If Pew is right and there are 50 million Catholics in the country, and if I am right that only the 1/4 of Catholics merit the name by actually participating in church, then there are only 12 or 13 million Catholics in the country. That’s 4% of the country. That means there is no Catholic vote.
I am trying to point out by means of all these statistics and stories is not that we are about to undergo sweeping changes. The sweeping changes have already happened. We just haven’t acknowledged them. We continue to believe that we are an important element in society. To the vast bulk of the American population we are at best an irrelevance. More often than not we are a frightening throwback to the days of the rack and the thumb screw.
Just this past Sunday, dressed in Roman collar and black suit I was on my way to some reception or other in a shopping mall restaurant and people just gaped as if Darth Vader was walking by, save for one fellow who looked at me and grimaced as if he had just eaten something past its expiration date. So what to do? Sell the real estate? (which I suspect is quietly happening everywhere in the country.)
I am so tired of thinking that if we demanded less, they would all just come home. I was told 50 years ago that those who left would all come home when they settled down. Now we are waiting for their grandchildren to come back to the faith. It just ain’t gonna happen. Demanding less and less hasn’t worked. Perhaps we should try demanding more, like demanding that the person who claims to be Catholic actually be Catholic by striving to follow the demands of the Gospel even if, as in my case, imperfectly.
Next week: smaller may be better.