Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

DOR loses 1/3 of its Mass goers in 10 years

February 28th, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

71,901 souls were attending Mass in parish churches in the Diocese of Rochester last year, down from 75,376 in 2009 and 108,000 in 2000. This represents a one-year drop in parish Mass attendance of some 4.6% and a 33.4% drop in a mere decade.  Put another way, we have been losing  an average of 4.0% of our parish Mass attendees each year for the last 10 years.

DOR’s Average October Attendance numbers since 2000 look like this …

Plotted on a graph the numbers show a steady decline that gives no indication of slowing down (the uptick in 2001 is almost certainly due to the widely reported national surge in church attendance in the weeks immediately following the tragic events of 9/11/2001) …

Nationwide, Mass attendance is about 35%. In the Diocese of Rochester, noted for its widespread liturgical abuse and dissent from Church teaching, Mass attendance is now running at 23%.  Contrast this with the 62% Mass attendance rate in the Diocese of Lincoln, known for its fidelity to Rome.

“By their fruits you will know them.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 7:20



11 Responses to “DOR loses 1/3 of its Mass goers in 10 years”

  1. A Catholic says:

    I wonder how the diocese would try to explain this away. This decline in Mass attendance is much steeper than any decline in the population of this area over that same time period so “Northeast population decline” cannot be used as an excuse. These attendance figures underline the reality that when an excessive amount of parishes are closed, some Catholics just stop attending Mass altogether rather than make the effort to find another church. It’s too bad that $$$ seems to be the priority for the DOR. Maybe it’s time employees of the diocese be asked to make their share of sacrifices in terms of benefit reductions. The early Catholics of this area from the 19th and 20th centuries must be rolling in their graves to see how the legacy of Faith they left us is being squandered. All the sacrifices they made to form parishes, build churches and schools- all wasting away in the space of a few decades.

  2. Dr. K says:

    Where is the evidence that they care?

  3. Thinkling says:

    Is there longer data than just this past year? Is there diocesian data back to the pre-Clark era? I know there would be a lot of other extenuating factors influencing Mass attendance, but would be worth a look regardless.

  4. Mike says:


    I know for certain there is some parish Mass attendance data going back to 1998 and it’s always possible there could be some older data out there somewhere.

    DOR, however, did not require every parish to count its Mass attendees in the same, consistent manner (i.e., the average weekend attendance during the month of October) until the onset of the Pastoral Planning for the New Millennium program in the late ’90s. It took a bit of time for every parish to get on board, so the first reliable diocesan-wide numbers were not available until 2000.

    Mass attendance data is, IMHO, one way of gauging the overall effectiveness of diocesan catechetical efforts. It is, after all, a precept of the Church that we attend Mass every weekend (and Holy Day of Obligation), unless we have a good reason (e.g., illness) for staying away. Not fulfilling that obligation when we are able to do so can be the occasion of serious sin.

    Good homiletic practice would seem to require that these realities – and many other “hard sayings” as well – be presented to the people in the pew every now and then. Yes, some of those pew sitters would become angry, resentful, etc., no matter how well the homily were crafted, as some people just do not react well to being told what to do, even when it’s for their own good. However, it is not the pastor’s primary job to be Fr. Nice Guy and never ruffle any feathers; rather, his primary job is to assist in the salus animarum, the salvation of souls, and one cannot really help people save their souls if one never tells them what God and his Church require of them.

    From what I hear around DOR, the “Sunday Obligation” is rarely, if ever, mentioned from the pulpit in most parishes and we have just 23% of our people attending Mass on any given weekend. While I do not know this for a fact, I would be willing to bet that this topic comes up a lot more frequently in the Diocese of Lincoln, where Mass attendance is 62%.

  5. Christopher says:

    Keep in mind we are all in sales as well to get Catholics and non Catholics back in the pews. We are all responsible to go and “spread the gospel” ( I think that’s one of the new endings in the new mass replacing “go in peace to love and serve…”). It would be nice to see some new faces at some of the churches beyond those who have been displaced by closings.

    Question about Matthew 7:15. I may stand corrected, but I thought it had to do with discerning a prophet such as a David Koresh, Muhammad or Joseph smith (someone who said God was giving them revelation directly). Does a dissident catholic or undercover Protestant (take your pick) really fall into that category as well? Thanks.

    That brings up another interesting point. At what point are you really an undercover Protestant vs a dissident catholic vs a skeptic? If you goto catholic mass but don’t believe in the real presence, that the entire
    Bible is divinely inspired, or most catholic disciplines/doctrines, what are you?

  6. Christopher says:

    One last note. This is a good article Mike. I like articles which are fact based with the data inside.

    Didn’t our Pope somewhere mention that our church may begin a process of becoming smaller yet more purified so to speak? While these numbers may be discouraging we may need to trim the fat a bit? Perhaps not i dont know.

    I also heard a stat that said by 2020 the catholic church would be 90% Latino. It was probably just wild speculation thou. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a Latino or African Pope thou.

  7. Mike says:

    Christopher wrote,

    Question about Matthew 7:15. I may stand corrected, but I thought it had to do with discerning a prophet such as a David Koresh, Muhammad or Joseph smith (someone who said God was giving them revelation directly). Does a dissident catholic or undercover Protestant (take your pick) really fall into that category as well? Thanks.

    Good question!

    In using this quote (and thereby alluding to the rest of the pericope) I was relying on what I had read in written commentaries and heard mentioned in audio commentaries.

    One example from a written commentary comes from A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Vol. II, New Testament, originally published in the early 1950s and recently (2009) republished by Steve DiCarlo and Daniel Egan. The section on Matthew 7:15-20 reads as follows …

    15-20. Beware of false guides! cf. Luke 6:43-44. Again there is no close connection with what precedes, but the passage has been drawn into this place by the idea of finding the right way, 14. Our Lord here deals not with the personal morals of those who falsely claim to bear a message from God (false ‘prophets’), but with the damaging effects of their teaching. Doubtless he has the Pharisees in mind, but he is providing for the more distant future, too. These false teachers will bear the appearance of belonging to the flock of Christ, hence the danger. Heresies live on their modicum of truth. But underneath that skin, error devours the duped victim. Yet how recognize the false teacher? A little patience and the effect of their work (‘fruit’ by an abrupt change of metaphor) will betray them. That grapes and figs do not appear on thorns and thistles is a commonplace of experience. And so indeed it is with any tree (DV ‘even so, every’). It does not, 17, nay cannot, 18, produce fruit alien to its nature. The rotten tree (sapros, decayed, or corrupt in the moral sense cf Eph 4:22) will bring forth ‘evil’ (poneiros, wicked) fruit. The adjectives, which are susceptible of a moral interpretation, have been chosen with a view to the application of the comparison. 19. Parenthetically Mt prophesies the punishment of these false teachers (or possibly the certain elimination of their teaching) in the words of the Baptist, 3:10; cf Luke 3:9. 20. The passage closes as it began (cf 16a), summing-up what has been said (‘inclusion’).

    I read this commentary as saying that any person who claims to be a prophet (i.e., claims to be speaking for God or teaching in his name) and yet produces obviously bad results (‘bad fruit’) is not to be trusted.

    In our present case ‘good fruit’ would be high Mass attendance, for all the reasons I mentioned in my comment, above, and ‘bad fruit’ would be the low Mass attendance we currently have.

    Yes, I realize that the text would seem to be alluding to the active dissemination of heresy as opposed to a willful failure to teach “all that I have commanded you.” But is there really a difference between sins (objectively speaking, of course) of omission and commission in this case? Both can, and do, produce bad fruit.

    Finally, I agree we are all responsible to “go and spread the gospel” and I am not trying to minimize the force of that teaching. But only a few of us (the ordained) have the opportunity – to say nothing of the responsibility – to spread the gospel from the pulpit each weekend when there is, in this diocese at least, a woefully under-catechized congregation sitting right there in front of them.

  8. Mike says:


    Replying to your second comment, this excerpt from Raymond Arroyo’s 2003 interview with the-Cardinal Ratzinger might be of interest …

    Raymond: … Talk for a moment about the New Springtime. The Pope has talked a great deal about the New Springtime and you, yourself have laid out your own ideas. Your vision is a little different from some. Some see the numbers growing and everybody believing and dancing hand-in-hand (the Cardinal chuckles) into the millennium. You see a different picture. Tell us what that picture involves. How do you see this Springtime evolving?

    Cardinal: As I do not exclude even this dancing hand-in-hand, but this is only one moment. And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities. So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles. And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction. So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

    Raymond: But, smaller numbers? In the macro?

    Cardinal: Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church. Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at this time; but it was clear, this is the future. So we can live in the future, just give us a way in a different future. And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, “Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow.”

    Raymond: Um hum. Do you see the various movements in the Church as part of that ongoing conversion? And is there a danger there, that we get into this competitive Factionalism, if you will, in the Church that we all have to be a part of it if we are going to be a serious Catholic?

    Cardinal: Yes, on the on hand, I am really a friend of movements – Communione e Liberazione, Focolare, and the Charismatic Renewal. I think this is a sign of the Springtime and of the presence of the Holy Spirit, today will give new charisms and so on. This is for me really a great hope that not with organization from authorities, but really it is the force of the Holy Spirit present in the people. We have movements and new beginnings of the faith, new forms of the faith. On the other hand, I think it is important that these movements are not closed in themselves and absolutized; but have to understand that even if I’m convinced this is the way, I have to accept we are one way and not the way, and we have to be open for the others, in communion with the others. And essentially we have to be really present and even obedient to the common Church in presence with the bishops and the Pope. Only with this openness to not be absolutized with its ideas and to be in service of the common Church, of the Universal Church, can be really a way for tomorrow.

    And in Salt of the Earth the Cardinal is quoted as saying …

    Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring good into the world–that let God in. I see that there is once more a great deal of activity of this kind … There are certainly no mass conversions to Christianity, no reversal of the historical paradigm, no about-face. But there are powerful ways in which faith is present, inspiring people again and giving them dynamism and joy. In other words, there is a presence of faith that means something for the world.

    Some people have interpreted these remarks as the Cardinal wanting to throw all the dissidents out in order to have a smaller, purer Church, but I just don’t see how one can get that meaning from the text.

    With regard to Latino Catholics, a 2007 Pew report states that Hispanics then comprised about 33% of American Catholics, with that number projected to grow to 40 or 41% by 2030. I’m not aware of any worldwide projections, but a significantly higher number would not surprise me.

  9. Christopher says:

    Wow Mike, thanks for the content. Do you have a link to that bible commentary? I want to bookmark it since I only know of the Haydock commentary being online but I’d love to have another one to pull up on my phone.

    It is an interesting debate, small church full of “practicing” (not necessarily good or bad but practicing) Catholics vs large church full of “non-practicing” or dissident Catholics?

    I’ve heard the quote before attributed to Padre Pio saying “I’d rather have an empty church than a church full of demons” (though I can’t find this quote online) and yet some might argue that the church is a hospital for sinners and just getting them there is the first step.

    Curious to hear your thoughts?

  10. Christopher says:

    Also, we need to be careful not to assume this is the only stat that is important, otherwise the non-denominational watered down Gospel mega church (like The Father’s House) is producing better fruit than than an orthodox church like OLV or a more liberal one like Our Lady of Lourdes which is simply not the case (since both have valid Eucharistic celebrations whereas TFH doesn’t). Though I’m not saying your implying this though by your article, I’m only saying it merely for anyone who may interpret that as such.

  11. Mike says:


    I don’t believe the commentary is online anywhere, at least where the general public can get to it (being a 1950s publication, it is still under copyright). It’s always possible some libraries might have some kind of access for their patrons, though.

    The reprint is for sale here. (There is still one reprint volume to be published: the indexes, maps, etc.)

    I agree that Mass attendance is probably not the most important stat. It just seems to be one of the easiest to get one’s hands on.

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