In a recent post I wrote that the Democrat and Chronicle “seems to have made up a number out of whole cloth in order to ‘prove’ what may be charitably termed an ‘exaggeration of the truth.'” The data in question was the number of Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester in 2010, with a D&C editorial citing a figure of “about 354,000.” That number was so far out of line with the 310,172 reported in the 2011 Official Catholic Directory (OCD) that it almost jumped off the page when I first read it.
Well, it now does appear that the D&C did have a source for its number, so the question becomes: How reliable is that source?
The D&C’s source seems to have been www.catholic-hierarchy.org and if you go to its page for the Diocese of Rochester you will find that 354,000 number listed for 2010. This site does not rely on the OCD for its data but uses the Annuario Pontificio (AP) instead. Suspecting a possible transcription problem I emailed site owner David Cheney but, after checking, he assured me that he had copied the data from the AP accurately. He also wrote that he was in the process of adding AP data for 2011 to his site and that DOR’s 2011 AP data was “in line” with its 2010 data. That 2011 DOR data was posted last night and can be found at the above link.
So now the question becomes: How reliable is the AP data?
Following is a screen shot of a spreadsheet I developed to compare the AP data with both the OCD and U.S. Census data (click on the image to make it more readable or download the spreadsheet from here):
A close look at this data reveals several problems. For instance, the AP is reporting that tens of thousands more people (the average is 51,833) were living in the diocese during 2010 and 2011 than the U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) could account for. It also reports that the total population of the 12 counties comprising DOR grew by some 13,000 people in that one year, while the USCB estimates that growth at a mere 759. Unless one believes that the USCB could be that far off, these discrepancies alone should raise a big enough red flag to call the entire AP data set into question.
But there’s more. The AP is reporting that the number of Catholics in DOR grew by 3,000 from 2010 to 2011. The 2012 OCD, however, using data provided by DOR, says that the diocese welcomed 3,217 new Catholics into the Church through baptism in 2011 along with another 239 already baptized candidates at Easter of that year (and most likely a handful more throughout the year) for a total growth of some 3,456 souls. However, we also buried 3,819 of our brothers and sisters during the year, leaving us with a net loss of some 363 Catholics. If the OCD is remotely accurate with its figures (and, again, they are supplied to it by DOR), then approximately 3,400 more Catholics would have had to have moved into DOR than moved out for the AP numbers to reflect reality, a remarkable demographic shift that surely would have been noted by someone, somewhere. (It wasn’t.) Furthermore, since 2000 the largest year-over-year increase in the number of DOR Catholics reported by the OCD (again, based on data supplied by DOR) was 1,500 (from 2001 to 2002; see spreadsheet here). Had the diocese suddenly doubled that number one would think they would have mentioned it. (They didn’t.)
And there’s still more. The AP data indicates that DOR closed 18 parishes in 2011. Really? Which ones? How did the D&C miss that story? How did Cleansing Fire miss that story?
I could go on (the AP data regarding both the number of priests and the number of deacons also raises questions) but I think the picture is clear enough. There are so many issues with the AP data that no one in his right mind should use it as a source for a newspaper article – or anything else – until those issues are resolved.
And so the question finally becomes: Did the AP somehow make an incoherent mess of the data it received or did someone send it incorrect information? And, if the answer is the latter, then who? And why?
Those are questions for someone else to answer.
Tags: Catholic Stats