Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Thirty years with Bishop Clark

June 15th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

Deacon Ray Defendorf recently lauded Bishop Matthew Clark as an “outstanding and very pastoral” leader who had made DOR “a refreshing oasis where lay participation at all levels of church administration and pastoral planning are valued and encouraged.”  The deacon went on to add that “we are praying that the deeply spiritual pastoral leadership and commitment to the values of Vatican II that we have enjoyed for over thirty years will not be retired with him.”

Given that extreme praise one would expect the Diocese of Rochester to have been a flourishing bastion of Catholicism under Bishop Clark’s thirty years’ of leadership.  The record, however, tells a different story.


There are an awful lot of negative numbers in this spreadsheet but some of them stand out as disserving of more concern than others.

For instance, the precipitous decline in the number of Catholics married in the Church (62%) taken with the decline in infant baptisms (48%) and the decline in the number of children receiving any kind of instruction in the faith (58%) speak loudly and clearly of a diocese where the faith is dying.

One would think that our bishop would have been doing everything in his power to counter these trends.

Bishop Clark, however, seems to have had other priorities, as Deacon Ray has told us.

June 19, 2010 Update: A question arose in the comments below as to whether the general population decline in the Northeast U.S. could have skewed DOR’s 30-year statistics in an unfavorable direction.

The short answer is no.

The long answer is that DOR’s total population has been remarkably stable over the last 30 years.  Online U.S. Census Bureau data shows DOR’s 2009 overall population to have been 1,461,748 and, while I have yet to find the 1979 figure, reports a 1976 figure of 1,439,600 and a 1980 figure of 1,467,300.  Interpolating between these two values gives a 1979 population of 1,460,375.

Thus, DOR’s overall population has grown by 1,373 (0.09%) in the last 30 years, a number far too small to have had any effect on the results shown above.



17 Responses to “Thirty years with Bishop Clark”

  1. Dr. K says:

    Those are frightening numbers across the board.

    Here are some numbers from the 2004 directory for the sake of recent comparison:

      Active priests: 119
      Total diocesan priests: 214
      Parishes: 151
      w/Resident pastor (diocesan or religious): 100
      High school students: 124
      Private high school students: 3,475
      Elementary students: 9,962 (huge drop)
      Private elementary students: 370
      Baptisms (infants): 5,989 (huge drop in 5 years)
      Baptisms (minor/adult): 287
      Catholic marriages: 1,163
      Mixed marriages: 449
      Total marriages: 1,612
      Deaths: 4,124
      Catholic population: 341,500 (significant drop in 5 years)
  2. BigE says:

    Your conclusions are based on insufficient data as I’m willing to bet those numbers are down for most (if not all) dioceses around the country. Bishop Clark certainly has had no control over the Priest abuse issue, which has turned so many Catholics away from their faith.

    So if you want to be honest with your data, do some kind of comparative analysis.

    Otherwise, you know what they say about statistics…. 🙂

  3. Mike says:


    You are wrong, and on two counts.

    First, my concern that the faith is dying in DOR only needs to be based on numbers for DOR alone. They speak for themselves. I made no claim about whether it is dying faster (or slower) here than it is elsewhere, so what has been happening in other dioceses is irrelevant.

    Second, an analysis of DOR Mass attendance numbers from 2000 onward shows that the priest abuse scandal has had little to no effect on that aspect of Catholic practice in this diocese. If the scandal hasn’t stopped Catholics from coming to Mass here, there is no reason to expect that it has had any effect on other aspects of their sacramental life. And, once again, what has or hasn’t been happening in the other dioceses is irrelevant to what has been going on in DOR.

    Still, a 30-year comparative analysis of DOR with the rest of the country as a whole would be an interesting exercise. I’ve just checked my copy of the 1979 OCD and the baseline data I would need is there, although in something of a piecemeal fashion that will require some work to pull it together. The 2009 data is no problem. I think you can expect to see something in a few days.

  4. Monk says:

    Great analysis! The numbers speak for themselves. Along with Dr. K’s attendance figures for parishes run by lay women, we have a pretty compelling picture of the state of the DoR. You should send your analysis to Bishop Dolan so he has a better understanding of the DoR prior to his visit!

  5. BigE says:

    1) It appeared to me as if you were laying the dying of the faith at Bishop Clark’s feet. If that is not the case, I apologize.

    2) I haven’t seen that analysis so I can’t comment. But I’d be interested in seeing it, as my supposition was only intuitive and not based on any data.

    3) Be careful, as the Northeast in general, and NY specifically, has seen a big population exodus over the last 30 years. Need to normalize for that. Dang taxes!

  6. Bill B. says:

    I would bet that when the mass attendance numbers were passed into HQ on Buffalo Road over the years, they were a bit padded as well to keep parishes looking ‘good.’ Do ushers count correctly, or just take ‘thumb’ numbers.
    I am the papa of four strapping lads. Between 96 and 2000, all four went to the four corners of the country to find work. They got married and had families of their own. That dropped the numbers (just for my family) by four, then the families of the beautiful daughters-in-law by four which equals eight gone for good, just from “one” family. Most are in the south now where Catholic Churches they are bulging at the seams for more room due to the influx of our northern (and western and mid-western) children. I have been in a new church seating 700, built in ’98 now facing expansion with a new church because the joint won’t take any more! Gads, that’s a great Mass to attend; young people galore. They are also bemoaning the numbers of priests. They have retired priests; however, they have the right to their retirements. That is just like me in a way. I drove a bus, retired and now the vehicle I drive is tiny compared to the bus. It is my belief that when the new bishop arrives, the closing of churches will accelerate. The smaller parishes are surving with still working middle agers who will not contribute at the same rate as now. It will force a rethking again (Who will be the pastor of the parish on the east side of the river?) Take the whole situation into view and not just blame the existing Bishop. We could have had an orthodox Bishop from the beginning and an honest to goodness church closer to boot! SORRY; what got me was the “…you are wrong” quote. These are opinions of everyone and as such may not take in all the required stats or operations. I’ll go park the bus now and nap…

  7. Bill B. says:

    Just to be supportive, let’s be happy we have a few dudes wanting to be priests. Remember that before these newbies really “know how to be priests,” we may be attended to by worms and decay. Good luck to them and those they influence to become priests as well.

  8. Mike says:


    1) I am laying the demise of the faith in DOR at Bishop Clark’s feet. It’s his diocese. He’s responsible for what happens here. What I wasn’t saying was whether he was any better or worse than other bishops in that respect. More data is required for that assessment.

    2) See here, about 1/3 of the way down (the paragraph starting with “Second, at the beginning of his remarks Fr. Spilly writes …”)

    3) I’m aware of the overall population decline in the Northeast, but I think you would be surprised at just how stable the population has been in the 12 counties that comprise DOR. See, for example, here and here. And, while I cannot lay my hands on it right away, I have seen US Census data dating back to 1990 showing an overall DOR population loss of under 3%.

  9. Christopher says:

    While perhaps our management is partially to blame for this, most of which we have little to no control over. The one thing we do have some control over is the # of baptisms. Remember, we are not in management but we are in sales, and the sales # is reflected in the # of baptisms. We might keep a humble attitude and reflect on how well we did these past 20 years on a personal level at making disciples (not just followers but also future salesmen/saleswomen) of others as I’m sure our management will as well.

    Did anyone see the Catholic Answers report they sent out in hard copy on their mailing list. It had metrics from the annuaro (spelled wrong?) saying that the # of Catholics (as well as priests/bishops) is up worldwide. However, I do believe it said the number of sisterly vocations was down.

  10. Mike says:

    Bill B.,

    Undoubtedly some ushers are better at counting attendance than others. I think that’s one of the reasons the diocese uses the average of 4 consecutive weekends, just to smooth out the errors. I even heard of one pastor who didn’t trust his ushers and so kept track of how many communion hosts he used those 4 weekends, since just about everyone present was receiving.

    As for folks having to leave the area to find work, which I think was your second point, I cannot argue with you. But don’t ignore the new folks who have moved in. Overall, the 12 counties that make up DOR have lost surprisingly little population in the last 20 years. See my 3rd reply to BigE, above.

  11. Jane says:

    We have lost people, but we also have seen an incease in Hispanic/Latino persons coming into the diocese. Many of these people are Catholic.

  12. Nerina says:

    BigE – help me out, what do they say about statistics?

    Great post, Mike. Thanks for crunching the numbers.

    I find it incredibly sad that fewer and fewer people are procuring baptism for their children. Honestly, I was raised in a completely areligious house, but the one thing my mother did do was have me baptized (because that’s what Catholics did back then – whether they practiced or not). I am thankful to her because of the abundant grace received from that Sacrament. I don’t know where I would be today.

    I think it’s easy to attribute the decreasing numbers to populations shifts (the diocese employs this explanation frequently), but Mike’s demographic numbers disprove this claim. I think it is more a case of people leaving the Catholic church for other non-Catholic churches or not attending church at all. I can count off several families in my neighborhood where that is the case. And that we partially attribute to…poor catechesis, poor preaching and poor leadership in our diocese.

    Bill B – I’m sorry all your boys have left the area. I have five children and I’m already planting seeds about staying close to home. Of course, the economic environment does make it difficult. Sigh. My husband and I did move back though, once we started having children. Maybe the same will happen with your boys.

  13. LarryD says:

    Nerina – BigE might be referring to the phrase: “Liars figure, and figures lie.”

  14. Nerina says:

    Thanks, LarryD.

  15. gretchen says:

    Here’s an article from the Democrat & Chronicle talking about population growth in Monroe County in the last year.

    (Note that it says that the area’s population has been largely stable over the last several years.)

  16. Mike says:

    Thanks, Gretchen.

    I’m still trying to find the DOR county populations for either 1979 or 1980, but so far I’ve ascertained that DOR’s population in 1990 was 1,458,749 and it was 1,461,748 in 2009. IOW, we grew by 2,999 (0.21%) in 19 years.

    I think I would call that stable.

  17. BigE says:

    I don’t disagree. OK…so population decline is certainly not an explanation.

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