Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

A different slice of the pie

December 16th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

I recently called your attention to an article by CARA’s Mark Gray on the interpretation of statistics related to the U.S. Catholic population and Mass attendance. It began with this intriguing line,

Are you Catholic and in need of something to be thankful for this year? The Catholic Church in America is growing and may be primed to grow significantly in the next few decades.

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has also read that article and has come up with his own take on the numbers.  For instance,

In the early 1950s there were about 35 million Catholics in the US. Today there are are over 75 million. This number however does not distinguish between practicing and non practicing Catholics. It is estimated that just over 80% of Catholics attended Mass each Sunday in the 1950s. Today it is estimated that about 25% of Catholics go each Sunday. That means that in the early 1950s about 28 million Catholics were in Church each Sunday. Today that number, even with a growing Catholic population, has dropped to 19.2 million. In other words, almost 9 million fewer Catholics are in Church now as compared to the 1950s.

Msgr. Pope’s conclusions are worth pondering – and praying over.

In the end, I find looking at the CARA analysis helpful in distinguishing the true problem. The overall number of Catholics is, in fact rising. However the critical factor seems to be that Mass attendance has dropped dramatically since the 1950s, from over 80% to around 20-25% now. This indicates a very critical condition indeed. Tell me any organization in which 80% of its members were inactive that you would call healthy. Our condition is critical. It is helpful to know that we seem to have stabilized at this number. That is, we haven’t gone lower in over ten years. However I am concerned that the 25% number is soft and wonder if it will be stable for long. Rampant secularism, the moral malaise of many, a hostile culture etc. all stand to likely erode that number even further…

In the end, the greatest tragedy is not the numbers per se but the fact that almost 80% of our Catholic brothers and sisters are away from the sacraments, away from the medicine they need, and not having the gospel preached to them. These 80% live in a poisonous culture wherein their mind will increasingly darken without the help of the Sacraments and the Word of God. This is tragic and if we have any real love for them we will not rest until they are restored to God’s house. God asked Cain one day, “Where’s your brother?” And God still asks this of us. We may protest that we have murdered no one. And yet, many of them will die spiritually if we remain indifferent. “Where is your brother?…Where?”

Msgr. Pope’s full article is here.

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3 Responses to “A different slice of the pie”

  1. I’m just wondering how they gather these statistics. Do they poll every household or do they poll a random or sample population? Do they only count registered parishioners or those who contribute financially to the church on a regular basis? I have always wondered where they come up with these numbers. No one has ever contacted me as to whether I go to church or not.

  2. Mike says:


    I believe this document from CARA addresses your questions.

    Basically, CARA does random sampling polling. In the case of telephone polls they simply keep calling until they talk to the 800 or 1,000 (or whatever their target number might be) adult Catholics they need for a particular poll.

    CARA (or Gallup, for that matter) has never called me either, but that’s not all that surprising. 75 million U.S. Catholics probably means something like 30 million Catholic households. If CARA needs 1,000 adult Catholics for a poll, my chances of being called are something like 1 in 30,000 – not very good at all.

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