Tuesday, March 3, 2009

US Roman Catholicism On The Decline

Picture this times four and you have Roman Catholic losses in the US for 2007

NCC's 2009 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches reports decline in Catholic, Southern Baptist membership

New York, February 23, 2009 -- The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a slight but startling decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian communions.

Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon.

The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook. Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000 members.

Both membership figures were compiled by the churches in 2007 and reported to the Yearbook in 2008. The 2009 Yearbook also includes an essay by the editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, on the various ways churches count their members.

Neither figure is earth-shattering given the size of the churches. Roman Catholics comprise the nation's largest church with a membership of 67,117,016, and Southern Baptists rank second in the nation at 16,266,920.

But this year's reported decline raises eyebrows because Catholic and Southern Baptist membership has grown dependably over the years. Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline. For the rest of the article click here.


I wonder how much the political climate has contributed to the decline in Catholic and Southern Baptist membership. Some analysts think the numbers likely reflect the 'participate but don't join' mentality of the gen x'ers and millennials. Maybe, but I'd be interested in knowing how much of the Catholic exodus is due to the boomers of the Vat II generation who are fed up with the Church's swing to the right.
It's not difficult to imagine that the numbers for 2008 will continue the same downward trend.

A drop of .59% doesn't appear to be all that threatening until you translate that into the number of 398,000 distinct individuals. That's a lot of donations not being dropped in the offertory plate. In my terms, that's half the population of the State of Montana taking a hike. It's four Rose Bowls worth of fans dropping their allegiance.

But if the analysts are right, and this mostly reflects people in their thirties and under, then John Paul's purposeful decision to ignore the boomers and evangelise the younger generations is patently failing, and this spells real trouble for the future of Catholicism. As the older generations die off, there won't be anyone taking their place. It may very well be that the church attending population reflects the demographics of the ageing priesthood. That is not a good sign for the long term viability of the Church.

Anyone who has worked with the gen x'ers and millennials knows that these generations do not do well with authoritarian structures and that they sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat, but they also commit when that commitment seems to have meaning and the reasons are honest and transparent. Smell deception or a rat, and you can forget their active participation.
Reflexive obedience is not one of their strong suits, which may explain why my local fast food joints seem to have a lot more older people working in them than in my youthful days.

It seems to me that Roman Catholicism is opting for a form of Church which is generations removed from the very people they need to attract to remain viable. These younger generations are marching to a different drummer, a different consciousness. Expecting them to conform to a Church which is more and more resembling the Church of their grand parents and great grand parents is folly. It may appeal to a small segment, but that segment can not sustain a global enterprise on the scale the current Church operates.

For thirty years I've sat back and watched the Vatican hierarchy attempt to stop the forward movement of the Church and return it to the Church of their youth. In this process it became evident that the Vatican had decided that the future of their Church did not lie in the Western generations which embraced Vat II. They not only wrote off those generations, they worked diligently to stop their voices from being heard. Why anyone ever thought that the children of those parents would ever embrace a regressive form of Catholicism boggles my mind.

The official excuse for this is that our children were poorly evangelized. The reality is they were evangelized into a different form of Church. The regression back to sin and Satan and hell and guilt and a God up there with his sin computer makes no sense. They weren't taught an adversarial relationship with God. They were taught that God is love. They were taught that faith is a progression in a relationship with God. It's not that they don't understand sin, it's that they understand sin differently and use different terms for it. Sin is an attitudinal thing, not so much an acting bad thing. Social justice sins trump sexual sins every time. Pretty much what Jesus actually taught and the Church isn't.

Does it surprise me that younger generations support gay marriage? Not at all. It is the prime example of the difference in their notion of sin. For them it's not a sexual sin issue, it's an equal rights and social justice issue. They don't buy into the hypocrisy of certain sexual acts being permissible in marriage between heterosexuals, but not for anyone else. Or that homosexual sex is somehow more reprehensible than marital adultery which really does effect the family. These generations have very good bull shit meters and they don't cut much slack. Good for them. It's a lesson the hierarchy itself could learn.

In the meantime Bishop Martino of Scranton Pa. has decided to take this generation head on at Misericordia College over this very issue. Bill Lyndsey has dissected Martino's decision in detail over on his blog. Of course this is just one of Martino's latest attempts to restore the pre Vatican II notion of Church. I can't help but wonder what the exodus statistics will be in Scranton. Since Martino doesn't have to cooperate with the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, I'll bet we'll never know-----except for parish closures and consolidations, and rumor has it that will start with Misericodia itself. How sad and how predictable and how futile.


  1. I have just been rereading Scott Peck's book,People of the Lie, and find it so on target with the leaders of the RC church these days.
    "Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees...the self-righteous who think they are without sin...."
    We may struggle with being faithful to ourselves but THEY never do.

  2. Colleen, thank you for this important article. I've been reading the reports in the media of the (purported) rise in numbers of priests and seminarians worldwide, and thinking something does not compute.

    These reports are coming on the heels of very bad news--the story about Maciel, the rejection of Wagner in Linz, the debacle over SSPX, the resignation of many German and Austrian Catholics from the church.

    It's hard not to wonder if the report of increasing numbers of priests and seminarians worldwide is cooked. At the very least, it's being promoted strategically to try to cover over the bad news.

    And the mainstream media laps up the garbage churned out by the Catholic right. Which is why this report--which you have found with your usual sleuthing skills--is important and timely.

  3. coolmom, if you havent already, you should read matt 23.

    Before the NCRcafe closed I posted a new drawing parallels between Matt 23 and the current magisterial authorities.

    It is uncanny how accurately what Jesus spoke 2000 years ago matches what we see today. It is almost as if Jesus were looking at the current magisterial authorities when he spoke those words.

    It was a day or two after my thread posted that the announcement was made that the cafe would close. I will always be curious if perhaps my post was part of the reason the cafe was closed.

  4. William, an astute observation. One thing we can always be sure of, whatever we hear from the vatican, the magisterial authority, and the faithful orthodox defenders of the faith; at best it will be twisted, at worst, an outright lie.

  5. Just a quick note to let you know i am still stopping in and reading the post and comments. . .Sometimes i think it best that i not speak my growls. . .but i think you guys are going through a courageous peel. . .

    Cool Mom. . .I think People of the Lie is a great read in understanding so much that parades in the light swallows so much with their shadows.

    Colleen so glad your back from your African trip and all is getting back to normal. . .Don't feel like you have to rush to pay back the 2,800 dollars to get your freed.. . .

    We all have deep pockets!. . .lol!

  6. Yea, so glad you are back from your trip you didn't tell us about Colleen. We are just rolling in da green stuff around here to bail anyone out for thousands of dollars. Just rolling around in it.

  7. Well, I did have one friend who was actually going to send money. I told him he still could, and he knew my real address.

    He most irrespectfully declined.
    I also wish my daughter would stop asking me how the weather is in Lagos.

  8. Colleen, I think the political climate has a lot to do with thousands and thousands of people exiting the Church. People are waking up. The Church promoted the very Party that was threatening our livelihoods and future while they threatened leaders with denial of Communion who had another approach to decreasing abortions.

    People are losing their jobs, their homes, watching as all the good that was in this country and stood for in this country has essentially been stolen by elitist with self-interest and the bottom line only being about their own selfish needs and wants, desires and dreams, while the average person and the person who struggles for a living is squeezed to death by these unmerciful and unloving forces.

    In the pulpit they said nothing nor did anything to change the political landscape of an unjust war or the policies that reflected the heart of greed for which this country's wealthiest infested its entire being, inevitably draining the economy of its very life-blood like a vampire on its latest victim.

    Instead they promoted the very people who were responsible for war and the pillage of our economy, our jobs, our savings, the party who was draining the middle class of hope for a future without wars, without torture, without hopelessness and despair for their children's future, for their ability to have even decent health care that would not bleed them of their entire life's savings and investments in the event of an illness in their family.

    My real feeling is that the numbers who have left the Church are much greater than they report.

    I have new music uploaded if you would like to hear it. Obama does too, only his is political and it is in tune with the needs of the times to correct the damage that has been done to our nation and to our world.

    A Church which directs its focus so narrowly and yet allows for the pillage and decimation of all other assets of human resources in every other front is not dealing with a full deck.