Catholic Statistics

We left off last time mentioning the Mullin Report, but on second thought, maybe that's not the thing to dwell on. Most people don't have this report at their fingertips, and have not studied it, though it's not hard to access, being over at the WMC site and on the Springfield Diocese site, too.

A more important way to explore why annual reports are important is to consider the role of statistics.

Some of the top Catholic statistic sites are the following:
CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) at Georgetown U.
ARDA (The Association of Religious Data Archives)
Glenmary Research Center

Why are statistics important? Statistics are part of a larger truth. They're an important way of thinking about church, which is after all an organization of people united for a common purpose. Understanding statistics helps us plan for the future. Church-related planning, like all planning, is best when we know "where we are" or "were we were" in order to plan for "where we want to be". It should be obvious that statistics are not a part of the "faith and morals" of the church, nor do they need to be, in order to be valuable. And while they do not tell the whole story, they do at least point a way, or they may suggest that we narrow our options, so that our choices are more likely to lead to success.

With this in mind, let's look at a few of these statistics that are readily available. The most important thing to know about diocesan statistics is that they are self-reported. Thus, any figure you see, whether from Annuario Pontificio (the official Vatican source), or the P. J. Kennedy and Sons yearbooks, or Glenmary, or CARA, is based on the figures that the diocese provides. These are seemingly based on the number of active parishioners, plus baptisms, minus funerals, to use a simple-minded example.

It gets a little more complicated, with removals and converts and so on, and it is probably wise to include "confirmation" as a determinant, too, since the diocese counts adults as those 13 and over. They do not ordinarily include children below 13 in the figures. On the other hand, Glenmary always adjusts the figures upwards, using county population and birth rates as a guide, in order to show the total Catholic population. That is why Glenmary totals always skew upwards, though the proportions they report match well with other research organizations. This affects a lot more than just Glenmary, because it turns out that most other sites, for example, the ARDA site, also use Glenmary under the hood.

Another facet of this statistical work is that not all people who are polled say what they do, but rather, what they would like to do, or think that they should be doing.  This is why the percentage of people who actually attend mass on a weekly basis is almost certainly less than the percentage of people who say they do.  A good article about this reporting problem, which is not unique to Catholics by any means, is here.

Specific to the Catholic church,  adherent figures provided by the diocese, which are always based on parish records, are suspect right off the bat. For example, CARA has found in two different surveys that only 6 out of 10 Catholics are registered at a parish. It would seem that, in general, the Catholic numbers under report the total number of Catholics that are actually out there, and over report the attendance at weekly mass.

A brief look at the three sites mentioned above shows how very Catholic the U.S. is. Glenmary in their summary for 2000 say that there were 62 million of us. That is a 16% increase from 1990 to 2000. Catholicism in the Northeast was not really dying out for those 10 years - it was growing at a rate of 4% - a slower rate that that of the West, which was growing at about 40%.

The next largest group, Southern Baptists, came in at 20 million. Granted that the number of Protestants combined comes up to about 65 million, the dominance of Catholics as a group is unsurpassed. When you consider that Protestants are very culturally diverse and not likely to ever vote as a bloc, you can appreciate why so much is made of the political activity of the Catholic bishops. Even if they were not completely persuasive, and managed to convince only about a third of their voting-age constituents on a particular ballot question or candidate, that would still be far more people (or, votes) than any other denomination could muster, even if the other denomination had 100% participation.
more stats from Glenmary:

- Catholics have the largest number of adherents in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Catholics are one of the four largest groups in every state of the union as well as in the District of Columbia.

Of the 48 metro areas with 1 million or more people, Catholics are the largest single group in 37.

- Massachusetts may no longer rank in the top ten in population overall, but it is number seven for total of Catholic adherents. When you consider proportion of Catholics to state population, it ranks number two in the country (after Rhode Island). In 1990, Mass. was 49% Catholic, in 2000, it was 48% Catholic. The 48% figure does not hold true for the Springfield Diocese, however. Here in Western Mass. the proportion of Catholics is lower, but still higher than the U.S. average, which is about 22%.

One of the truly interesting statistics at Glenmary is the 9.1% rise in Catholics in the Springfield Diocese in the period 1990-2000. See Table 4, Dioceses Ranked by Percent Change in Adherents.

This is a head-scratcher after listening to so many announcements from the chancery on Elliot St. about how the number of Catholics has been plummeting locally. There were 67 dioceses in the U.S. with a poorer record than Springfield, and about 106 with a better record, for the ten year period. It will be interesting to see what transpires for the next report, due in 2010.

These are impressive numbers and show that Catholicism is far from declining as a social force, especially in this state. However, what I find most interesting is none of these, but rather the percentage of Catholics attending Sunday mass, what we might call the hardcore, or "base" of the most visible Catholics.

CARA has made a specialty of this statistic in recent years. It is somewhat sobering to see that the "good old days" when, supposedly, mass attendance was very high, turn out to be less well-attended than we had supposed. Just before Vatican II .40 was reported for attendance at Sunday mass. Statements like "everyone went to mass" or even "almost everyone went to mass" are simply not true, at least for the periods since 1970 or so.  The Gallup organization, however, reports much higher levels of Catholic church attendance reaching back into the 1950's.  Though some of these numbers seem inflated, there does seem to be some validity to the idea that mass attendance among Catholics was well over 50% in the 1950's, only to decline drastically in the 60's and early 70's.  This decline seems almost unrelated to Vat. II upheavals and the so-called sexual revolution of of the hippie-dippy 70's, two factors the holier-than-me types like to focus on. Bottom line, all agree that mass attendance has fallen off, overall.

When it comes to proportion of those attending mass today: "...Twenty-three percent of adult Catholics say they attend mass every week (once or more often). Given that those who attend less often have some probability of attending mass in any given week..CARA estimates that approximately 31.4 percent of Catholic adults attend Mass in any given week...."

This statistical result dovetails with the Mullin Report, which found that about .29 of Catholics, on average, attended mass in the Springfield Diocese for representative periods in 2005 and 2006. Berkshire County, on the other hand, represents a more puzzling question.

The figures in the Mullin Report for the three regions (No. Adams, Pittsfield and Lee), show attendance of 2,445, 6,491, and 2,760, respectively. The total of 11,696, measured against the countywide Catholic population of 69,757 as reported in ARDA, shows only .17 attending Sunday mass.

BUT, hold on, don't forget, ARDA uses Glenmary statistics. Therefore, the 69,757 include children, and it is said that the counters for the Mullin Report counted only adults. So, the figure of .17 is not accurate, it must be more. Perhaps it may be as many as the .23 attending weekly, or the .31 overall figures cited by CARA. It's sad that there is no way to confirm this, for the Mullin Report does not tell us whether it counted only adults, nor does it break out numbers of Berkshire County Catholics, as opposed to the whole diocese, nor does it even total the numbers up, I had to do that myself.

On the other hand, according to ARDA (and these are more reliable figures) Catholics in Berkshire County are everywhere (except, apparently, in church). For example, out of every 1,000 men, women and children in Berkshire County, 516 are Catholic. The next highest number are Jews (29 out of every 1,000), followed by several mainline Protestant denominations, who clock in at around 27 or 28 people for every 1,000.

next time: