Recent Survey on U.S. Religious Behavior

I have been reading with interest some of the results of the recent “Religious Landscape Survey” conducted by the Pew Forum. Some of the reported statistics concerning Catholicism are especially disturbing. For example, approximately 1 in 10 Americans is a fallen-away Catholic; approximately one third of children who are raised Catholic eventually leave the Church. In selecting a church, Americans are more interested in programs that fit their individual lifestyles than in beliefs and doctrines. In other words, what is actually true appears to be of little interest. This is truly a consumerist (think Frank Sinatra and Burger King) approach to religion.

An interesting article related to the survey can be found here. The results of the survey itself can be found here.

I have taught Confirmation classes three times at my parish over the last several years and have found that the children do not appear to be living the faith in their homes. It is not surprising that these young people would then not want to be bothered with something that their families deem irrelevant.

I would love to hear if anyone has any practical suggestions for reversing this trend.

7 responses

  1. We baptize 1M new members a year and take another 150,00-200,000 into the Church annually here in the US.

    What I would be curious to know about, is if this study differentiated between folks who self-identified as “raised Catholic but non-attending or seldome attending”…

    That is to say, among ex-Catholics, how many went to Mass weekly + holy days and made good confessions at least once a year, per church law, in their childhood.

    I have some distant cousins who got baptized as infants, and that is pretty much where it ended… They take communion at weddings and funerals and self-identify as “Catholic”… And this isn’t judging them, but honestly, if they were to join a Protestant community could they accurately be said to have “left the Catholic Church”? Of course they are members by virtue of their baptism…

    How many of the ex-Catholics pretty much fit into that boat? Some here are reading into these studies that faithful church-attending, confessing Catholics are leaving left and right. I suspect the vast majority of those who leave (and their are exceptions of course) were nominally affiliated at best.

    So long as their are a VAST number of Catholics who if polled on the street cannot name the seven sacraments, there will be vast losses.

  2. You raise a good point. I do believe these nominal Catholics are included in the results.

    It is certainly hard to imagine anyone who was a truly believing and practicing Catholic ever leaving the Church (“to whom shall we go?”).

    I think the survey does point out that the faith is not being passed along. Surely many of the parents whose children have left the faith could not give what they did not have – and that, itself, is a poverty indeed.

  3. CUF’s spiritual advisor, Fr. Ray Ryland, preached recently on the necessity of evangelization. He quoted Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: “A member [of the Church] who does not work at the growth of the body [of Christ] to the extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and to himself”. But (I think so we wouldn’t lose heart), Father also reminded us that every Catholic who knows anything about our Catholic faith can evangelize.

    Not to be a simpleton, but it seems to me that the most practical way to reverse this trend is for faithful Catholics to live the faith purposefully, with verve and conviction…and that includes looking for and capitalizing on opportunities to share the faith. Which will sometimes necessitate sticking our neck out and risking (whether metaphorically or literally) getting our head chopped off.

  4. I think rereading two of Leon’s blogs – “Growing up with Vatican II”, posted on 11/28/07 and “New Statement Responds to Campaign Events at Catholic Colleges”, posted on 2/26/08, are good primers before delving deeper into the question.

    Sadly, the overwhelming majority of our Diocesan grade schools and high schools haven’t taught the Faith since the Sixties and most “Catholic” colleges and universities are now business concerns whose market niche happens to be “this Catholic thing”.

    What can be done about it? Prayer is a good start. From there it gets more difficult. But whatever the solutions are, I think the bishops are the key. Once more of them start figuring out that there’s a problem, and that they can actually do something about it, things will get better.

  5. Last night I was at an event that I think touches on two important aspects of this complex issue.

    The event was a presentation at my daughter’s high school for parents on protecting our children from pornography.

    My daughter’s high school (and a second one will join her as a freshman next year) is St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kansas. I have never found a Catholic high school more committed to being 100% Catholic in every way. It’s a relatively new school, and certainly not perfect, but the vibrancy of the place is quite edifying. Archbishops Keleher and Naumann deserve a lot of credit for the total support they’ve given. And not to be outdone, Bishop Finn on the other side of the state line is committed to building his own versions of “St. James Academy” in the coming years. Please God more and more authentically and joyfully Catholic schools are being built or rebuilt while I type.

    Good schools is all about having a good offense. But last night’s eye-opening talk by Phillip Cosby of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families was an important reminder of the need to play defense. I blogged previously about the pervasively corrosive
    effects of pornography on our culture, even among Church-going Catholics. And that’s the only point I want to make here: we/they won’t continue to be Church-going Catholics for long if we allow the potent snares of the pornography industry to trap us in a life of sin and addiction. We must fight this beast–with our prayers, and also through concerted action. We don’t have to have strip clubs and porn shops in our communities. Why are they still there? Why isn’t protecting our kids from Internet pornography an issue for the presidential candidates? Let’s make it one!

  6. Leon – Is St. James Academy a diocesan school or is it an independent school that the bishop happens to support?

    Regarding pornography as an issue for political candidates, too many Catholics see pornography as a matter of free speech – “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.” There is also a pervasive attitude that pornography is not really harmful – “Boys will be boys.” I have to admit that I did not realize what a problem pornography could be until I heard countless testimonials from people who suffered addiction to it.

    I still can’t understand why it is so difficult to convince Catholics of the truth regarding the more obvious evils like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.

    I recently read an article written by a Catholic who described Senator Obama as the natural candidate for Catholics. I hope more people will see how anti-life Obama has been and still is. Readers may want to learn more from a speech he delivered to Planned Parenthood. A revealing article can be found at

  7. Pete, St. James Academy is an archdiocesan school. For more information, see Archbishop James Keleher was instrumental in the school’s founding. He didn’t want it named after him, so they went with his patron, St. James the Apostle, one of the Sons of Thunder (the team nickname is the Thunder). His successor, Archbishop Naumann, has continued this episcopal support for the school, which is now in its third year.

    The Supreme Court and most most states have a “community standard” when it comes to defining obscenity, but people are too indifferent (and I’d say too personally compromised on the issue) to assert our rightful clout.

    The sex industry is bigger than pro sports, bigger than the major television networks, combined. The vast majority of those incarcerated in this country are there for sex crimes. Those don’t come out of nowhere, but are the product of an advanced exposure/addiction to porn. We can keep building prisons, and we can keep talking a good game when it comes to things like abortion, but if we don’t have the courage to address the massive underbelly of the problem, we’ve already lost the battle.

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