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Why is the Catholic Church spread so thin in America?

Why is the Catholic Church spread so thin in America?

In his address to American Bishops, Pope Francis recommended that they focus on their work as pastors, spending individual, close, time with their congregants. The statistics blog FiveThirtyEight analysed this statement in conjunction with 50 years of data collected by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

FiveThirtyEight found that there is only one priest per every 2,600 parishioners, and 20% of parishes don’t have a priest at all. This is the result of a long trend dating back as far as 1965, the first year they collected data, when there were 1,289 parishioners per priest.

One commentator saw a bright side to this, rejoicing in being part of a nation that now receives missionaries; their parish has had a priest from each of Vietnam, Colombia, and Nigeria.

We’ve heard that Priests are experiencing burnout at a greater rate; do you think this is the cause? Why do you think the numbers are trending so low?


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Greg Troxell

Another episcopal source for comparable statistics is from
in which on page two we read:
• Ordinations overall have fallen by 26 percent in the past six years.
• Ordinations to the priesthood have fallen by 31 percent and permanent deacons now make up 30 percent of all ordinations.
• Retirements are outpacing ordinations by 43 percent.

None of this need be considered “bad” but could certainly be so if the strategic intent (values and effort) doesn’t align with the results.

Bill Ghrist

Francis’ visit to America has shown that there is much to admire in the Roman Catholic Church. But there remains a debilitating flaw at its center: the entire power structure of the Roman Catholic Church consists of unmarried men. It is thus preoccupied with maintaining a male dominant paradigm of sex and gender that most of the First World has now recognized as being culturally based and not God-ordained. Thus we have “natural law” that prohibits things such as contraception that are important for women’s health and well being; insistence on the maintenance of a celibate male clergy, despite its obvious contribution to the “thinness” described on the article; and opposition to any understanding of gender identity and relationship other than the traditional male/female dichotomy.

Trapped in their all male box the hierarchy cannot understand why a majority of the RC laity disagree with traditional church doctrine (primarily that associated with gender based issues). No amount of “better teaching” on the part of the the church is going to put their flock back in that box with them.

Greg Troxell

TEC statistics are on this page:

Here are some numbers for comparison sake:
2,009,084 baptized members in 2013
657,102 Total average Sunday attendance 2013
7,227 all priests in all domestic diocese 2014
29.5% of all priests in 2014 are listed as age 65+
Average age 58 (16.0% ≤44, 18.8% Age 45‐54, 35.8% 55-64)

Donald R. Hands

When my Mother’s funeral occurred, there was one RC priest on duty that Saturday morning. He had said a Mass at 7, 8 and 9; had a wedding at 10, then my Mom’s funeral at 11. She went to Sunday mass there for 8 years and he did not know who she was. He was a sacrament dispensing machine.

Amanda Clark

A part of that is also that RC parishes can be huge-where in other denominations you might imagine having other parishes spun off, I’ve noticed that often (in towns up to 50K or so) there’s only a single RC parish.

Rod Gillis

The full article makes some observations about laity identification,

“Priests may be stretched even further than these figures indicate. CARA has found consistently since 1965 that the number of self-reported Catholics in national surveys exceeds the number of Catholics who have registered as members of a particular diocese. The share of disconnected Catholics has quadrupled between 1965 and 2015. These Catholics may have fallen away or may attend a parish without formally registering, and thus may still be under the purview of a parish priest.”

Interesting in that Ross Douthat, his column yesterday used the adjective “moribund” in describing The Episcopal Church.

“empowering clerics and theologians who seem to believe that Rome’s future lies in imitating the moribund Episcopal Church’s approach to sex, marriage and divorce.”

Depending on where one is looking, cultural issues may be of some concern across the board. Certainly here, a crisis in both the numbers of Roman Catholic priests together with a graying coupled with a catastrophic demographic decline in what is often seen as a liberal Anglican Church of Canada are a reality.

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