Thursday, September 28, 2017

A sign of the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US

The future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US
The future of Roman Catholicism in the US?
This National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article caught my eye since it is local: Pittsburgh plan would consolidate 188 parishes into 48 groups. What we are seeing, I think, is nothing less than a snapshot of the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the US.

From the article:
There will be grief, but a new, more effective church outreach will emerge out of a massive planned consolidation in the Pittsburgh Diocese, diocesan spokesman Bob DeWitt told NCR.

He spoke after a diocesan planning commission, which includes DeWitt, recommended to Bishop David Zubik that the diocese arrange its 188 current parishes into 48 groups. The plan now goes to the bishop for a decision …

While other archdioceses and dioceses in the Northeast and Midwest have closed and consolidated parishes in the past three decades, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Boston, and, most recently, Hartford, Connecticut, no diocese has undertaken such a massive change. The plan will reshape the concept of parish in the Pittsburgh Diocese's six counties.

The diocese needs to act boldly to deal with a decline in the number of priests and Catholics in the pews, said DeWitt.

Now, a “parish” is the same thing as a congregation. And apparently, a “group” is going to function in the same way, perhaps over a broader geographic area. In the past when they’ve done this sort of thing, sometimes they have the whole “parish” meet in one of the existing buildings; other times, they’ve left several buildings open and the priest shuttles among them.

The graphic nearby tells much of the story. Pittsburgh is one of the oldest metropolitan areas in the country, and the numbers here reflect what is happening to the Roman Catholic Church in the US in areas where immigration is not much of a factor. It can also be viewed as a sign of what may be happening in other areas of the US as well.

From 2000 through 2016 (the time of the “planning commission” study), the “Catholic population” declined by about 17%, “Mass attendance” declined much more sharply, around 44%. That leaves only approximately 21% who attend Mass on any given Sunday – meaning that something like 79% of the “Catholic population” is missing Mass, and therefore is in a state of mortal sin. (So much for these folks really being Catholics). But I digress.

The real number here is the number of priests. In 2000, after probably many years of significant decline in the total number of priests (since, say, 1965), the number of priests has already declined further (from 338 to 211); that number is projected to be cut in half again in the next several years, to 112.

This number can be known fairly accurately because of the ages of the existing priests and the number of seminarians in the system.

This is a critical factor because the only “ordinary” channel of God’s grace, according to the Roman Catholic Church, is the Roman Catholic sacramental system, which can only be administered through Roman Catholic priests.

Elsewhere, NCR has a story to the effect that the global Catholic population tops 1.28 billion. In the light of the fact that only some 20% of the population (using Pittsburgh numbers as a guide) is attending Mass on Sundays (not to mention, not using birth control, etc.) is really what could be termed a “practicing Catholic”, the number of “Catholics” in the world seems to be much smaller than is being reported.

Contrast this story, by the way, with the nationwide story about the growing number of Protestant congregations in the US (a net gain of about 20,000 congregations from 1998 to 2012, to a total of about 384,000 congregations).


  1. While I agree that the Catholic population is on the decline, I sometimes wonder about Protestants as well. Protestants tend to shift back and forth so I wonder if Protestantism is growing that much. I live in the liberal North East so perhaps my perspective is scewed

    1. Steve, I don't think it matters in the least what Protestant churches are doing while we watch the implosion of Roman Catholicism. We just need to be there to offer Christ and pick up the pieces.