CARA on US Catholics

Anyone who likes statistics has to like CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, and their blog 1964. But, much as I like CARA, two of their recent posts strike me as wrong-headed.

Changes in Number of Parishes… and Congressional Seats?”, December 21, says:

“At CARA we are often called by reporters working on stories about parish closures. Almost always the reporter is looking for a quote or statistic that can confirm their assumption that the closure of a parish is a new sign of an imploding Catholic Church (it’s a common narrative!).

“We typically have to caution the reporter on jumping to conclusions based on a single anecdote and then ask a few questions ourselves. Is this parish in an urban area? Is it located in the Northeast or Midwest? Is there a priest shortage in the diocese? All these factors are more likely to be the root of the closure rather than the generalized impending doom in many reporters’ heads.”

CARA’s commentary would have us believe that it’s mostly a matter of population shifts, not church decline. They offer this chart to show that Catholic parish closings and openings track population shifts as reflected in the U.S. census and number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives:statechange2

Only problem is, the total number of Catholic parishes lost in 10 years is 1,169, and the total number gained is 148. The number of U.S. Catholic parishes lost in just a decade is 1,021. Sure looks like institutional decline to me.

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Their post “Pies, damned pies, and statistics: Is the Catholic population growing?” of November 25 similarly fails to debunk statistics of Catholic decline:

“So here is that necessary dose of reality…  Since the end of World War II, on average, 25% of the U.S. adult population has self-identified in national surveys as Catholic (±2 to 3 percentage points).”

The Catholic proportion of the U.S. population is not growing, it is remaining constant at about 25%. According to CARA, this doesn’t mean that the U.S. Catholic Church isn’t growing. The U.S. population is growing, and the Catholic Church, in order to retain its 25% share, likewise has to grow – and it is. CARA writes:

What if you were coming over to my house for Thanksgiving this year and as in the past I always give you a slice of pumpkin pie that is equal to 25% of the total pie dish. But in years past I always used 8 inch pans to cook the pie and this year I am using 12 inch pans. You are still only getting exactly 25%. Will you be eating more this year? Of course! The pan is 50% bigger.”

A better image might be this: I’m greatly hurt if I don’t get to eat as much Thanksgiving pie as my siblings. Fearing and expecting that my mother will increase everyone’s portion except mine, I plant a friend in the yard to sneak pie to me through the dining room window in order to end up with the same amount of pie as my brothers and sisters. Yes, I got more total pie to eat than last year – but I needed an outside source to get there.

The friend supplying pie in this story is immigration, which CARA entirely ignores. Without immigrants, the U.S. Catholic Church wouldn’t retain its 25% share of the general population. The Catholic Church isn’t retaining and attracting enough members to do that on its own. Sure looks like institutional decline to me.

My aim is not to rejoice at how badly the U.S. Catholic Church is doing, much less score ideological points by blaming someone. My aim is to face up to the truth, no matter what it is, without pretending or minimizing.

We Catholics and Christians have lots of challenges ahead of us in an increasingly secularized environment. Surely we’re better off knowing, as best we can, the contours of those challenges.


  1. Does this prove anything at all other than the ambiguity of statistics? CARA can stick to its spin; and you, Fr. Anthony, can stick to yours; while I, for my part, still get the exhausting feeling of swimming against the tide.

    I respect you immensely, and I appreciate your intention to face the truth of the challenges ahead. Still, every time I see something like this I keep wondering why so many Catholics can’t seem to stop reveling in these statistics and even seemingly looking for the darkest possible interpretation. Like you, I’m not aiming to accuse anybody; I genuinely want to understand whatever sentiments may be behind the overstatements (it feels to me) of the statistics that cause me so much discomfort.

    1. Julia,

      CARA is involved in applied research. A classical distinction is made between two forms of applied research: summative and formative.

      Most applied research is formative, done for planning and marketing purposes to improve the services of an organization. As an applied researcher, I found it was best to keep people focused upon data. As soon as the researcher presents interpretations and implications, even very obvious ones, people focus upon them rather than the facts. If done well focusing upon the facts can bring people together and help them move forward. I suspect CARA spends most of their time getting their many church clients to think constructively about data.

      Summative research is done to decide how well a particular program is doing, such as that done by funding agencies as a basis for making decisions. Most of the interest of the media in data is summative. How well is a church, business or other organization doing?

      CARA which does a lot of formative research for Catholic organizations is a not a good place to look for frank, candid summative evaluations of the status of Catholicism in the US. Go to research organizations that are more than an arms length from Catholic Church management. CARA provides the data spin that Catholic institutions need to manage their relationships with the public.

      If the media are doing a good job they will go to research organizations that are not funded by the Catholic Church for their basic facts, then go to CARA to see how researchers working for the Catholic Church and having its interests in mind would interpret the data.

      A book like American Grace is a good source of the basic facts. Putnum does a good job of laying out detailed facts in readable form. Few people criticized the facts in his best seller Bowling Alone. Putnum also has an interpretation of the facts. Academics need their facts straight, but also an interesting interpretation. Not everyone agrees with the interpretation.

  2. What proportion of the total US population growth is a result of immigration? If 25% of immigrants are Catholic, then the Catholic Church would seem to be holding steady.

    1. Tyler,

      Both American Grace and CARA agree that the percentage of Catholics in America is holding steady. That also means that the number of Catholics is increasing because the number of Americans is increasing. However Americans are increasing largely because of immigration; we are about replacement level for our native population birth rate.

      What American Grace will tell you that CARA will not is that the non-Hispanic Catholic Church is “collapsing.” However all the people that it is losing are being replaced by immigrants with some help from a higher Latino birth rate. That is why Catholics are increasing in numbers and staying even in percentage.

      The percentage of immigrants who are Catholics is far above 25%. One estimate is that Catholic Hispanics are 35% of immigrants, and non-Hispanic Catholics are 10% of immigrants. In other words almost half the immigrants, who are the main source of population growth, are Catholics.

      CARA and the American Bishops would like us to focus upon the steady state of American Catholicism. They don’t want us to focus upon all the people that are leaving the Catholic Church.

      The American Bishops know that new immigration is essential to the future of American Catholicism. If we just look at the pattern of appointments of new bishops, the Vatican is looking forward to the day when Latino Catholics outnumber Anglo Catholics.

      How much immigration will there be in the future? Will it continue to be from Catholic countries? Will Catholic immigrants retain their faith when they are here for a while?

      The bishops would be wiser to also face the problem of the non-Hispanic Catholics who are leaving the Church. It may not be as difficult to solve as they think.

  3. Anyone interested in these questions should read “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” by Robert D. Putnam (Harvard) and David E. Campbell (Notre Dame), Simon and Schuster: October 2010. See their website at

    Many will remember Putnam earlier work “Bowling Alone.”

  4. As a general rule, parishes that close or merge have a small number of parishioners.

    At least in my archdiocese, the few parishes I am familiar with that opened in the past ten years or so are in newer suburbs have thousands of parishioners. And they encompass ten or 20 square miles or more.

    So “parish count” means nothing if you are trying to prove that the Church is imploding.

  5. “My aim is not… blaming someone.”

    Well, perhaps this isn’t the venue for placing blame, but in my mind “blaming” is simply another way of saying “getting to root causes” – something we would do well to do. I’d be curious to know what you think those causes are, Fr. Ruff.

    From CARA: “Since the end of World War II, on average, 25% of the U.S. adult population has self-identified in national surveys as Catholic (±2 to 3 percentage points).”

    This raises a question in my mind; one I cannot answer. How, if at all, has the criteria one uses in making that self-identification changed since WWII?

    My suspicion is that the bar is considerably lower now than it once was. Catholic identity as a whole seems far less well defined today in general than it was in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s…

    I personally know people that self-identify as Catholics yet never hear Mass ; ) do not otherwise participate in the sacraments, scoff at the Church’s moral teachings, etc… I really don’t know if this was as prevalent in decades gone by. I suspect not though.

    And if that is true, the 25% figure is artificially high as compared to those previous decades.

    1. I would be interested in knowing the basis for your suspicions. From what I know of history (primarily the middle ages) there have been many other periods in history when people identified as Catholic, and yet were pretty spotty with regard to the practice of the faith. In that sense, what it means to self-identify as a Catholic today is not all that different from what it has been in the past.

      As long as we are operating in “suspicion mode,” I suspect that 1950s American Catholicism was historically anomalous, and that this anomaly was related more to dynamics of assimilation and immigrant identity, the trauma of WWII, etc. than it was to any of the qualities intrinsic to that Catholicism.

  6. Just a note. My parish encompasses 7 churches and 3 priests (plus part time/retired clergy) over two midcoast counties.
    Using CARA’s stats it would appear 6 parishes/churches closed. Misleading to say 70 parishes closed – doesn’t reflect reality when with a reorganization [for example] of 7 churches into 1 parish . Diocese: Portland ME


  7. “I would be interested in knowing the basis for your suspicions.”

    Having been born in ’61, it’s simply from things that I’ve read and not experience. (George Weigel and Joseph Bottum come to mind. Cardinal Avery Dulles also spoke of a drastic shift in American Catholic identity post Vatican II, especially in academia.)

    My sense is that Catholic identity was less “secularized” and more clearly defined in the American culture of the 40’s and 50’s than it is today.

    For instance, was it commonplace for “Catholic” colleges, hospitals and politicians to stand in open defiance of the Church in those days? Were there homosexual activists insisting on their Catholicity? Was “loyal dissent” and the false notion of “primacy of conscience” being used to redefine “Catholic” in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s?

    “As long as we are operating in “suspicion mode,” I suspect that 1950s American Catholicism was historically anomalous and that this anomaly was related more to dynamics of assimilation and immigrant identity, the trauma of WWII, etc. than it was to any of the qualities intrinsic to that Catholicism…”

    OK. Let’s say you’re correct. Anomaly or not, and regardless of the causes, you seem to be saying that there is indeed a difference to be discerned in the matter of Catholic identity circa 1950 and today. If that be the case, then the CARA report (which compares the end of WWII up to today) is not comparing apples to apples, is it?

    1. If that be the case, then the CARA report (which compares the end of WWII up to today) is not comparing apples to apples, is it?

      Perhaps so. My only point was to caution against jumping to any conclusions regarding causes.

  8. If you want to investigate why most Catholics leave the Church, I would put my money on the Church’s rules on marriage and the prohibition on re-marriage

    Other studies show that the Catholic divorce rate is equal to that for Protestants. While a large number of divorced Catholics apply for annulments [“Catholic Divorce”], many do not, possibly because one party doesn’t agree to that.

    Most divorced Catholics just find a new religion where they can marry, or just live together.

    1. The problem with your theory Ray is that the Church’s (aren’t they Christ’s) rules on marriage and the prohibition of remarriage while the original spouse is living is nothing new in the Church from our glory days of steady growth.

    1. One more article that does not consider the obvious – that the instability that led to large scale departures coincide with the implementation of the liturgical renewal and, most interestingly, that the departures were most abrupt in those places where the renewal was implemented most quickly, certain religious orders. It is the proverbial elephant in the room.

      1. That two things happened at the same time is no proof that one caused the other. There is no solid proof that the liturgical reforms caused the Church decline. Both could have been caused by something else.

        We’ve had this discussion several times on Pray Tell. I didn’t wish to have it again. Any further comments about whether the liturgical reform caused church decline will be deleted. Interested readers may look up and find the previous discussions on this topic.


      2. Jack,

        According to a 1974 survey four out of five Catholics in the US “approved of the new vernacular liturgy”; two out of three approved of the guitar Mass (Greeey, “The Catholic Revolution”).

        My apologies to Father Ruff for continuing the discussion – I could not resist.

      3. I won’t say anything about whether or not liturgical reform had anything to do with decline (as I’ve said in these tired discussions, I think there can be many factors). However, it is surprising that 20% of people were unhappy with the new vernacular liturgy – that’s a lot more than I’d been previously led to believe. “One out of five” seems insignificant, but when you rephrase it as a percentage it comes out to a lot of people. That seems shockingly high considering nothing was done for them.

      4. Jack W.,

        So if more than 20% of US Catholics turn out to be unhappy about the new translation you think something significant will have to be done for them?


      5. Yes, If after almost five years of using the translation, 20% of Catholics still find the liturgy irrelevant or unsatisfactory, then something should certainly be done. While I don’t think the new translation can be compared to the 1960’s reforms, I also don’t think we need to be repeating the pastoral disasters of Vatican II and pretending its okay because it’s not a majority of people being turned away (no matter how big a minority is is – seriously, doesn’t 20% seem rather large? Dismissing them seems almost delusional to me. What happened to them? Was it all old people who died within a generation? Did they eventually come around? Did they just drift away completely or join breakaway churches? That would have been like 50 whole parishes worth of people in my diocese alone).

      6. Jacques Crémer and all,

        A 1985 Gallup survey showed that 40% of US Catholics sought what we now call the EF (, That poll was only 15 years after the OF’s promulgation in 1970 & seems to run contrary to Greeley’s assertion or may more readily indicate that experience of the all vernacular OF led many to desire the option to also attend the EF. More recently, 50% of RCs in England & Wales say they would like to attend the EF weekly (, while 66% of English and Welsh RC’s would like to attend the EF once a month.
        In 2001 over 20% of practicing Catholics in France sought the EF, while 2/3 of practicing Italian Catholics want the EF (2009 Ipsos poll).

      7. I heard both my mom and my sister say, after reading about the old Latin Mass in the newspaper, that it would be interesting to attend Mass the old way and experience again what it used to be like. Neither has yet bothered actually to attend the old Mass, though it is readily available. Both attend the Vatican II Mass every Sunday. Their interesting in going back to the old Mass, apart from a one-time visit rather as a tourist, is zilch, and they have no questions or misgivings whatsoever about the Vatican II Mass. I wonder how many of the people in this survey replied as my mother and sister would have, “Yeah sure, that would be fun to see once again. If others want it, fine with me – yeah sure, make it available to them.”

        Question: if so many people want the old Mass, how come so few people actually attend it?

        This would be an interesting statistic: among those who attend the Vatican II Mass every week or twice a month, how many never attended the old Mass in the past year? As I look around at all the people attending the Vatican II Mass in all the parishes of my diocese, and the few attending the old Mass, it doesn’t fit at all with this poll.


      8. Jack,

        I cannot find the 1985 survey you mention, but on the page you link to we are only given the following sentences “A Gallup poll paid for by a group of rebel Roman Catholics found that 40% of those surveyed would support using the old Tridentine Latin Mass as an alternative to current liturgy, a spokesman said this week. Father Ronald J. Ringrose of St. Athanasius parish, Vienna, Va., said the poll also showed that 53% would attend such rites if the services were permitted and held at convenient times and places.” I would like to see the exact question asked before basing any conclusions on this.

        All the more that one can find the E&W survey ( and it does not support your conclusion. People were asked whether they would attend EF Masses if they were held, not whether they would like them to be offered. The poll seems to me to have been carefully designed to avoid asking questions about the strength of pro-EF feelings, and given that it was commissionned by a pro-EF group….

        I really do not think that you can balance quotes from random web sites and the opinion of a professional sociologist writing in a book published by a University Press. (Not that professional sociologists are necessarily always right!)



      9. I would agree there isn’t a huge demand (but not as small as you might think). People say they would attend it if it were convenient, which probably means at their parish at a time they usually go to Mass.

        My area has a lot of EF Masses, but they’re still not really “convenient” for most people. I know people with a clear preference for the EF who still attend the OF more regularly at their own local Church out of convenience or because they also value their parish connection to family, friends, coworkers, and community. “Convenient” for people not enamored with the EF often seems to mean an hour or more of driving time to a somewhat scary neighborhood or a monthly Mass in the late afternoon that doesn’t create opportunities for a stable community. You’d have to figure out what people consider convenient. For a while I didn’t go to the EF at all because I would have had to take time off work and couldn’t afford the gas I would have needed.

        Such polls are, I think, still more favorable to those who promote the EF. They show that lots of people have no problem with the EF being readily available and a normal part of Catholic worship, nor would they walk out if they happened upon such a Mass. Being open to it without having a burning desire isn’t a bad thing, IMO.

      10. Jacques Crémer,

        The poll from the “80’s was a Gallup poll and was reported by the LA Times. Are you questioning the Gallup method?
        The later polls were taken by one of the most respected French polling organizations.

        Both seem as well respected as the other polls given here, including the one you offered.

        To Fr. Ruff’s questions: in my experience EF Masses are rarely offered at convenient times and in the most convenient parishes. Funny thing, I’ve not attended an EF Mass myself in nearly a decade. None are celebrated locally.

    2. Bill, thanks for this article on “exit” interviews. We should do them.

      The concept of “exit” raises sociological problems. Catholics often define “exit” very differently than Protestants. Protestants tend to identify church with the local congregation, and membership with attendance. When Protestants no longer attend, they report they are no longer members. Catholics who no longer attend are far more likely to say they are Catholic.

      The authors of American Grace say that self identification for Catholics operates more like an ethnic identification. Many responses from readers of diocesan Catholic papers who reported themselves as having “left” is witness to this deep identity.

      Many of their responses seem like an “excommunication” by the respondents inflicted upon the institutional church as a “symbolic punishment” in the hope that it will change its ways. It is a mirror image of the church’s practice of excommunication which is medicinal, i.e. it is a pastoral attempt to get a person to realize how deeply flawed and in need of repentance they are. These respondents have experienced a Catholicism that is deeply flawed and much in need of repentance.

      Many people come to church only on Christmas and Easter. They may or may not consider themselves as having “left” the church, but they might return a questionnaire asking how the parish could be of better service to them personally. They might even sign their names and be willing to be contacted for follow up.

      Finally there are a lot of people who go to church less often than every Sunday, or who come to church late, or leave early. We need to start interviewing them; they may be on their way out.

      A humble attitude of repentance and conversion by parish leadership might work wonders. The VPL Study reported that “parish leadership that listens” was 7th in importance but 29th among 39 items in being well done -the biggest gap in the study.

  9. “My only point was to caution against jumping to any conclusions regarding causes.”

    Always good advice. I’m sure there are multiple causes, but can any serious assessment fail to place the state of the liturgy and the lack of catechesis post Vatican II right at the top of the list?

  10. “……State of liturgy…..” – you assume that it was in trouble; or negative; or whatever…..very few serious liturgical or sociological or ecclesiological writers would agree with your negative assumption. (if anything, there has been much serious study done on the passivity of the liturgy and the people of God upto Vatican II and that SC, etc. started a much needed revitalization and refocus on the church’s liturgy which created significant enthusiasm, study, and participation despite the chaos of societies in the world in the 1960’s-1970’s).

    “…..lack of catechesis” – again, you make an assumption that is not supported by any serious historians. Yes, you may find areas, specific items that you may feel lacked catechesis but overall historians have reached conclusions that Vatican II renewed catholic life.

  11. The America article has statements from a number of people who gave their reasons for having “left” the Church, but some of them sound a whole lot like people I know who still call themselves “Catholic.” Are they?

    You may recall that after the last presidential election a big to do was made of the polling data – 54% of the “Catholic vote” went to Obama. Oh really? Well I guess that just depends upon what it means to be “Catholic.”

    The point is this: apart from applying a reasonable and consistent criteria to the name “Catholic,” data like the comparisons made in the CARA report don’t mean an awful lot. The “self-identified” tag raises a red flag that tells me the data may be meaningless.

    So… who really is “Catholic”? The Council offers this:

    “They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.” (LG 14)

    What if pollsters were to begin their “Catholic” polling by turning LG 14 into a set of qualifying questions:

    “Do you accept the Catholic Church’s entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are you united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops?”

    If the answer is NO, that person can self-identify as Catholic all they want, they’re not. Reasonable? If not, what is?

    1. And the entire US Catholic Church would fit in the baptistry of our church! Is that what you’re after?

      1. Do you have an argument?

        My point is based on polls showing that very, very few US Catholics accept “the entire system.” Artificial contraception alone would knock out at least 90%, if not 95%. Maybe the ‘real’ Catholics would be numerous enough that they didn’t all fit in our baptistry – but Mr. Verecchio’s standard would mean that somewhere between 95% and 99.9% of “Catholics” wouldn’t be counted as Catholics.

        Again, I’d be happy to hear what your point is, if you tell me what I shouldn’t be so sure about.


      2. Accepting what the Catholic Church teaches and faithfully living up to it are two different things, and it isn’t helpful to confuse them. I hope Fr. Ruff that you are not asking how many saints we have walking among us – but even if that’s what your argument boils down to, it does no harm to point out that the call to holiness is universal and because the visible Catholic Church with her sacraments is the divinely-instituted ordinary means to that end, holiness is certainly attainable by all who have access to the Church.

        Without being drawn into an argument over statistics, we can agree that only a minority of the 64 million baptized in America practice the faith in any way approaching a systematic, integrated way. In this day, most of those who do so endure inconvenience, indignities, silliness and occasional bureaucratic bullying from within, not to mention everything the enemies of Christ have to dish out. Social pressure is no longer a motivator to remain faithful – much the opposite is more like it – so those who do must be acting from principled choice. These faithful may never have been asked to reflect upon what keeps them coming back, but I’ll ask you: if they don’t accept the Church as authoritative, why do they bother?

    2. Louie,

      The key element in successfully interviewing people is communicating your interest in them and respect for them. That is the main reason that researchers allow people to decide whether or not they are Catholic. The researcher may make finer distinctions (e.g. practicing Catholic) by asking the person whether they attend Mass regularly, etc.

      All the questions have to be easily understood and easily answered. If you ask “Are you a practicing Catholic?” and the respondent has to ask “What do you mean by that?” or says “I don’t understand the question” you may as well have not asked it. If a substantial number of people are responding to a question in that manner, you have to throw that question out.

      If you began a survey with the question you have proposed, my prediction is that 99% of the people are going to decide that the survey is “too academic” or “too theological” and say “no” just so they can get out of the survey.

      The original data for many surveys is now available at the ARDA, the Association of Religion Data Archives.
      You can even do rather simple analyses online yourself. Or you can download the data and makeup you own categories, e.g. practicing Catholic. If you look through a lot of the questions you will find that it is only the common sense questions that tend to give meaningful answers. You can tell when the researchers have become too academic, the pattern of results gets fuzzy and doesn’t relate in any meaningful way to other answers.

      1. Jack,

        I clicked around the website you linked. The very first survey of Catholics has the following:

        41% “agree strongly” that one can be a “good Catholic” without going to Mass. Over 30% rarely/never keep Holy Days of Obligation. Over 50% never go to confession. Only 39% strongly agree that “There is something very special about being Catholic that you can’t find in other religions.”

        You see where this is going… I think it’s pretty clear that keeping this entire group in the final data regarding what Catholics do or believe skews the results.

        Surely there is a point at which one ceases to be Catholic regardless of self-identification.

      2. Louie,

        If you choose to define a practicing Catholic as a person who self identified as Catholic and also reported regularly attending Mass on Weekends, you would find all sorts of favorable data, e.g. that such persons are likely to be healthier and happier, they give more time and money not only to the church but also to the community, etc.. There is a large and reliable literature about the positive effects of church attendance across denominations. While those who attend Mass regularly are a minority of self identified Catholics, they still constitute a substantial number of people, and can be easily held up for emulation. Also a person who is a non-practicing Catholic can see that it is clear and easy how to become a practicing Catholic.

        When you start adding in a lot of other qualifiers, your population size gets smaller and smaller, approaching baptistery size, and there is no guarantee that the positive attributes of practicing Catholics as defined above will increase or even be evident in these much smaller subgroups (and your sample size becomes too small to say any thing reliable).

        So to me, the strategy is very simple and clear, emphasize the value and importance of church attendance.

        How do you get higher church attendance? Recognize that the Vibrant Parish Life Study found that people valued Mass as first in importance but half way down the list of 39 items in being well done. Recognize that the parish as a community was second in importance but also half down the list in being well done. So improve the quality of the Mass and the quality of the parish as a community. That will make people happier and less likely to leave.

        Most of the Catholics who do not attend Mass regularly actually pray daily, and about half of them give God’s importance a ten on a scale of one to ten (i.e. the highest importance). Those are good starting points in communicating with them.

      3. Jack, what you are saying makes a lot of sense to me. A rising tide lifts all boats, and if there are strategies that will make attendance at Sunday Mass more appealing and more general, the movement in this direction will improve the general health of the larger community. Trying to sort out the “true” Catholics from everybody else is a recipe for strive.

  12. With annulments so easily available now that, had they been available to him on the same terms, Henry VIII would not need to have broken with Rome, I doubt the ban on remarriage after divorce is a driver. I suspect that the ban on contraception may partly be or have been a factor (since it prevents many from going to confession, although not, it appears, from Communion) but greater than that is – in my view- a feeling since the 1960’s that God is a God of love only, and not of justice, and that we’re all going to heaven anyway (we’ve decided to improve on Jesus’ message apparently – see the discussion on ‘pro multis’).
    Now I have tendencies towards it myself but there is an awful consequence (for churches) to universalism – there is quite simply no need for organised religion if it is true. Yet how often has anyone here heard Hell preached from the pulpit? How many priests here preach it? Or do we assume ourselves that all are, or will be, saved? I am not speaking for or against it – just the logical implication of accepting it as true. The Universalists had a wonderful message of universal salvation – but does anyone want to look at their numbers (even as merged into “UU”) now? If I know I am going to heaven regardless, I have very little motivaiton to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. Yes, yes, I know I should go to praise and thank Him, not to ask him to spare me, but He’ll save me anyway because He knows I mean well. Right?

    1. UU church has grown slightly in recent decades, unlike larger mainline Protestant churches.

      I think the best reason to go to Mass is out of gratitude for all God’s blessings, most of all for sending his Son. Going to Mass to avoid Hell is maybe better than not going – but barely. As we grow in the spiritual life, we should be motivated every more by love and ever less by fear. If the pre-Vatican II church got high Mass attendance only because people feared going to Hell, it’s not the worst thing in the world that Mass attendance is dropping because people no longer believe that.


      1. “As we grow in the spiritual life, we should be motivated every more by love and ever less by fear.”

        I agree. But, alluding to your statement above, what if we apply that statement to contraception? I wonder how much fear applies to material worries about having a larger family.

        At the local TLM, where I hear Mass, there are many large families. They are often asked questions like, “How do you do it?” (in the sense of the responsibility and money required) Most often the tenor of the replies is along the lines of, “God provides,” or “I’m not really sure, it just all works out.” These are middle class families whose standard of living is like the average American. I often wonder, with growing children, how do they keep them all so nicely-dressed. Hand-me-downs, no doubt.

        If courage isn’t the absence of fear, but right action in the face of it, then the parents of these large families seem, to me, to be living it.

        Unfortunately, fear seems to be part of the Zeitgeist. That so many Catholics have embraced the conventional wisdom regarding contraception is to be regretted. There is plenty of culpability to be shared by the hierarchy and the modernist agitators.

      2. UU church has grown slightly in recent decades, unlike larger mainline Protestant churches.

        The UU’s had roughly 221k members and children in religious education in 1961. They had roughly 221k of the same in 2009. The U.S. population in that time grew from roughly 183 million to 308 million.

      3. Samuel,

        your link confirms what I wrote, “the UU has grown slightly in recent decades.” They peaked in ’68, then declined, and since then have grown slightly. Other mainline denominations – most of them less liberal that UU – have not grown slightly in the last two or three decades, but declined significantly.


    2. Certainly the thinking you mention Ceile & the decline both here and in Europe are indicative of the pastoral failure of the post V2 renewal as it was implemented in parishes but also in religious orders. This includes the liturgy but also moves beyond it. This is why the new catechism, LA, and the MP were all necessary.

  13. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    And the entire US Catholic Church would fit in the baptistry of our church! Is that what you’re after?

    I’m after a reasonable criteria that may be used to determine who is and who not “Catholic.” Self-identification alone means very little.

    BTW – I offered for consideration the Council’s idea of what it means to be “fully incorporated in the society of the Church.” It’s not really “my” standard.

    If accepting the Church’s entire system s too high of a bar, how much can one reject and still be reasonably considered Catholic? It’s not only a valid question, it’s entirely relevant to any data that presumes to speak of “Catholics.”

    Lastly – I hope you’re wrong about 90%+ departing from the Church on the matter of contraception, but whatever the number may be the underlying question is whether they have any earthly idea what they’re disagreeing with. In other words, the next Catholic that tells you he or she disagrees with Church teaching in this area, ask if they have ever read Humane Vitae or had a faithful priest explain it (as opposed to tearing it down and trivializing it).

  14. Father – I do not disagree with most of what you say at all. And I teeter on the edge of orthodoxy by not assuming salvation for all (or any) but by hoping that maybe a very long time in purgatory might be enough for even the worst. And I do not think that preaching hell would fill our churches – it would probably empty them more. My point is more that it is a pity that praise and thanksgiving don’t seem to be enough. But I do think it’s a problem if people don’t believe in hell at all – wasn’t Jesus very clear that salvation is not assured?

    1. I teeter on the edge of orthodoxy by not assuming salvation for all (or any) but by hoping that maybe a very long time in purgatory might be enough for even the worst.

      I hardly think that puts you on the edge of orthodoxy, and if it does, then you’ve got the current Pope there to keep you company.

  15. Kim>Not to mention Julian of Norwich and Hans Urs von Balthasar, right?<

    Is that right? Was Balthasar explicit about his universalism? And Benedict XVI?

    Universalism does seem to work against the idea that eternal gravity inheres in any of the decisions/actions we make/do during our earthly lives.

    Time to burn Dante?

    1. Neither was explicitly a universalist – especially if by universalism you mean a view that denies the eternal gravity of our decisions! The book Crystal suggests below would be a good place to start, and Balthasar is exceptionally careful (in my view) to maintain an appropriate theological reserve. His thesis is not that none will be damned, but that a truly Christian, humble, and merciful piety might find itself constrained to hope that, despite manifest human sinfulness (my own, as he puts it, the worst of all), the divine mercy will not rest until God has accomplished God’s will, to save all the creatures made through love. This would be only granting creaturely cooperation, of course – but Balthasar (with the mystics) is willing to entertain the notion that the divine love might prove difficult to resist!

      In other words, to hope for my own salvation is to rest in hope for all God’s creation, based on God’s great love, not on my deserts. Balthasar relies on the mystical tradition here, including Julian. It’s a short book and worth a read.

      Fritz’s dissertation used Balthasar’s idea for theo-drama in part of its analysis of Julian, published as Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ in 2008. I recommend it as well to anyone interested in Julian’s theology.

      1. Kim>Neither was explicitly a universalist – especially if by universalism you mean a view that denies the eternal gravity of our decisions! <<

        How can eternal gravity not go out the window at the same time eternal punishment does, and ditto to the idea that God Almighty is intensely concerned with how we behave from day to day?

        If grace is irresistible and thus free will – erased lest some of us willfully choose perdition, how can that be squared with a faith that maintains the Four Last Things? How can Church which has held itself out to be a Reliable Teacher now break it to us that there are only 3 last things?

  16. On Hans Urs von Balthasar and his idea that there may actually be no one in hell (Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?: With a Short Discourse on Hell). There were some articles on him and this idea …..

    I think the first one was at First Things by Avery Dulles – The Population of Hell which defended Balthasar.

    There was Fr. Regis Scanlon’s article, originally in the New Oxford Review, blasting Balthasar’s view on hell – The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar

    Richard John Neuhaus’ article in First Things, defending Balthasar against Scanlon – Will All Be Saved?

    Dale Vree’s article in the New Oxford Review, answering Neuhaus – If Everyone is Saved

    Perhaps the next one to read would be found in the New Oxford Review by Janet Holl Madigan – In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus

    And then David Watt’s article, originally in the New Oxford Review, against Balthasar’s view – Is Hell Closed Up & Boarded Over?

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