CatholicCulture.org recently published a brief article reporting on a study done by the Glenmary Research Center. Entitled, “Religious Congregations and Membership Study 2010 (Catholic Data in U.S. Religious Affiliation Study Released), the study examining the UNITED STATES (key point there!) mentioned that roughly one-fifth of the Catholics in the US are not associated with a parish. While there are about 75 million Catholics in the US, “fewer than 60 million are associated with a specific Catholic church,” reports Clifford Grammich of the Glenmary Research Center. Thus at least 15 million people who identify themselves as Catholic but not with any parish.
The Glenmary study found that drop of 3.1 million in the Catholic population since the 2000 census. There are now 58.9 million Catholics registered in 20,589 parish congregations. The number of congregations, like the number of registered Catholics, has dropped by about 5% since 2000.
Look, they’re not joining for a reason (or several reasons). This is not news. In fact I mentioned it in a earlier blog of mine where Bishop David O’Connell, C.M. of the Trenton Diocese asked Fr. William Byron, S.J. and Charles Zech (Villanova University) to do a series of “exit interviews” to see WHY people are leaving.
This is a good step and we need to do more of this. I would also hope that at some point the bishops (or auxiliary bishops if the (arch)diocese is large enough) would hold a series of town meetings to simply hear what people are thinking and let them talk. One type of meeting could be for “active and practicing Catholics.” Another could be for those who have left. For a third meeting, we could invite other interested parties, even non-Catholics, who may or may not be “stakeholders” but might have something poignant to say offering an outside perspective.
What I am ABSOLUTELY SURE OF is that:
* They would come
* They would speak their mind (might not be pleasant but such meetings can be professionally moderated so that they don’t get out of hand)
* Key people in the Catholic Church would get information that the DO NOT HAVE NOW.
Zech and Byron and O’Connell said, in effect, “You can’t fix the problem, if you don’t know what the problem is first. So find out what the problem is.
Final point. There are some incredibly creative people out there in the area of social media. I’ll bet that this technology could be used to gather additional information quickly from a broad-based constituency who might not feel comfortable coming to a meeting and speaking out publicly but still have something valuable to say.
I know that this is not a panacea. It won’t solve the problems. The data gathering might even create new ones. But here’s the second report I’ve read about the same issue in only two months. Like – are we perhaps seeing a trend here?
Pray. Discern. Discuss. Then do something. START! We still believe in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide us further.