Are there really 64 million U.S. Roman Catholics?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

From USA Today:

Are there really more than 64 million U.S. Roman Catholics?

That's what the 2007 Official Catholic Directory, due out this week, will say. But what about the dead, the double-counted and the disgruntled ex-Catholics — all of whose names may still plump up parish rolls?

Yes, there are probably "ghosts" in the lists, says demographer Mary Gautier, senior researcher for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in Washington, D.C. The center analyzes data for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

CARA's analysis counts 64.4 million Catholics in 2006, up from 63.9 million in 2005. (The directory's overall totals are higher because they include Puerto Rico, Guam and American protectorates.)

Totals are up, with minor fluctuations — 1% a year for the past 25 years, Gautier says. "But counting Catholics is more art than science."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

Posted June 26, 2007 at 7:44 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Dan Crawford wrote:

If the Catholics used the Episcopalian approach to numbers for the parochial report, their numbers might be around 90 million. After all, we count people as “active” who attend church three times a year whether they want to or not.

June 26, 8:17 am | [comment link]
2. KAR wrote:

Some people think that The Falls Church and Truro in Virginia or Christ Church in Texas are big, but we forget that they are the average size for a Roman Catholic parish. Even if the number of “ghosts” is 20%, that still huge when dealing with every TEC member showing up for Christmas or Easter. It is a bit amazing at times to try to comprehend the vastness of RCC.

(There are more Orthodox in this country than TEC & PCUSA put together {~ 7 Million EO}).

June 26, 8:31 am | [comment link]
3. Words Matter wrote:

I’m pretty sure I am on two parish rosters (I get the parish envelopes), and could be on more, having never actually notified a parish I was moving. OTOH, I’ve known folks who never get around to registering. It’s definitely a casual process, which I, for one, rather like. Membership is in the Body of Christ, gained through baptism, and secondarily in a particular place.

As always, ASA is more important than registry, and that’s said to run about 40% of the baptized; that would be 26.4 million, and I would guess “active membership” would run something over that. The most important point is that the Catholic Church in the U.S. has remained constant as a percentage of the population, at 25% plus/minus a point, for a generation or more.  Worldwide, I believe the figure is 18% or so.  That’s better than protestant churches, but not comforting.

This really is the salient point in counting Catholics:

They find Catholics still cling to their religious identity no matter how far they stray from church

Fr. Andrew Greeley has some interesting things to say about this in The Catholic Imagination and it’s a topic more important than the number of names on the registry.

June 26, 9:08 am | [comment link]
4. John B. Chilton wrote:

I think, though, that the RCC knows how many congregations it has and does not inflate the number for public consumption (because it does not have a reason to). The same cannot be said of, say, AMiA. I’ve got nothing against house churches—indeed, I’ve found the idea attractive—but it would be useful to know the size distribution of the congregations in the AMiA.

June 26, 10:36 am | [comment link]
5. KAR wrote:

The same cannot be said of, say, AMiA. 

Huh? I’m not sure AMiA or CANA or any others have any reason to do as you accuse. Careful Proverbs 19:9 holds true today ... TEC plays some games with numbers (using 2.3M when their own published records show it’s lower), but even they give members and ASA data, not sure what your point is or where your accusation is coming from #4.  mad 

(intentional smiley vs the attack of the random smiley monster above)

June 26, 10:50 am | [comment link]
6. RichardKew wrote:

Some years ago I found myself sitting on a plane with a Roman Catholic priest who was one of the leaders in his diocese. We discovered several mutual friends and so a conversation ensued some of which dealt with numbers and how the Romans count. As we talked about levels of nominalism he made it clear that they were prepared to put up with far higher levels than any non-Catholic church would. When I told him how we counted in the Episcopal Church he commented that if they did it that way then their numbers might be about 1/3 to 1/2 what they say they are.

June 26, 1:02 pm | [comment link]
7. C. Wingate wrote:

If you believe the ARIS numbers then the 65M number is about right. Well, the ARIS numbers give 4.8M Epsicopalians, so maybe not. The touchstone number is ASA but since we don’t have this one has to apply a fudge factor off of self-affiliation to get “real” membership numbers. The ARIS numbers show about 200M “Christians” and about 34M Baptists, btw.

Orthodox are one of the few bad record keeping groups to be studied in much detail (the HartSem study). It’s clear that their numbers are preposterously exaggerated and that there are about half as many Orthodox as Episcopalian.

June 26, 4:41 pm | [comment link]
8. deaconjohn25 wrote:

I’m surprised that none of the major polling organizations that sometimes do surveys of religious affiliation were mentioned in the article. Gallup, I believe does one regularly and I think most of these polling groups come up with higher totals than what the Catholic Church usually claims for membership.
    It would be interesting to see how many “nominal ” Catholics in the end ask for the “Last Rights.” Catholic folklore and family traditions are loaded with stories of “Prodigal Sons” returning to the Faith in their last hours. Of course, they just might only be taking Pascal’s famous wager—just in case.

June 26, 5:52 pm | [comment link]
9. C. Wingate wrote:

The ARIS numbers are survey numbers, not membership tallies, FWIW.

June 26, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
10. badman wrote:

I don’t think any one measure of religious or denominational affiliation is perfect - all the different measures have their value.  The problem arises only when a particular measure (usually the one giving the biggest number) is picked because it sounds good, rather than because it gives relevant information.

In the UK, about 70% answer census questions by saying they are some sort of “Christian”.  But only about 5% go to any church on a Sunday.  Both figures are correct and instructive:  it is relevant to know how many people instinctively identify with the church, even if they don’t go (as opposed, for example, to being a self identified atheist, or a Muslim).  In the same way, it is relevant to have a count of Roman Catholics that includes lapsed Catholics, because a lapsed Catholic is more Catholic than, say, a Hindu.  It is also relevant to know how many are in church on a Sunday (the lowest number).  It is also increasingly relevant to know how many regularly go to church without going every Sunday - very common among churchgoers in the UK.  Then there are intermediate figures - those who go to Church at Christmas or Easter will include many who don’t go at any other time of year, but will exclude very few who ever go to church at all, except those who only go to weddings, funerals and baptisms.

June 26, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
11. Words Matter wrote:

Deacon John - you make a good point.  A couple of years ago a friend’s mother was dying of cancer. When she went to church, it was to a Bible Church and I had no idea she had ever been Catholic. But when the end approached she asked for a priest; her last coherent words to me were “stick with the Catholic Church”. I had heard of things like this, but never seen it. 

All of which is to say that as much as I love data (numbers, like words, matter, you know), there is something far greater and more profound at work.

June 26, 6:34 pm | [comment link]
12. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Deacon John may well be right.  But we have it on the PB’s authority as a flying scientific never-parished priest made bishop that Pascal’s wager is OOD (out of date), expired, not-in-touch-with-modern-understanding - there are many vehicles to the whatever-may-be
after death.  That same approach to membership numbers seems to be a valid approach, don’t you think?  No need for accuracy in numbers or Pascal’s wager ‘cuz everybody’s gonna make it somewhere!

June 26, 9:57 pm | [comment link]
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