This title’s sad conclusion comes by way of two polls – the Pew Forum, in their polls of American churches and beliefs, and a recent world-wide Catholic poll by Univision. The statistics are disturbing – or they ought to be! They ought to “disturb” our Church – clergy and laity – into action. Things need to change.
First, the Pew Forum Study
Church membership has been changing. The Pew Forum (1) finds that religious affiliation among Americans shows the following changes, in the years from 2007 to 2014: (The percent given is the percentage of the adult American population):
Catholic membership (now 20.8% of the American adult population), has declined 3.1%. Evangelical Protestants (now 25.4%), declined 0.9%. The Unaffiliated (now 22.8%), grew 6.7%. Mainline Protestants (now 14.7%), declined 3.4%. Non-Christian Faiths (now 5.9%), grew 1.2%.
The study reports, from a broader perspective, that America is now less “Christian” than at the beginning of the study in 2007:
“To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.”
This is not a good sign! But even more concerning is that those still in the Church are less “Catholic” than they used to be. We are not only fewer; we are less: less faithful and obedient to the Faith that our name, “Catholic,” proclaims.
The Pew Forum (2) has more recently reported a 10-year study of attitudes concerning homosexual “marriage.” Pew uses the term “gay marriage”, a term that does such violation to Truth that I cannot bring myself to using it. This study reports the following: Fully 85% of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage, up from 60% in 2005. Majorities of white mainline Protestants (62%) and Catholics (56%) support same-sex marriage; a decade ago just 39% of both groups supported it.
Again, Catholics have declined in both numbers and in the Faith of the Church! In the past seven years membership has dropped by 3.1% to now only 20.8% of the American adult population. And in the past ten years our adherence to the Faith concerning (for example) the meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony (i.e. “marriage”) has withered from 61% down to at least 44% faithful, concerning only one issue of Matrimony, that is, whether “marriage” can rightly join two homosexuals! No doubt it is worse than that. No doubt more Catholics have separated themselves from the Catholic Faith concerning Matrimony because of other issues, contraception probably being the most likely divisive issue.
Univision’s Poll on Several Issues
Univision (3) polled 12,000 Catholics in twelve countries across the world on modern issues of contention, to determine whether the Catholic supported or opposed the teaching of the Church. The questions included:
1) Question: Do you agree or disagree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?
World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 36% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 18% of those who seldom participate at Mass.
2) Question: Do you think that women should be allowed to become Catholic priests?
Of course, the Church says “No!” on this issue. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 60% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 32% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.
3) Question: Do you think that abortions should be allowed in all cases, allowed in some cases for example when the life of the mother is in danger, or should it not be allowed at all?
Of course, the Church does not allow direct intentional abortion in any case. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 17% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 23% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 12% of those who seldom participate at Mass.
4) Question: Do you support or oppose the use of contraceptives?
The Church does not allow any use of contraceptives. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 24% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 8% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 16% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 9% of those who seldom participate at Mass.
5) Question: Do you support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex?
The Church does not support any so-called “marriage” of same-sex partners. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 74% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 45% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.
Granted that interpretations of results of polls can be misleading, that important theological nuances can be blurred, and that questions can be leading, these results as they stand are deeply troubling to me, as a Catholic – although I must confess: I am not surprised by them, not any more. But in this Univision poll, in every one of these questions, a majority of Catholics in the U.S. polled – even among those who “attend Mass frequently” – do not accept Church teaching!
I have great joy and comfort in the assurance that the Catholic Church teaches and believes the truth of God in matters of faith and morals – that she has been entrusted with the truth of God’s holy revelation to mankind. But what about Catholics personally? What about the actual faith of members of His Holy Church? What about the witness of Catholics as they carry His Holy Name, and the Name of His Church, as they walk and talk and live among separated Christians and non-Christians and pagans and the lost of this world? What about the mission to be light in this dark world, entrusted to His Church? What about the honor of His Name, which we carry? What about the hope still flickering in the hearts of the lost, as they listen and watch for some sign of God who will save them?
The answer? We cannot make, or force, others to love truth – or to love truly – or even to hope in love and truth. The Church can, and must, proclaim the truth and live authentic love. Her light must be His light, so that men and woman can dare to hope, and to trust, in the saving Gospel that the Church is sent to preach and to teach. A major impediment, in my opinion, to the Church being Church in these dark times is that she is day-dreaming when she ought to be in training. The enemy is at the gate, and she is planning parish picnics. The enemy is advancing against every weak and easy target that can be attacked in the near future, and she is lounging in a reverie of days long past. He has plans, tactics, strategies, and ambition – and she ought to be preparing for the day of battle: it is close. Take a lesson from the rulers of kingdoms of earth: they form armies, they train them and arm them and prepare them for war. We ought to have their prudence.
Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph 6:12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Eph 6:13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Eph 6:14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Eph 6:15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
Eph 6:16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
Eph 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Eph 6:18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,…
Every Catholic adult ought to recognize the need! It may not be too late, not yet. Every Catholic parish ought to have faith formation programs in place for every Catholic of every age – programs evaluated and re-evaluated regularly by clergy, staff and lay parishioners. Do these programs help us to grow, to mature in Christ? Do they lead us to holiness – to Christ?
Eph 4:11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Eph 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph 4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
Church, wake up.
(1) Pew Forum study http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/