Leonard Wathen wrote a blog article on his website Heart of Catechesis talking about the general statistics regarding Catholics in the U.S.  I’ve included some commentary admidsts these statistics.

Catechists, to be effective, must have an understanding of those whom they catechize. Consider the following general statistics regarding Catholics in the U.S.:

Belief in God

Among Catholics in US:

* 97% believe in God or universal spirit (72% absolutely certain, 21% fairly certain, 3% not too certain, 1% not sure how certain); 2% don’t know if they believe in God; 1% don’t believe in God
* 60% believe God is a personal being with whom we can have a relationship; 29% believe God is an impersonal force; 8% believe God is neither, both, or don’t know

These statistics seem optimistic about efforts to evangelize the culture, but they are also startling because their believe in a “universal spirit” seems to lack a public witness or maybe this “spirit” does not effect them in their moral life.

Among General US Population:

* 92% believe in God or universal spirit (71% absolutely certain, 17% fairly certain, 3% not too certain, 1% not at all certain, 1% not sure how certain); 2% don’t know if they believe in God; 5% don’t believe in God
* 60% believe God is a personal being with whom we can have a relationship; 25% believe God is an impersonal force; 7% believe God is neither, both, or don’t know

Belief in Afterlife

Among Catholics in US:

* 77% believe in life after death (45% absolutely certain, 25% fairly certain, 5% not too certain, 1% not at all certain, 1% not sure how certain); 15% don’t believe in life after death; 8% don’t know
* 82% believe in Heaven; 60% believe in Hell

Among General US Population:

* 74% believe in life after death (50% absolutely certain, 19% fairly certain, 4% not too certain, 1% not at all certain, 1% not sure how certain); 18% don’t believe in life after death; 8% don’t know
* 74% believe in Heaven; 59% believe in Hell

Scripture

Among Catholics in US:

* 62% believe the Bible is the Word of God
* 21% read Bible at least once a week; 11% once or twice a month; 10% several times a year; 21% seldom; 36% never; 1% don’t know

Among General US Population:

* 73% believe the Bible is the Word of God
* 35% read Bible at least once a week; 10% once or twice a month; 8% several times a year; 17% seldom; 28% never; 1% don’t know

Sacrament of Eucharist

Among Catholics in US:

* 31% of Catholics are at Mass any given Sunday. 23% of Catholics attend Mass every week. 12% of Catholics always attend Mass on holy days of obligation.  These statistics are disturbing as a Catholic.  If the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life then there is a lot of work to be done to draw fellow believers closer to Christ through Sunday Liturgy.
* 57% of Catholics don’t believe that missing Mass is a sin (23% of Pre-Vatican II generation, 30% of Vatican II generation, 32% of Post-Vatican II generation, 33% of Millennial generation)  Not surprising considering the percentages just mentioned above.  Again, catechesis is needed to share that it is breaking God’s Commandment not to honor the Lord’s day (first and foremost by going to Mass).
* 57% of Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist; 43% believe the Eucharist is a symbol of Christ’s presence.  This is very optimistic while at the same time there is a need to catechize to a greater degree helping those who believe the Eucharist is only a symbol that it is truly more than a mere symbol of Christ’s presence.

Sacrament of Reconciliation

Among Catholics in US:

* 45% of Catholics never participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation (15% of Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more, 22% of Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month, 66% of Catholics who attend Mass a few times a year or less)  I thought this would be higher.  So I’m optimistic about this.  I think the percentage would have been higher ten years ago.  People are coming back to this sacrament which is great news.
* 62% of Catholics believe that one can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year (54% of Catholics who attend Mass once a week or more, 62% of Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month, 65% of Catholics who attend Mass a few times a year or less) Again, more sound catechesis about this is continually needed.

Morality

Among Catholics in US:

* When deciding right from wrong, 22% look to religious teachings and practices; 10% look to philosophy and reason; 57% look to practical experience and common sense; 7% look to scientific information; 5% don’t know

Among General US Population:

* When deciding right from wrong, 29% look to religious teachings and practices; 9% look to philosophy and reason; 52% look to practical experience and common sense; 5% look to scientific information; 4% don’t know.  Practical experience and common sense could be linked to the fact that the law of God is written on our hearts but there is a concern that such a small percentage look to religious teachings.

Prayer

Among Catholics in US:

* 31% pray several times a day; 27% pray once a day; 17% pray a few times a week; 4% pray once a week; 7% pray a few times a week; 10% pray seldom; 3% never; 1% don’t know

Among General US Population:

* 38% pray several times a day; 20% pray once a day; 14% pray a few times a week; 3% pray once a week; 6% pray a few times a week; 11% pray seldom; 7% never; 2% don’t know

Lapsed Catholics

* Among all religious groups in US, Catholicism has by far lost the greatest percentage of followers in recent generations. 31.4% of Americans were raised Catholic, but only 23.9% consider themselves Catholic today, giving a net loss of 7.5%. Note that this statistic reflects how many still consider themselves Catholic, not how many actually go to Mass. The group with the next largest loss was the Baptist faith, with a net loss of 3.7%.
* Those who have left the Catholic Church outnumber those who have joined by a 4-to-1 margin.
* Among those raised Catholic, 15% are now Protestant, 14% are now unaffiliated, and 3% are now another religion.
* Most who have left the Catholic faith state they simply drifted away (71% of those now unaffiliated, 54% of those now Protestant); Many indicate that they stopped believing Catholic teaching (65% of those now unaffiliated; 50% of those now Protestant); Many indicate their spiritual needs were not being met (43% of those now unaffiliated; 73% of those now Protestant).

Questions for Reflection:

1. Are any of these statistics reassuring? Are any startling?
2. What challenges do the current landscape of Catholicism in the U.S. present to those who are catechists? What do you think that catechists need to address most urgently?
3. What can catechists do to most effectively guide those whom they teach?

Sources:

* Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. February 2008.
* Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S. April 2009.
* Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics. April 2008.

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