The bleeding of American Catholicism

By Razib Khan | September 29, 2009 3:15 am

I remember back in the early 1990s that there was some talk about the United States going from a plural majority Protestant nations, to a Roman Catholic one at some point in the early 21st century. This in itself wouldn’t be that big of a deal today, Canada already has more Catholics than Protestants (44% of the adult population is Catholic), and it has retained the dominance of Anglo-Protestant culture (also, the influence of Roman Catholicism in Quebec collapsed during the 1960s). But here in the United States things haven’t quite worked out. Latinos have become rapidly de-Catholicized, and only ~60% are Roman Catholic today. Additionally, American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population reports that Latinos went from being well underrepresented among those with “No Religion” in 1990 to almost establishing parity. Finally, there seems to be major defections among white ethnics; 33% of those with “No Religion” list at least some Irish ancestry. The likelihood of this is clinched by this chart:


catholicnones.png
Roman Catholics remain ~25% of the population, but this stability is likely purely a function of immigration from traditionally Catholic countries. I am generally wary of specific events serving as inflection points of social change, but I do wonder if the pedophile priest controversy was the last straw for many marginal “cultural Catholics,” for whom the religious identification was more a matter of ethnic loyalty and sentimentality. In any case, another warning about projecting too far into the future when it comes to demographic trends.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Religion
  • phisrow

    The pedophile priest thing does seem like a likely candidate. Any idea, though, why it occurred when/where it did, rather than at some other time? It wasn’t a matter of broad public awareness before; but priests have been raping children and more or less getting away with in countries across the world for decades at least(and probably a whole lot longer).
    Was it pure contingency that things happened to line up badly for them in one place and time rather than another, or did some other factor entirely have to weaken the church’s clout before airing their dirty laundry fell within the realm of plausible?

  • jennie

    I think the pedophilia may hv been a clincher for many. But, as an Orthodox, the waffling on Catholic mass tradition really turned me off…example; when I went 2 catholic school, (oh, the horror, 4 a Grk Orthodox!), the priest wld place the host on yr tongue…now u can just snatch one up 4 yrself. It begs the question: Is the host sacred or not? Orthodox priests give communion from a golden chalice, w/actual wine & bread, from the priest, who places it in the parishiner’s mouth, from a gold spoon. My point is, where has the reverence for sacred tradition gone for Catholic’s? Also, who would take marital advice from a celebate priest? What do they know abt tht sacrament first hand? Zip. I believe these inconsistencies & contradictions of observance of ‘tradition’ hv caused many catholic’s to jump ship…

  • jb

    My mother’s side of the family comes from Eastern Europe, and is very Catholic. Two of my older relatives are priests. My mother, in her 80’s, still goes to church every Sunday. But she is quite bitter about pedophile priest scandal, and openly talks about how it has lowered the standing of the Church in her eyes. During the same period she also became more liberal politically, and to me it seemed related. So yes, I can easily imagine that the scandal has had a major impact on the attitudes of marginal Catholics in America!

  • Paul Jones

    There is a lot of good things about Catholicism, but it has one small weakness: it’s not actually true.

  • wrpd

    The term “snatching up” is just a scary term made-up by right wing catholics who hate receiving communion in their hands. Nothing is “snatched up.” The person distributing the bread either places it on the tongue or in the hand of the recipient. The choice is made by the recipient. If he/she receives it in the hand, the bread is respectfully picked up with the fingers of the other hand and placed in the mouth. There is nothing scary or disrespectful about that. Receiving in the hand is a very old tradition that predates both receiving on the tongue and getting a spoonful from a chalice. How that can be sanitary is beyond me.
    What is actual wine?

  • tommy

    But here in the United States things haven’t quite worked out. Latinos have become rapidly de-Catholicized, and only ~60% are Roman Catholic today. Additionally, American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population reports that Latinos went from being well underrepresented among those with “No Religion” in 1990 to almost establishing parity.

    Not that more were needed, but that’s another nail in the coffin of the theory that Republicans can win Hispanic votes by appealing to traditional values.

  • Scelata

    wrpd, your choice of words demonstrates that either you are not Catholic, or that you are a Catholic whose faith has been compromised, perhaps by the very practice you defend —
    You wrote, “Nothing is ‘snatched up.’ The person distributing the bread either places it on the tongue or in the hand of the recipient”?
    The person distributing “BREAD”?
    If you were a practicing, comprehending Catholic you would know that no one, priest or lay, on the hand or on the tongue distributes bread at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (For the record, I don’t object to receiving the Holy Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the hand in principle, and often do so myself — unless it leads to a lessening of reverence, which in many cases it seems to have done.)
    “who would take marital advice from a celebate [sic] priest”
    The spectator has a better view of the playing field.
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  • wrpd

    Scelata: I am not Catholic. I do not believe in transubstantiation. That is based on a medieval philosophy I do not accept. I do believe in the Real Presence.
    How has receiving in the had led to the lessening of reverence?
    I did not make the comment about “celebate” priests.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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