In Name Only

In Name Only

There are approximately 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today so why are the churches empty? This is easily explained by the fact that too many Catholics are Catholics “in name only.” In other words, they haven’t seen the inside of a church in years. However, when asked about their religion, they will definitely check the Catholic box. The issue becomes more complex if we try and analyze the beliefs of Catholics attending mass on a regular basis.

We jokingly make remarks about the “Creasters” or Catholics that attend mass twice a year on Christmas and Easter. But this is no joking matter. Troubling for the Church is that the total number of Catholics in the United States dropped by 3 million members since 2007. For every one Catholic convert more than six Catholics leave the Church. Today, Catholicism loses more members than it gains at a higher rate than any other religious group with nearly 13 percent of all American describing themselves as “former Catholics.”

The Catholic Church is 54% women and 59% white. More than half 52% of Catholics are married and another 8% live with a partner, while 12% are divorced. Hispanic Catholics now comprise 41% of the U.S. church and the average Catholic is getting a bit older with the median age now reaching 49 years. In Vancouver, Canada, Archbishop Michael Miller has said that “I would estimate that one quarter million baptized Catholics amongst us are no longer practicing their faith with any regularity.”

Keeping in mind that the Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception such as condoms and birth control pills are morally unacceptable, most American Catholics, including those who go to church on a regular basis, have no moral problem with contraception. When surveyed, just 8% say that contraception is morally wrong while 89% say that it is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all. When it comes to views  on homosexual behavior, church attendance affects what Catholics believe. The Church teaches that gays should not face unjust and discriminatory behavior, while at the same time condemning both same sex-marriage and sexual acts. But Catholics who attend Mass weekly are openly split with only half labeling homosexual behavior as morally wrong. Clearly there is an open divergence between Catholic beliefs and the understanding of many Catholics who do attend Mass.

Church attendance has been the subject of numerous polls and studies in recent years. Actual attendance, by many polls, places church attendance in the 20% to 28% range. This is an alarming trend. A recent study conducted in France revealed that only 2% of the entire French population are practicing Catholics. The study further determined that French Catholicism has become “a festive reality” for those who do practice their faith. Most French Catholics who do go to church only do so on certain major feast days and for baptisms, marriages or funerals. Just 5% of Catholics in France attend Mass on a regular basis although 53% of the French population considers itself Catholic. In other words, we can look for the “Creaster” population of Catholics to increase dramatically in the coming years.

There are many reasons, too numerous to mention, that have contributed to the lack of attendance at Mass today but it a sad and shocking reality. The closing of parochial schools or many scandals involving priests and clergy has not helped. As has been said many times, “people do things that they see value in” and the lack of attendance at Mass has then only one logical conclusion. People no longer see value in attending Mass.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer