Monday, October 18, 2010
Tom Roberts has an interesting article in the National Catholic Reporter discussing Pew Forum data about those who have left the Catholic Church in the U.S. It is well known that more persons have left the Catholic Church than any other denomination. Thirty-two percent of those who are born Catholic, some 23 million people leave the Church. What happens to them? Ex-Catholics are almost evenly divided between Protestants and unaffiliated. A far smaller percentage belong to non-Protestant religious groups. I would guess that a plurality of ex-Catholic Protestants belong to the Episcopalian Church (Episcopalian priests report that their most numerous converts are ex-Catholics). But I have not seen data on this.
Although the data in Roberts's article does not present a sunny view of the Church’s ability to retain members, the picture is actually much worse. Roberts's article discusses those who leave the Church. If you combine those who leave the Church with those who rarely attend, the percentage of those who leave or rarely attend rises to above 60%. See Putnam and Campbell, American Grace 138 (2010). This crisis in the Church has been disguised in part by immigration. Without Latino immigration the American Church would have experienced a “catastrophic collapse.” Id. at 299. But the increased and increasing Latino presence in the Church should ease the decline because Latinos leave at lower rates and attend at higher rates.
One final point of perspective. Although Catholics have the highest number of persons leaving a denomination, some other religious groups have similar (mainline Protestants) (or worse, e.g., Jews) percentage declines, albeit for different reasons. More on that later.
cross-posted at religiousleftlaw.com