WASHINGTON – More U.S. Catholics are attending Masses at fewer parishes staffed by a rapidly declining corps of priests, according to a new report on “The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes.”
Produced by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project of five national Catholic ministerial organizations, the report documents what it calls the “supersizing” of U.S. Catholic parish life.
“Bigger parishes, more Masses and ministries in languages other than English are becoming the norm,” said a news release on the report released July 18.
CARA found that the number of Catholic parishes has declined by 1,359 since the year 2000 to 17,784 in 2010, representing a 7.1 percent decrease. The 2010 number is roughly equal to the 17,637 U.S. parishes in 1965 and 1,836 fewer than the peak number of U.S. parishes in 1990.
The average number of registered households in each U.S. parish grew to 1,168, and the average number of people attending Mass at Catholic parishes was 1,110 in 2010, up from an average of 966 a decade earlier.
Half of U.S. parishes celebrate four or more weekend Masses each week, and nearly one in three (29 percent) has Mass in a language other than English at least once a month. But the Masses are being celebrated by a corps of priests that declined by 11 percent in the past decade.
One-third of all U.S. parishes have more than 1,201 registered households, while the percentage of parishes with 200 or fewer households dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010. Smaller parishes are more likely to be closed or consolidated, but they also have higher average Mass attendance than larger parishes.
In terms of individual registered parishioners, the average for U.S. parishes was 3,277, an increase of 45 percent over the 2,260 average a decade ago, CARA said, adding that 40 percent of the growth in registered parishioners in U.S. parishes between 2005 and 2010 was among Hispanics.
The report said the current U.S. Catholic population is about 77.7 million, based on Americans’ self-identification in national surveys. The church’s official estimate of Catholic population is about 68 million.
Using three different models for population projection, CARA estimated that the U.S. Catholic population would be between 95.4 million and 128 million in 2050.
“Although Mass attendance has declined in the long term since the 1950s, there has been no recent decline or increase in attendance in the last decade,” the report said. “As Mass attendance remains steady and the Catholic population grows, this suggests increasing demands on parishes as the real number of Catholics attending and needing sacraments increases.”
The report, funded by the Lilly Endowment, also looked at parish finances and services offered, staffing, composition of the parish community, the race and ethnicity of parishioners and staff members, and parish consultative bodies.
The data was drawn from responses to a survey sent to a “partially stratified random sample” of 5,549 U.S. parishes between March 2010 and December 2010. CARA received responses from 846 parishes for a response rate of 15.3 percent.
The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
In the second and third phase of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, CARA plans to survey parish leaders in a subsample of 60 of these parishes, and to conduct in-person interviews with their parishioners.
Catholic organizations collaborating in the project are the National Association for Lay Ministry, Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and National Federation of Priests’ Councils.
Among other information gleaned from the report:
– The total operating revenue in the average U.S. parish is $695,000, exceeding average expenses of $626,500 by $68,500. But 30 percent of parishes said their expenses exceed their revenue.
– Total average weekly offering has grown by more than 14 percent in U.S. parishes over the past five years, to about $9,200, or $9.57 per registered household.
– There are approximately 38,000 lay ecclesial ministers serving in U.S. parishes who are paid for at least 20 hours of work weekly. It is estimated that the U.S. church is adding about 790 new lay ecclesial ministers to parish staffs each year.
– The total number of priests, men and women religious and deacons in the United States was 117,080 in 2010, a decline of 41 percent from the 197,172 in those categories in 1980.
– The total number of people on U.S. parish staffs – including ministry staff and volunteers, as well as nonministry staff and volunteers such as bookkeepers, groundskeepers, cooks, etc. – is estimated to be 168,448. The average parish has 9.5 staff members, with 5.4 individuals in ministry positions.
– More than three-quarters (78 percent) of parishioners in U.S. parishes are non-Hispanic white and 13 percent are Hispanic. Four percent are black, African-American or African; 3 percent Asian, Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; and 1 percent are American Indian or Alaskan Native.