Decline of the Catholic Church


We have had recent discussions about the decline of Catholic marriages and baptisms, and about massive closings of parishes. The response here has been weak and unfocused.

What is happenning is that the Catholic Church is in serious, and perhaps terminal, decline, in the United States.

Many of the churches are without parish priests and empty of people.

Seminaries are likewise empty and many have closed.

Across the country, large numbers of parish churches have closed.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, have been paid by the church, to settle claims of those abused by priests.

The bishops have been inadequate administrators and weak leaders. The church is widely seen as corrupt and dishonest.

Millions of people have left the church.

I am not making accusations. I am telling it like it is. The church is in big trouble, and may not survive.


That sounds more like Europe… I don’t see any Catholic churches in my area standing empty. In fact, wherever I have traveled, I can find more than one Catholic church that is well-attended and doing just fine.

Millions of people have left the Church? Where? There are more Catholic Mexicans and South Americans flooding into the US from across the border than ever.

Where are these empty seminaries you mention?

Where are you getting this information from?


Well, this simply isn't true.

Our seminary is overcrowded and we are expanding it as we speak.

My particular parish had 2 masses today with standing room only.

Christ promised that the gates of hell will not prevail. What good do you think would come of your post?


I concur with others ...don't see it...on the rebound...look at USCCB stats below:

[INDENT][size=4]U.S. Catholic Church Through 2007


There are 68,115,001 Catholics in the United States1 (22% of the U.S. population),
and 1 billion Catholics worldwide2.
New Church Members3
[INDENT]Infant Baptisms: 887,145
Adult Baptisms: 42,629
Received into Full Communion: 81,775

Dioceses and Archdioceses4
In the United States, there are 195 archdioceses and dioceses and one apostolic exarchate:
145 Latin Catholic dioceses
33 Latin Catholic archdioceses
15 Eastern Catholic dioceses
2 Eastern Catholic archdioceses
1 apostolic exarchate
Currently, 4 dioceses are vacant (sede vacante):

*]Archdiocese of San Antonio
*]Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh
*]Eparchy of St. Josaphat of Parma for Ukrainians
*]Lithuanian Catholics
[/LIST]Clergy and Religious
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is an assembly
of the hierarchy of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


There are 16 U.S. Cardinals
]5* Cardinals currently lead U.S. archdioceses
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo - Galveston-Houston
Cardinal Francis George - Chicago
Cardinal Roger Mahony - Los Angeles
Cardinal Sean O'Malley - Boston
Cardinal Justin Rigali - Philadelphia

There are 424 active and retired U.S. bishops in the United States:
]258 Active Bishops:*
]5* Cardinal Archbishops
]28* Archbishops
]1* Coadjutor Archbishop
]153* Diocesan Bishops
]71* Auxiliary Bishops
]166 Retired Bishops:*
]7 retired Cardinal Archbishops
*]16 retired Archbishops
*]94 retired Diocesan Bishops
*]49 retired Auxiliary Bishops

There are 41,489 diocesan and religious-order priests in the United States.
]28,061* diocesan priests
]13,428* religious-order priests (Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.)

There are 4,973 seminarians enrolled in the United States.
]3,274* enrolled in diocesan seminaries
]1,699* enrolled in religious-order seminaries
[/LIST]Permanent Deacons9
There are 16,935 men who are ordained as permanent deacons in the United States. .

Vowed Religious10
]Sisters: **60,715*
]Brothers: **4,905*
[/LIST]Catholic Education11
]Total Catholic elementary and high school enrollment: **2,283,767*
]Elementary Schools: **6,133* schools educating 1,609,387 students
]High Schools: **1,341* schools educating 674,380 students
]Colleges and Universities: **234* institutions educating 795,823 students
]Non-residential Schools for Handicapped Persons: **66* schools educating 6,304 students
]Public School Students Receiving Religious Education:
*]Elementary School students: **3,080,838
]High School students: **722,599*
[/LIST]Catholic Health Care12
]Hospitals: **562* Catholic hospitals treated 85,283,351 patients
]Other Health Care Centers: **373* centers treated 6,703,167 patients
]Specialized Homes: **1,643* assisted 936,900 residents
]Residential Care of Children: **403* locations assisted 33,952 residents
[/LIST]Catholic Charities
Social Services13

More than 1,688 local Catholic Charities agencies and institutions provided services to 8,522,997 unduplicated individuals in need of help in 2004.
]Provided Services that Build Strong Communities to 3,646,222 people*
Social support services 1,837,964
Education and enrichment 775,968
Socialization and neighborhood services 359,574
Health-related services 276,400
Services to at-risk populations 396,316
]Provided Food Services to 6,287,891 people*
Food banks and food pantries 2,984,089
Soup kitchens 1,247,290
Congregate dining 1,291,982
Home delivered meals 274,253
Other food services 490,277
]Provided Services that Strengthen Families to 1,071,463 people*
Counseling and mental health services 387,856
Immigration services 350,164
Addiction services 94,027
Refugee services 92,034
Pregnancy services 98,064
Adoption services 49,318
]Provided Housing Related Services to 598,953 people*
Counseling and Assistance 203,063
Temporary shelter 251,671
Supervised living 70,121
Permanent housing 52,384
Transitional housing 21,715
]Provided Other Basic Needs Services to 1,741844 people*
Financial Assistance (not rent, mortgage, etc.) 176,304
Clothing Assistance 592,899
Utilities Assistance 330,721
Assistance with Purchase of Prescriptions 47,484
Additional Other Basic Needs Assistance 594,436
]Provided Disaster Services to 331,727 people*
[/LIST]United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - Executive 2009


In my archdiocese of St. Paul, 20 more parishes are closing, amounting to a 10% reduction. Down the street from my house, a Catholic church closed and is now an Islamic mosque. Three more parishes in my neighborhood will be clustered, with only one priest. Catholic schools are being shuttered. My mother’s parish is closing.

The parish where I grew up had seven priests and held eight masses every Sunday. Now, it has merged with another parish, and is much smaller.

Unfortunately, I see the decline all around me. It is not only the Catholic Church. Other long established, Christian denominations are shrinking, too.

These patterns may not hold true in every area of the United States. Some regions may still have a strong Catholic presence.

I have read everything I could find about the health of the Catholic Church. The number of priests and nuns is shrinking. Mass attendance is down. Marriages and baptisms are declining. Many parishes and schools are closing, even though some new parishes are being established.

The trend of decline is strong, and disturbing.

The point of discussing this is that the church may still be able to stop and reverse this decline.

But if Catholics think everything is fine, there likely will be no effective action.

Think. If the stockholders and officers of a large commercial enterprise, in decline, were to ignore reality, and do nothing about the situation, should they then be surprised if the enterprise founders?


[quote="Magickman, post:1, topic:218064"]
We have had recent discussions about the decline of Catholic marriages and baptisms, and about massive closings of parishes. The response here has been weak and unfocused.

What is happenning is that the Catholic Church is in serious, and perhaps terminal, decline, in the United States.

Many of the churches are without parish priests and empty of people.

Seminaries are likewise empty and many have closed.

Across the country, large numbers of parish churches have closed.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, have been paid by the church, to settle claims of those abused by priests.

The bishops have been inadequate administrators and weak leaders. The church is widely seen as corrupt and dishonest.

Millions of people have left the church.

I am not making accusations. I am telling it like it is. The church is in big trouble, and may not survive.


The problems you describe are big problems--to the extent they are accurate, because some of those "facts" are misleading at best--but they hardly signal the death knell of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Consider that we are still the largest denomination in the United States: there are approximately 68 million of us here. The Unitarians, in contrast, number about 500,000. So if we lost 67 million members, we'd still have twice as many members as the Unitarians do, and they aren't dead yet, either. There are about 55,000 Scientologists in the US; there are roughly 50,000 Roman Catholic clergy.

Consider that no matter what criticisms they may or may not deserve, the bishops of today are paragons compared to some of the bishops we have survived in the past. Seminary training is incomparably more rigorous than in our worst times. Yet we survived the worst times, too. We survived the persecutions of the early Church, the Black Death (in which 1/3 of Europe was wiped out), the Dark Ages, and countless religious wars. Yes, we have survived times in which we have strayed scandalously from our intended place in the world. Many philosophies and movements determined to wipe us out have come and gone, yet we have endured that, too. The faith has survived in places where priests were unavailable for years and even decades at a time.

Consider, too, that we are not a building-based religion. If we don't have a physical building to meet in, we still have a Church. We existed like that for the better part of three centuries. We existed through times (and exist today in places) where belonging to the Church was a death sentence, if our adherents were found out. Yet the faithful hung in there. It is impossible to legislate the Church out of existence. As on enemy of the Church in Poland put it: "The harder you hit a nail, the deeper it goes into the wood."

You need to realize this: It is tragic that we are losing members, but not for the reason you think. It is not because we worry that the Church will be lost. We are in no danger of closing our doors in the United States. It is because souls are being lost. That is what makes this a critical time in our history. That is what has us wringing our hands.

We're not talking about the Rotary Club, here. We're talking about a shared life. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that the Roman Catholic Church will always be there for you in this great country of ours, no matter what happens, even if we have to go into hiding to be there for you. For anyone thinking about joining the fold, we'll be ready, when you are!


I have to echo what everyone else is saying. I am not seeing the decline the OP is speaking of.

Our parish had 3 Masses today, with the church being almost full each time. Our church holds almost 2500 at each Mass. We also had the Vigil Mass Saturday evening with similar results.

In the past 10 years, our RCIA program has brought 200 adults into the Catholic Church. Not bad for a city of about 30,000.

We currently have 2 young men in seminary from our parish alone, and approximately 25 in seminary for the whole diocese.

If anything, we are seeing a revitalization. Not only in our parish, but through the entire diocese.


The Catholic Church will survive, OP.

Sin and death have been conquered. Jesus wins. +


As the other posted, gates of hell won't do it, so no, it's never going to be terminated.

Right now it's in a state of flux, don't think for two seconds, God is not sending Holy Spirit filled people among the ranks to steer it better on course towards where he wants it.

The church is under heavy attack, that's a given, especially now a days, and much of the attack comes from people who are supposed to be our very brethren, ie. the fundamentalists.. Still, it doesn't roll over and waffle, it's seen tougher situations in the past, and will do so in the future.


According to the stats above, we have one priest for every 1,641.7 Catholics.

That seems like a big problem. :(


If I can impose on you...something else to keep in mind

...of the 68 million Catholics {51 million adults}...only about 23% attend Mass weekly...from a...** Feb 2008 Report*...CARA* *Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Georgetown University-based researchers] . *

CARA estimates that there are more than 51 million adult Catholics, about 22-23 percent of the nation's adults, making Catholicism the religion chosen by most Americans. Of this number:

-- 31 percent, or approximately 16 million adult Catholics,** attend Mass in any given week** (23 percent of Catholics say they attend Mass every week). Mass attendance is highest among Catholics who are older, female, married to another Catholic, who have a college degree or more, and who attended Catholic educational institutions – especially a Catholic college or university. Majorities of adult Catholics agree with the following statements:** "I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday" (68 percent)** and "I think of myself as a practicing Catholic (55 percent). **

Now...look at the** financial things that the 23%** (maybe as high as 31% of total adult Catholics...I doubt if it is higher than 31%) the Church in USA to do*...putting the 23% "doing the heavy lifting"... with the USCCB money expenditures and services listed in the 2007 USCCB report is an incredible picture* incredible it would be if say 50% of adult Catholics attended weekly Mass on Sunday...and all were commited to give the Parish/Diocese...a set amount in the collection offering...$5...$10...or more...look at what that would allow the Church in the USA to accomplish...right now with only 23-31%...the Church is an incredible "force/power"...for good...think of all the good that the USA society/common good receives from the really small percentage of practicing Catholics...their faith with thier works in charity...for Christ and for really a miracle of God's grace...smiply a miracle!

Pax Christi


To all the naysayers out there, you are literally putting the Church- in one corner against JESUS - in the other corner. You have forgotten WHO formed and organized HIS Church, the Catholic Church - Read Matthew 16.
You have forgotten your history, first Judas - who was selected by JESUS betrayed HIM - but the Church survived. The Borjia (Family ) Pope's who destroyed the reputation of the Church - but the Church survived. Father Martin Luther, who following after the Borjia Pope's created the schism of protestantism - but the Church survived, Communism, which attempted to obliterate the Church - but the Church survived. The misguided Bishops who protected priest over the Church - but the Church is surviving.


Here are the seminarians of the Wichita KS diocese. They give me a reason for hope in the future.


It looks like we’re in the same diocese. According to our newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, our seminary is at capacity as of Sept 2010. I, too, grieve for the loss of many of our parishes and the restructuring of so many others. But I also see that there is hope. Today my parish collected money for our seminarians and I am excited to see there are so many!



Our Lord Jesus Christ said the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church.

I believe Him.


[quote="JimG, post:13, topic:218064"]
Here are the seminarians of the Wichita KS diocese. They give me a reason for hope in the future.


The Pope John Paul II Generation---:D

They give me a lot of hope too!


Well, although Christ promised us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church universal, there is no promise that the Church in a particular location will always survive. So I guess it's theoretically possible that the Church in the USA could vanish. That said, the Church has survived in some incredibly inhospitable locations and periods, even when authorities actively tried to eradicate it and even when declaring yourself to be a Christian meant certain death. Reading about some of the persecution that the Church has endured in the past -- and still endures today in some places -- can send chills up my spine.

Certainly, the Church in the USA is experiencing difficulties lately, and it is right to draw attention to those problems and discuss them. But if the Church can survive for 2000 years despite so much persecution and difficulty, I do not think that this will be its end.


JPII said that my generation will bring about a new springtime in the Church and he was correct. Of my close friends one was ordained this summer, one entered seminary this summer, another is entering seminary next summer, two more are discerning and a close female friend has discerned a call to the religious life.

Your perception of the Catholic Church in the US must be colored by what's happening in your area. I have lived three places in PA and also in Lafayette, La- the Catholic Church and young adult ministry is going strong everywhere I have been. Praise Jesus.


Here in the south we are doing quite well. New parishes, energetic expansion programs, school expansions, and active RCIA programs.


I was a fallen-away (aka backslidden) fundamentalist Protestant at one time, who had essentially rejected God in his life. I decided to convert, initially not for the right reasons, but because I was tired of my wife and son taking part in Communion while I sat in the pew. Besides my hardness of heart towards God, I had a lot of anti-Catholic baggage. It is interesting how the anti-Catholic feelings persisted, even after I no longer considered myself a Christian.

I attended RCIA, not really intending to believe, just become a member. We had a great deacon and his wife teaching the class. I found myself opening to God in ways I did not think still possible. By the time it was over, somehow God had reached down into my heart and put me back on the path of conversion. It became exciting and enjoyable to learn more through helping with RCIA, and later teaching CCD. Reading Scripture has never been the same, because the Holy Spirit has guided the Magisterium of the Church into so much beauty and truth. Studying some of the many teachings of the Church is like one adventure to the next, never old or boring, always rewarding and beautiful. I was very devout at one time as a Protestant, enough to the point of going door to door to give out tracts and invite people to church. However, I never knew Christ as intimately before becoming Catholic. Words cannot describe it.

Why do I say all this? I can see many of the points made in this forum, on both sides. I do think the Church is on the rise, but I also think the Holy Spirit is purging us as well. Let me suggest an analogy. Imagine two men. The first has just one book, but he treasures it and tries his best to live by it to the best of his ability. The other has an entire library of books, with many beautiful teachings. His library also includes the book the first man has, but he has many other books that explain and expound on the first man’s book. As a matter of fact, the first man got his one very good book from the second man. However, if the second man never reads the books in his library, even though he has the best collection of knowledge, which one is better off?

We as Catholics have got to start delving into the teachings of the Church. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church, but they will prevail against us as individuals if we don’t cherish and strive to live by the Church’s teachings. Too often we sit back, picking and choosing which Church teachings are convenient for us, forgetting or ignoring the ones which are a little more difficult. We fall into our own little flavor of protestantism right there in our Catholic Church’s pew. If there are teachings which are hard to follow, we need to study them and see why God is asking this of us. He only asks us to do that which will save our souls, He wills that all be saved. However, oftentimes it is our will we want to follow more than His.

We must become a part of a new evangelization, which brings new converts into the Church, but also educates those in our own parishes who don’t really believe what the Church teaches. Several months ago, I was at a dinner for CCD teachers. I point the finger at myself, because I am often too afraid to speak up. Right there at my table, a teacher was not just talking about how she got her tubes tied, she was bragging about it. Many others in the Church don’t see a problem with using contraception. The Church’s teachings on human reproduction and sexuality may seem harsh or backwards to the world, but when you study the teachings (especially Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body), they shine God’s light on the dignity He intended for us in our very bodies.

We as Catholics must rise up and proclaim the Gospel, the full Gospel, not just part of it. That also means we have to teach it to others by example.

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