Overview of Catholic statistics in the US


Hi everyone,

I was doing some research into Catholics in the US, and whether the amount of parishes has really declined so drastically.

After some digging, I came across CARA and it looks like they have reliable historic data!

Some highlights:

  • From 1970 to 2017, the parishes have declined by less than 1100.
  • There are 3552 parishes without a resident priest pastor in 2017, in 1970 that number was only 571.
  • The Catholic population, which are connected to a parish, has grown from around 47 million to 68 million.
  • The amount of children in parish religious education in 2017 has halved from the number enrolled in 1970.
  • There are fewer Catholic hospitals but in 2017 they serve four times as many patients.


Is this similar to your actual experience in the US?


Seems plausible. It’s hard to count the actual number of parishes: where I live, there was a drop from about 300 to about 160. But some parishes sort of linger, as worship sites within merged parishes. some pastors cover 2 parishes that are “linked”. Those parishes may or may not combine many services and activities.

I don’t know what they mean by “religious education”. Does that include parochial schools? My rust belt diocese has dropped far more than 50 percent.

Statistics for persons connected to a parish are cloudy, since parish censuses tend to be rare. A more relevant figure is total attending church, plus those who receive Holy Communion at home or in a facility.


The number of hospitals has declined precipitously overall, not just Catholic institutions. Spending a week in the hospital for a normal, healthy childbirth was average in the 1950’s.


I live in one of the places in the US where the Catholic Church is growing. We were a missionary area until relatively recently.


In the Carolinas, the Catholic Church has certainly grown and the individual parishes with the most Catholics are in the state of North Carolina.

The biggest factor are migrants form the Rust Belt, the second are new hispanic residents. Probably a higher mass attendance rate for the number of registered parishioners, figuring that a lot of non-attending Catholics moving into the area never registered so the church doesn’t know they are there.


The only thing these numbers really tell us is that we need more GOOD priests and that the number of kids is being greatly reduced as the Catholic population ages.

The reduction in parishes isn’t a number that we can really look at because urban areas (like Philadelphia) used to have Catholic Parishes every few blocks. It also wasn’t uncommon for small coal towns to have multiple Catholic Churches too. For example: the small coal town my grandparents were from in Pennsylvania had a total population of approx 2000, yet they had 4 Catholic Churches (one for the Italians, one for the Irish, one for the Slovenians, and one for the Byzantine Catholics). Plus, the town had a ton of protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches too.

Today, thanks to the automobile, you don’t need Churches on every corner.

So the closing of 1100 net parishes is nothing to worry about (at the moment) when over 100 of them are from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia alone.

Over the decades, Northeast cities and immigrant towns have been closing personal parishes and reducing the number of other redundant Catholic Parishes.

After all, you don’t need a Slovenian Personal Parish in a neighborhood that no longer has any Slovenians.

God Bless


Commenter, if you don’t mind me asking, I saw your other posts in the other thread and I wanted to ask you, do you still have hope for the Church despite what seems to be discouraging trends and patterns?


Yes, I do!

First, the Catholic Faith has the fullness of truth. It makes sense.

Regarding the Church, there are countless signs of supernatural support over the centuries. One could argue that the Church is sometimes so BAD, only with supernatural support could it have survived. Sometimes I am part of that BAD.

Other things have lasted long…Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, but those are movements, no one organization.

The Church sometimes loses support because it supports the unpopular truths, it does NOT march in step with the times. But in the long run, people recognize it for doing so. As Pope Benedict said, the Church will shrink in the near future, due to the onslaught of secularism, and the fact that it does not Go With The Flow. But the Faith is equally true, regardless of how popular or unpopular it is at any time.

Permanent deacons na 898 4,093 7,204 9,356 10,932 12,378 14,574 16,649 18,082 18,287
Permanent deacon candidates na 2,243 2,514 2,263 1,980 2,026 2,497 2,342 2,445 2,051 2,670

Quite a blossoming of permanent deacons. and yet some bishops still resist them.


Deacons are unable to hear confessions or celebrate mass. Much of what they can do is traditionally done by volunteers, some of your bishops don’t see the increase in the number of deacons as much of an advantage.


There’s a absolutely gorgeous cathedral basilica in Asheville!


Yes, there is!



This is off topic, however, I’m going to address.

There are perhaps two reasons why some bishops resist permanent deacons

  1. lack of effective formation program. The United States as a TON of Catholic seminaries, so it was a lot easier for the Permanent Deacon formation program to get off the ground in the US. Plus, a few seminaries offered to travel to Dioceses without their own local seminary.

For example: St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana offers dioceses without a local seminary an onsite Diaconate formation program. So the seminary hires adjuncts and sends faculty to the dioceses to preform an onsite program. The Diocese of Wilmington (Delaware) uses St. Meinrad Seminary for their Diaconate formation program

Plus, the United States has a ton of Catholic Colleges too. So some US dioceses have created their own diaconate formation program in conjunction with a local catholic college for the academic portion. For example, the Diocese of Charleston (South Carolina) uses Saint Leo University for the academic portion of the Diaconate formation.

So the US has plenty of options to locally form deacons. However, in other nations, there is often either 1 or 2 national seminaries, or even regional ones (multi-national). And some places (like Africa) have very few Catholic colleges.

  1. Now, some bishops might see the permanent diaconate as a potential road block to priestly formations (meaning it might encourage some young people to become a married deacon instead of a priest), I really don’t think this is the main reason. I strongly feel the main reason some bishops have not embraced them is due to a lack of a solid formation program.

God bless




One issue we’ve run into with parish RE is the cost and now the commitment. The parish here has changed from the kids going to class once a week to a “family formation” program which adds way more time commitment and is over $125 a kid (more if it’s a sacrament year).


Counting on parents to deliver a message that is consistent with that of every other parent is asking a lot. Getting the kids into a classroom would seem to be a formula for a lot more consistency. A lot of parents aren’t as informed as they could be or should be, and even those who are , may have a difficulty implanting it in their children.


That’s kind of supposed to be one of the goals of the program - re-catechize the parents so they can better convey the message; but in reality it’s supposed to re-catechize the parents so they become more excited about their faith and come back to Mass.

IMHO, it’s bombing and pushing more of them away as it requires so much of a time commitment and IMHO is kind of expensive (at least where we’re at).


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