Catholica editor, Brian Coyne, came across a report on vocation trends in the United States earlier today on NCR. This led to the uncovering of an even more recent report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University on emerging new models of pastoral ministry which makes for interesting reading against the decline in vocations. One might even begin to get one's hopes up that things might be turned around. He argues though from a trawl through other statistical trends that the situation remains bleak.
Some interesting new statistical data...
My attention was grabbed by an article in National Catholic Reporter earlier this morning on Vocation Statistics and trends in the United States.
Click the image above or HERE to read the article with selectable text on NCR.
As it turns out Jerry Filteau is commenting on a report that was released in April by CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University). That article led me to the CARA website where I found a new report released only a few days ago on "Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership" across the United States. When read in conjunction you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that things actually aren't that bad for the Catholic Church across the United States. While the first report on priestly vocations suggests there is a shortfall of some 300 new vocations recruits a year, the second report shows that the style of pastoral leadership in parishes is changing significantly — no doubt partly due to the lack of priests. There are today more pastoral associates — often religious sisters and lay men and women — as well as married deacons taking up some of the slack in the work previously done by priests. This reflects a similar trend in Australia where, if all the statistics I've been reading is any guide, the situation is possibly even more optimistic than it is in the United States.
The exercise of studying those two sets of statistics led me much further afield to studying a whole range of other statistics on CARA, its equivalents in Australia — the Pastoral Projects Office (PPO) of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) which the Australian Bishops also support — and various other commercial surveys looking at trends in religious belief, indentification and practice. I also rang the PPO to try and get some update on when the latest participation statistics are likely to be released for Australia based on the Australian Census last year. The answer is that it is likely to be still a couple of months away. The PPO is still awaiting the more detailed statistics on religious identification from the Australian Bureau of Statistics before they can compile the participation stats parish by parish and diocese by diocese across this nation and arrive at a national figure.
One of the clear things I did get a handle on from my research today is a better comparison figure between the participation rate in Australia and that in the United States. The figures are compiled in slightly different ways in each of our countries. The Australian figure seems to be more accurate but reading through all the CARA analysis my conclusion is that the roughly equivalent participation rates in Australia and the United States are 13.8% (Australian weekly official attendance figure  rising to 15.1% when measured as a monthly attendance figure) and roughly 23% in the United States. In both cases though the trend is still downward as reflected in these two graphs:
US participation rate 2000-2008 sourced from CARA HERE. The CARA report explains that in self-administered surveys people tend to respond more truthfully whereas in telephone and face-to-face surveys people tend to respond with what they perceive to be more socially accepted answers or what they think they surveyors what to hear. This suggests the more comparitive figure for comparison with the way Australian surveys are conducted is the lower set of figures. For more detailed explanation of this see the CARA analysis at: cara.georgetown.edu/CARAServices/FRStats/massattendweek.pdf.
The above graph drawn by Catholica from Table 12.1 of the Catholics for Ministry "Wilkinson Report" which in turn are drawn from PPO statistics. For the original data see: www.catholica.com.au/editorial/CatholicParishMinistry.pdf
Whichever way you look at it these figures do not look healthy. They continue to point to a "smaller, purer Church". If a commercial organisation or a political party were looking at a fall-off in its core customer support of this magnitude the Administrators and Receivers would have probably been called in a long time ago.
I don't think there is anything remotely on the horizon to suggest that the institutional leadership is anywhere capable of addressing this massive crisis the Catholic Church is now experiencing in the world. Even the so called "Year of Faith" New Evangelisation initiative is more a "make out you are busy in case Jesus pokes his head in the door" exercise than one seriously geared to attend to the needs of those who have given up on regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
Last night I found myself on the Vatican website and a number of different archdiocesan websites around the world. I couldn't help coming away wondering if part of the problem is just the sheer inertia of this massive religious bureaucracy with appointments scheduled even decades into the future and a lot of the people at the top simply never have the time to stop and ask themselves "where is this all actually heading; who is it serving – the broad body of the faithful or just some shrinking minority of the docile and those who seek certitude and authority figures over truth in their lives?" The institutional church has become like some giant, fully laden ocean bulk carrier ploughing through the waves towards rocks and even with its engines in full reverse thrust it is now unable to avert disaster because of its inertia. All the way up the hierarchial ladder everybody is afraid to question the institutional agenda or the agenda of His Holiness and those on the bridge of the institution.
At the end of all this I find myself still wondering: what will that vast cohort end up doing who still see the spiritual as important in their lives but who have given up on the institutional leaders?
Brian Coyne, 22 Aug 2012
See this page on Catholica where we are gradually assembling a comprehensive set of links to all sort of statistics on the Church: www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=page&id=3
The full CARA Report on "Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership" can be found at:
The CARA Report Jerry Filteau's article in NCR can be found at:
The background image in the header and footer graphics has been sourced from the CARA website.
Brian Coyne is the editor and publisher of Catholica.
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