A few days ago, I received a copy of the new Pew Research Survey about Catholics in America. I was embargoed from talking about it until now. Currently, more Americans identify as “nones” than as Catholics. Let that sit in for a moment.
24% of Americans identify as religious “nones” while just 21% identify as Catholics. One thing to keep in mind about this is that obviously not all the “nones” are atheists. In fact, many are theists who just don’t identify with a particular church or a particular religion. What is much less obvious is that not all the Catholics are Catholics. Whaaat?
Apparently 49% of Catholics say that being a Catholic is mainly about ancestry and/or culture and not religious beliefs. Only 38% of Catholics believe that being a Catholic is mainly about religion. Does that mean that 49% of Catholics are atheists? Of course not, but at least some of them probably are. In fact, 41% of Catholic adults under the age of 30 say they could see themselves leaving the church. 26% of Catholics ages 30-64 say they could see themselves leaving the church. That leaves only 14% of Catholics ages 65 and older admitting that they are willing to consider leaving the church. That’s a lot of Catholics who seem to be willing to leave the Catholic Church. They just need a good reason and I guess all those priests fucking little kids doesn’t seem to be one of them.
So what are the reasons? The Pew Survey goes into the numbers in some detail, but needless to say, Catholics who cohabitate before marriage, had abortions, got divorced, are gay, know gay people, and/or use condoms feel less of a connection to the Catholic Church. Who could have seen that coming? Perhaps that is the reason why earlier this month, Pope Francis said that Catholics who have divorced should be welcomed back into the Church. And just yesterday, Pope Francis said that the Church can forgives Catholics who have had abortions.
As it turns out, the Church is losing members in droves and the Pope is desperately trying to slow the damage. 77% of ex-Catholics say they will never even consider returning to the Church. That’s pretty damning (pardon the pun).
Pope Francis is enormously popular, but his popularity isn’t bringing all the Catholics to the Church yard nor is it stopping people from leaving the Church. The “Francis Effect” seems to just be making some Catholics feel less ashamed of being Catholic despite that fact that less than half of American Catholics agree with the Pope on the sinfulness of social issues like homosexuality, cohabitation, contraception, divorce, etc.
So if we measure being Catholic by how much people agree with the Pope, then there are a lot of Catholics in America who aren’t Catholics. But if we measure being Catholic by the views of self-identified Catholics, then maybe the Pope isn’t Catholic after all.