Isn’t it time for the Catholic Church, especially in the United States, to finally “get with the times”? This is the twenty-first century, after all, and there is no time, nor room, for Middle Ages-level superstition or “unthinking, backward” ways within the informed populace of a developed nation. Some of the more unacceptable viewpoints may include such intolerable Christian teachings as “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28), “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7), “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9), “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and so many other outrages. In any event, you have probably heard the rumors: that the Catholic Church in the United States is dying, that the pews are empty, that there are no more vocations, that people think that the big game on Sunday is more important than going to mass, and so forth… or is that actually the case? The reality is that American Catholics are only 5% of all the world’s Catholics – a mere drop in the holy water font. Meanwhile, demographics-wise, the future of the global Catholic Church rests primarily within the African continent, where the Catholic faith accords well with such traditional African values as strong marriages, fortified family life, and openness to children, which are increasingly at odds with the prevalence of highly secularized mindsets in the West. Although there are some reasons for concern for the condition of the Catholic Church in the United States, there are actually multiple reasons to give thanks for being an American Catholic at this point in time. Here are twelve of them.* (However, before starting, speaking of giving thanks, were you even aware of the Catholic origins of the Thanksgiving holiday? You can read more in Dr. Taylor Marshall’s piece on his website here and Dale Ahlquist’s piece on Catholic World Report here.)
1. More American Catholics are going to mass, and the percentage of Catholics attending Sunday mass rose consistently between 2000 (22%), 2005 (23%), 2010 (24%), and 2015 (24%).
2. Catholicism remains the single largest religious affiliation in the United States, and the Catholic Church has a rate of retention that is higher than the majority of other American religious affiliations.
3. The number of American Catholics has risen consistently from 1965 (approximately 48,500,000) to 2015 (approximately 81,600,000), and roughly one in four Americans self-identifies as Catholic.
4. Immigration, of which the Catholic Church has remained a staunch advocate for generation upon generation, has strengthened the Catholic Church in the United States practically since its colonial origins in the 1600s. Even between 1975 and 2015, the number of foreign-born Catholic adults rose from approximately 4,700,000 to approximately 22,800,000.
5. Are all of the churches closing their doors? Far from it – there were almost as many Catholic parishes in the United States in 2015 (17,337) as there were fifty years ago, in 1965 (17,637).
6. The United States has some of the world’s most renowned Catholic institutions of higher education, and there were nearly twice as many students in these Catholic colleges and universities in 2015 (784,790) as there were in 1965 (409,471).
7. Over 80,000,000 Americans of all different faith backgrounds and other circumstances were patients in Catholic hospitals at least once in 2014 (data provided going into 2015).
8. Catholic charitable endeavors in the United States provided almost $4,000,000,000 worth of services in 2014 (data provided going into 2015), and approximately 8,547,000 people were served by Catholic charities in 2014 (data provided going into 2015).
9. The number of priestly ordinations in the United States has been steadily on the rise since 2000 (442 in 2000, 454 in 2005, 459 in 2010, and 515 in 2015).
10. There were almost as many graduate-level seminarians in priestly formation in the United States in 2015 (3,650) as there were in 1990 (3,658).
11. The number of permanent deacons in the United States has risen steadily and sharply since 1975, from 898 in 1975 to 18,082 in 2015, although the number of candidates for the permanent diaconate has fluctuated little between 1975 (2,243) and 2015 (2,051).
12. There were over twice as many lay professional ministers in the United States in 2015 (23,448) as there were in 1995 (10,674), and there were also increases for lay ecclesial ministers (39,651, up from 29,146) and those enrolled in lay ecclesial ministry formation programs (22,145, up from 21,800).
Come what may for the Catholic Church in the United States, let us recall our ongoing expectations and promise that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples, which includes us by extension: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
*The statistics provided here are courtesy of Georgetown University’s highly-regarded Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, with data available as of 2015.