Friday, May 01, 2009

Survey Says....

Even though the number of polls reflecting the state of faith and its practice just seem to keep multiplying on end anymore, this week saw the release of two new studies that should be of some interest within these walls.

Both from the Pew Forum -- the folks who reported early last year that one-tenth of America is ex-Catholic -- the first, revealed Monday, looked at the ever-growing patterns of religious migration in the States.

While the Mothership took pride in the study's finding that "Catholicism’s retention rate of childhood members (68%) is comparable with or better than the retention rates of other religious groups," the flip-side shows anew that Catholicism "has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious change."

"Those who have left Catholicism outnumber those who have joined the Catholic church by nearly a four-to-one margin," the study found.

This Easter, some 150,000 adults were received into the Stateside fold, whose total membership roughly numbers 64 million. Yet again, though, the group experiencing the largest growth in numbers was among respondents who classified themselves "unaffiliated."

Released yesterday, the week's second Pew poll gauged the American Catholic "street" on what's become the church crowd's big story of the spring news-cycle: the University of Notre Dame's selection of President Obama to give its commencement address and receive an honorary degree from South Bend later this month.

While some 50-plus bishops have weighed in against the move, US Catholics surveyed generally reflected the opinion of the ad extra population, supporting the university's invitation to Obama by a nearly two-to-one margin (50-28%) over those who opposed it. Among weekly Massgoers, however, the result flipped -- 45% gave a thumbs-down to the Golden Dome's choice, while 37% approved of it.

Catholics and Non alike, half the population polled had heard either "a little" or "a lot" about the controversy.

Meanwhile, back in March, a third survey -- the decennial ARIS study of the nation's religious identification -- gave empirical heft to what's long been observed in the pews: the "stunning" shift of the US Catholic population away from its historic base in the Northeast and toward the South and West.

For one, the study found the share of New England's Catholic population plummeted by some 30% since 1990 and a decrease of 16% in New York, while Texas and California racked up 27 and 40% increases of Catholics over the same period.

Led by the 4.2 million-member archdiocese of Los Angeles, the latter two states are now home to seven of the US church's 15 largest dioceses.

Of course, it's well known that the "growth and vitality" of the Southern church has been reflected on the global stage with the rise of the region's first cardinal. Yet with the number of red-hats leading Stateside sees now at a modern low of five, the chips keep falling into place for the realignment in the pews to make its impact ever more felt at the very top.

And more on that in a bit.