For the past two decades, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University has been publishing The CARA Report, a quarterly newsletter that presents what it calls “the most important and up-to-date research on American Catholics and the Catholic Church in the United States.”
The following is a distillation of some of the topics addressed in the latest CARA Report for summer 2015:
Catholic population trends
The global Catholic population has grown by 57 percent since 1980, but the growth varies tremendously by region. For example, Europe’s Catholic population grew by 6 percent from 1980 to 2012 while the Catholic population of Africa increased by 238 percent.
In spite of such wide variance, the proportion of the global population who are Catholic has remained unusually steady for the last 50 years at about 17.5 percent (the current estimated total world population is 7.3 billion).
In other major findings, in Europe, the Catholic population in 2050 is expected to be about 5 percent smaller than it is today because of low replacement rate fertility and immigration adding few Catholics to the overall population. In the Americas, diocesan bishops, priests and deacons are increasing in number as the number of religious priests, brothers and sisters declines. In Asia, there is strong growth in the numbers of religious priests, brothers and sisters, as well as diocesan priests, and the number of parishes is increasing.
Muslim numbers may equal Christians by 2050
A recent report from the Pew Research Center begins, “The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will continue to make up the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current demographic trends continue, by 2050 the number of Muslims around the world (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) will nearly equal the number of Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.”
The researchers predicted that by 2050 United States Christians will decline from more than 75 percent of the population in 2010 to about 66 percent in 2050, and Islam will displace Judaism as the largest non-Christian religion. Also, four in ten Christians in the world are expected to live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Women in diocesan leadership positions
A third of the highest-ranking diocesan jobs open to lay people in the United States—chancellor, chief financial officer and superintendent of Catholic schools—are currently filled by women, according to a study by Crux, an online media outlet of the Boston Globe. However, 35 percent of U.S. dioceses have no women in any of those three positions.
Currently, three of the Catholic Church’s largest social service groups in the United States—Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the Catholic Health Association—are led by women.
Death penalty support waning
“A majority of Americans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, but support for the death penalty is as low as it has been in the past 40 years,” says a report by the Pew Research center based on a national survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted in March.
Currently, 56 percent of all Americans favor and 38 percent oppose capital punishment for convicted murderers (a change from 62/31 percent in 2011). Among those surveyed who identified themselves as Catholic, 53 percent were in favor and 42 percent opposed the death penalty (a change from 59/36 percent in 2011).
The “Pope Francis Effect”
Comparing results from a survey taken in 2012, the year before Pope Francis was elected, with a similar survey in 2014, CARA researcher Mark Gray found a “significant bounce” in the number of responding Catholics who said their religious affiliation was “strong”: a rise of seven points from 27 percent to 34 percent.
“Even so,” said Gray, “the data do not show any bump in Mass attendance, which is viewed as a bench mark of success for a pope who sees evangelization and outreach as the priority for the Church.”