As someone trained in science and engineering, statistics are just one of the many tools I've used all my adult life. They are part and parcel of my professional toolkit and, even though I've been retired a few years now, they still feel as comfortable as that frayed, bleach-stained sweatshirt my granddaughters abhor.
I realize that puts me in a small minority of the population. Most folks I know detest statistics. When confronted with tables of experimental data or polling results their eyes glaze over and their minds drift towards more pleasant thoughts, like IRS audits or root canals.
That is why I was almost jubilant when I read Fr. Joseph A. Sirba's article in this month's issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Fr. Sirba provides us with his analysis of last year's Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, especially as it relates to Catholicism, and also gives us his insights on what we can do about the dismal picture it paints.
Fr. Sirba's article performs two great services. The first is to put some flesh on the numbers, to make them more accessible, more understandable, to many people.
To put these numbers in a different context, allow me to speculate just a bit. Suppose that you were the pastor of Saint Wojciech’s back in 1968, and in that year you baptized sixty children. Those children would now be forty years old. However, only thirty-nine would still be Catholic. Of the other twenty-one, twelve are men and nine are women. Ten of these (mostly men) are now unaffiliated with any organized religion. Of those ten, four would be secularists who believe in some sort of God but who practice no faith and do not pray. Three would be atheists or agnostics, and three would still be believers in God but would be following their own path to him apart from any organized religion. It is also the case that in this group would have been some of your brighter students and best altar servers back at Saint Wojciech’s grade school. Of the remaining eleven, six or seven would have joined evangelical congregations where they now lead Bible studies, work as missionaries in Guatemala converting Catholics or homeschool their larger-than-average families consisting of children who were dedicated to God (but not baptized). Three or four would have joined some mainline Protestant religion (probably through marriage) where they participate to greater or lesser degrees. Finally, perhaps one or maybe two have become Mormons or Buddhists.
But what about the thirty-nine who still identify themselves as Catholics? Well, twenty-one of them are women and eighteen are men. With regard to marital status, twenty-three are married, three are cohabiting, five are divorced, and eight have never married. About eight are doing quite well for themselves, earning over $100,000 a year. On the other hand, about ten are making less than $30,000 a year. Finally, of these thirty-nine who have remained Catholic, four never go to Mass and twelve may go at Christmas and Easter, and most of these had their children baptized but are less likely to have them enrolled in religious education. Finally, for twenty-three, their religion is “very important to them” and they go to Mass on a pretty regular basis (but probably miss when they have company over or when on vacation or traveling). Most don’t make it on holy days. Nearly all send their children to religion classes, but very few make time for other things at church, like choir or Bible studies. Most lead very busy lives and there is not much room for church except on Sundays. While they were raised Catholic, most would not agree that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of revelation. In other words, they believe one religion is as good as another. Nearly all have brothers or sisters who have left the Church, and not a few are godparents to the children of their Protestant siblings. Most are pro-life, but there are some exceptions, especially among those who are Democrats or consider themselves politically liberal. Quite a few, especially among the women, don’t see what’s wrong with gay marriage. Finally, two or maybe three are using natural family planning, whereas the rest are either on the pill or sterilized or are unable to have children.
The second great service, in the words of the H&PR editorial staff, is to provide
some practical recommendations on how to stop the huge losses. Ignorance of the Catholic faith and false teaching in schools and parishes have contributed significantly to the bloodletting. Our author says, based on the numbers, what others have said for years without numbers: the toleration of dissent in the Church by bishops and other Church authorities is the cause of the loss and it must be stopped. (emphasis added)
Note to His Holiness: DOR will need a new bishop in 42 months. You might want to take a good look at this guy.