Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change comes out officially tomorrow. Today my brief reflection is about climate change in the American Catholic Church.
One can say the waters of change are rising. Or, membership is sinking.
In seven years, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA has lost about 3 million adult members; and the Millennial generation shows no indication (no interest) in rebuilding church membership.
As we boomers (actually I am a pre-boomer, born three years before the boomers started arriving, but have always felt like a boomer) die off, the church will decline even more.
In the last 25 years, the RCC has had a net loss of 2,137 parishes nationwide: In 1990, there were 19,620 U.S. Catholic churches. Today, there are 17,464.
The New York archdiocese announced the consolidation of 112 parishes in October 2014, effectively closing 31 parishes. In December, it announced that it is considering closing another 38 parishes.
The Boston archdiocese has closed more than 125 parishes in the past 25 years. In November 2012, it announced the consolidation of the remaining 288 parishes into 135 “parish collaboratives.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago had 1,000 fewer priests in 2014 than it had in 1980. In last 20 years of Cardinal Francis George’s administration, everything was down: 2,000 fewer women religious, 21 fewer parishes, 74 fewer elementary schools and 11 fewer high schools. There were also 10,000 fewer baptisms, half as many weddings, and 33 percent fewer funerals annually.
Nationwide, Catholic priests may be a disappearing species? Today, there are 3,496 U.S. parishes that have no resident pastor. There are nearly 20,000 fewer priests in the United States than there were 25 years ago.
Half the diocesan priests in the United States will retire in the next five years. Many dioceses in the U.S. do not have sufficient funds to pay their pensions.
Religious orders of brothers and sisters are disappearing even faster than diocesan priests. There are only about 50,000 U.S. sisters today, down from almost 180,000 in 1965.
The only really bright spot in the Roman Catholic vocations picture is the permanent deaconate. Today there are more than 17,000 permanent deacons, up from about 900 in 1975. When it comes to ordained ministry, maybe marriage helps?
In St Louis, at their recently completed Spring General Assembly, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted on and approved a draft of their priorities for the 2017-2020 strategic plan and the “Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition.” They also voted on English translations of the Old and New Testament Canticles.
In a 165-14-3 vote, the bishops approved a working draft of the Conference’s strategic priorities for their 2017-2020 planning cycle. Input shared by the bishops from the floor will be provided to the various committees as they write the final version. The resulting draft will be presented for approval by the full body of bishops at the November 2015 General Assembly. The priorities are:
Family and marriage
Human Life and Dignity
Vocations and ongoing formation
As a specific agenda item, I would also have liked to see “U.S. Catholic climate change.” On the other hand, perhaps one has to be realistc: according to the Pew Research Center, only 47 percent of U.S. Catholics attribute climate change to human activity. Perhaps only 47% of U.S. Catholic bishops feel the same way about climate change in the church?
(Church trends data, thanks to Pew Research Center and Fr. Peter Daly, Parish Diary, NCR)