Monday, March 25, 2013

Parish Life Study Offers Some Good News

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has released a fascinating study of the parish life of American Catholics. Some things I took away from it:

1.) There were those of the more liberal bent who claimed that bringing the Novus Ordo more in line with traditional liturgical understandings (reforming the translations, more Latin, etc) would lead to people leaving parishes, especially the young.  This study doesn't see any evidence of this.  An overwhelming majority of individuals state that their parish has changed a lot over the last five years, and only 20% strongly believe it has changed for the worse.

2.)  The generational gap is real, and it bodes very well for those of the more conservative/traditional bent.  Millenials (those of my generation) are more likely than anyone else to be incredibly selective in the parish they choose.  We are frequently told that the young generation doesn't care for reverence, traditional liturgies, doctrinal orthodoxy, etc.  The numbers tell a different story.

Millenials are far more likely (as opposed to the general parish population) to:

  • 2a.)  Be attracted to the beauty of the Church (61% to 52%)  Paradoxically, they are less likely to enjoy the overall quality of the liturgy they attend.  Or perhaps they are less likely to enjoy banal liturgies?

  • 2b.)  They are more likely to place emphasis on educating their children in the faith (56 to 47)

  • 2c.)  Are more likely to emphasize evangelization and spreading the Gospel than any other age demographic as of primary importance (the only demo to break 50%.)  They are also more likely to emphasize fidelity to Church teachings than any age demographic.

3.)  The generational gap also has some pretty curious things, namely that the newer generation is slowly but surely returning the Church towards the Pre-Vatican II days, at least according to Catholic identity.  The oldest demographic (Pre Vatican II) tends to have the strongest Catholic identity, followed by a decline in the Vatican II and Post Vatican II Generations (1943-1981), with millenials giving an increase, and sometimes sharply.

4.)  The Churches outreach to young catholics is, to quote the great philosopher Charles Barkley, turrible.    They rate RCIA programs far more negatively than anyone else, but are more likely to emphasize Church teaching.    They also don't care about the young adult programs.  These are specifically tailored to them, and they rate them favorably no more so than everyone else does. How about less life teen nonsense and more rock solid Catholicism?  Less Pizza fellowship night and more Bible Study?

Some of these differences are pretty subtle.  Yet across the demographic generations, the lines are pretty clear.  The young place a far higher importance on the quality of the liturgy, church architecture, robust defense of catholic teaching (especially marriage), and a renewed commitment to aggressive evangelization. 

What group does this describe?  If you said traditionalists, move to the head of the class.  In the traditionalist movement, there tends to be two big groups:  the elderly, and the millenial generation.  There are not that many from the Vatican II and Post Vatican II generations.

This is also why I reject the "this is 1968/1978 all over again" chant of some of my traditionalist brethren.  During those times, the demographics looked pretty grim for tradition.  The younger generation wanted to wreckovate and destroy a lot of tradition.  The priests coming out of the seminaries were almost uniformly hostile to robust Catholic identiy and traditionalism.  Today it is the opposite, and it seems with every year, the quality of our seminarians only increases.  If anything, I find it dangerously counterproductive, because it presents a reality which quite frankly does not exist.

The study is 120 pages, but full of fascinating data.  Certainly worth reading this, and anything CARA puts out.


  1. This confirms what I have been seeing anecdotally. I think it also provides me some good ammo for the parish council in terms of reaching out to younger Catholics. The hard part on the latter, is as you recognize, execution. Too often the older set wants to use condescending approaches instead of offering substance. There is certainly room for using innovation in the approach, but the substance had better be there to be successful.

  2. It is going to require a paradigm shift in a few circles. There's a lot about traditionalism to attract the young of the "JPII generation", but at the same time, they aren't going to be attracted to the negativity. Best to focus on the timeless aspects of the faith. More adoration. More bible studies, real catholic events, more talks, etc.


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