Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Got a Valentine's Date? Check the Date…

Thinking about making Valentine’s Day reservations soon? If you are Catholic and under the age of 60 you might want to look for seafood or vegetarian fare. This year, Valentine’s Day shares the calendar with Ash Wednesday. This hasn’t happened since 1945 (…but it will happen again in 2024 and 2029). That means it is an obligatory day of fasting (one full meal plus two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal) and abstinence (no meat). Also, expect some non-Catholics in the restaurant to think you and your date have dirt on your heads.

It is common during Lent for some bishops to give a dispensation when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday. But I wouldn’t expect Ash Wednesday to be treated similarly and unlike Patrick, we don’t know much about Valentine(s). As the story goes, on February 14 in the year 278, Valentine lost his head (after being beaten by clubs) at command of Emperor Claudius II. His crime? He kept marrying Christians at a time the Emperor was trying to recruit more single men for the army. And he was Christian…

There are actually three different stories of martyrs named Valentine (not a lucky name apparently…) that share a February 14 feast day. As the Catholic Education Center notes, “Unfortunately, the historical record is sparse.” In 1969, the Catholic Church removed Saint Valentine’s feast from the liturgical calendar. Yet, he (all three) remains a saint.

According to a CARA Catholic Poll (CCP), married and widowed Catholics are the most likely to abstain from meat during times of Lent (66%) and are also more likely than those of other marital statuses to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (48%). Those least likely to be bothered by an Ash Wednesday Valentine’s Day? Perhaps those Catholics who are living with a partner. Only 47% abstains from meat and 21% receives ashes.

Yet, we know this standard marital status question is not as precise as it could be. One could be living with a partner and choose to identify as “never married” and they would be answering the question honestly. A 2012 CBS news poll allows us to more distinctly estimate different sub-groups of unmarried Catholics. As shown below, half of Catholics are married and 30% are unmarried and not in a committed romantic relationship. Twelve percent are in a committed romantic relationship and are living with their partner. Nine percent are in a committed romantic relationship and are not living together.

Sub-group sample sizes are worryingly small but comparisons among these groups offer a blurry glimpse of some interesting differences. Overall, about two-thirds of Catholic adults believe in “love at first sight” (…shot by an arrow from a cherub and not from any of the Valentines who are not thought to have been archers). By contrast, about three quarters or more of Catholics who are unmarried but in a romantic relationship believe in love at first sight. Only six in ten of those who are unmarried and not in a romantic relationship agree.

Why don’t unmarried Catholics living with a partner just get married? When you believe in love at first sight and are living with someone, what happens when another person catches your eye? As shown in the figure below, those living with a partner are the most likely to think that the vow to be faithful is the “hardest to keep.” Nearly half chose this compared to only 27% of married Catholics. The latter are more challenged by “for better or worse.”

It has become common to debate the secularization of Christmas. It is hard to find anything sacred in what remains in the practice of Saint Valentine’s Day in the United States. Perhaps this is why many Catholics will find more sacred meanings on February 14 this year in Ash Wednesday than Valentine’s Day. Just to be safe you still better get your significant other a card and some chocolates (to eat on Feb. 15).

If you want to look forward to something truly unique about Ash Wednesday you’ll have to wait until (live to) 2096 when it will occur on February 29 for the first time in the Church’s history. Luckily, this is very unlikely to conflict with any of the traditions Americans will have at that time for celebrating Leap Day.

Image of the ash heap Valentine courtesy of Lester Luallin.


Where is Catholicville, USA?

Somewhere in the country is a place more Catholic than anywhere else. Baltimore? New Orleans? Chicago? Capistrano? Boston? St. Augustine? South Bend? This is CARA so we have to go where the data lead us rather than rely on anecdote, history, or tradition. Below we explore data from the U.S. Religion Census, The Official Catholic Directory, CARA’s own databases, and Google Trends.

The table below shows the counties where Catholic adherents (i.e., those who are known in some way to each Catholic parish or mission in the area) make up two-thirds or more of the total population. Surprise! Rolette, North Dakota in the Diocese of Fargo is a contender for Catholicville. Here, adherents are almost as large as the entire Census population of the county. This area is home to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation of the Chippewa Indians. The reservation’s total lands are spread across 22 counties in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana and Rolette is a center for the community. In the Religion Census, which measures adherents of all different faiths, it is explained that these large adherent shares of the population in a county (even at times exceeding 100%) can sometimes occur when the adherents’ counties of residence differ from their county of church membership. This seems the likely case here with the Chippewa community. Thus, practically speaking, it may only really be Catholicville when people are drawn from outside the county to Rolette’s parishes for worship or some other event.

Next on the list is Costilla, Colorado in the Diocese of Pueblo. This is a region just on the border with New Mexico where adherents are an estimated 92.5% of the total Census population for the county. A small population of only 3,524 live here and 62% self-identify as Hispanic or Latino. This is a rural and agricultural area that more recently has attracted people seeking to “live off the grid” as well as tourists. The Colorado Encyclopedia notes, “Spanish-Catholic Americans often visit the area as religious tourists; local historic churches and art galleries draw in thousands each year. Another attraction, the Stations of the Cross Shrine, is an ornate collection of statues depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. The shrine was designed by Huberto Maestas and installed by Father José Máximo Patricio Valdez and his followers in 1986. The area is also a purported hotspot for paranormal activity, and draws tourists interested in UFOs, la Chupacabra, and other alleged phenomena.” Any area with a small population that is drawing in tourists and pilgrims can, at times, have a larger number of people in the pews than would seem conceivable given the number of permanent residents.

In The Official Catholic Directory, the dioceses of Brownsville, Laredo, and El Paso in Texas report the highest shares of populations as Catholic (85%, 91%, and 80%, respectively in 2017). All three of these dioceses are on the border with Mexico. Counties from the Diocese of Laredo appear in the top rankings of the U.S. Religion Census but none are present in these data from the dioceses of Brownsville or El Paso. In practice, every diocese estimates its Catholic population a bit differently. Some seek to measure self-identified Catholics (a larger number) and others attempt to estimate the number of parish-affiliated (closer to the concept of adherents). In examining the U.S. Religion Census data for 2010, CARA noticed that counties in the dioceses of Brownsville and El Paso include large numbers of people who are “unclaimed” by any religious congregation (i.e., the remainder when the U.S. Religion Census subtracts the memberships of all congregations in a region from the total U.S. Census population). For example, in Starr County Texas in the Diocese of Brownsville, there are more unclaimed people than the total of all religious adherents in that area.

These border dioceses include counties where large portions of the population self-identify as Hispanic or Latino (which are also typically under-counted by the U.S. Census). In CARA’s national surveys we also know Hispanic or Latino Catholics are less likely to register with a parish than on-Hispanic white Catholics. In Starr County, 96% of the total population self-identifies as Hispanic or Latino. In sum, CARA believes that there are many Hispanic Catholics who do not register with a parish as a member, but who are practicing as an “adherent” in border areas of Texas. These populations appear to be missed as “adherents” in the 2010 U.S. Religion Census. in the previous table we have added CARA’s estimates for additional counties where Catholic adherents are prevalent and thus should also be present among “the most Catholic” discussion.

It is also important to note that the total Catholic adherent population in the counties listed in the two previous tables represents a mere 2 million of the total U.S. Catholic adherent population. In sum, having a population that is mostly Catholic in an area is one thing. What they are doing matters as well in determining where Catholicville might be. The table below shows the 20 dioceses in the country that are the most “sacramentally active.” By this measure, Catholicville could be Tulsa.

Dioceses with the most Catholics tend to celebrate the most sacraments. CARA compares dioceses by looking at sacramental rates per 1,000 parish-affiliated Catholics to control for the different sizes of dioceses (for ordinations we look at rates per 10,000 parish-affiliated Catholics). For example, in the United States in 2016 there are 10.6 baptisms of minors, 10.3 First Communions, and 2.1 marriages in the Church per 1,000 Catholics. Looking across the sacraments recorded in The Official Catholic Directory (i.e., marriages, minor baptisms, adult entries into the faith, First Communions, confirmations, and ordinations of deacons and priests) we can rank the dioceses for each type that is received or celebrated in a year. We can then take an average of these ranks and create an overall “score.” In 2016, the Diocese of Tulsa in Oklahoma scored 10.5—meaning it ranked about 10th, on average, across all sacraments for which data exist. No other diocese had consistently high ranks. Thus, the Diocese of Tulsa is, relatively speaking, the most sacramentally active Catholic diocese in the country and a contender for Catholicville. It is followed by the dioceses of Rapid City in South Dakota and Memphis in Tennessee.

Looking at the rankings for the previous year, most dioceses in the table were quite similarly active in the past. There is one big exception—Memphis in Tennessee. This diocese climbed up more than 60 spots in the rankings with a significantly larger number of ordinations in 2016 than in 2015 and slightly higher rates of sacramental activity in other areas.

The table below shows the top dioceses in each area of sacramental activity. The Diocese of Charlotte in North Carolina appears to be experiencing growth in the number of Catholic children, leading in both minor baptisms and First Communions. In our previous post we showed that this is one of the dioceses that has many Catholics “moving in” recently and thus may be a prime destination for young families.

Sacraments most often represent the activities of the parish-affiliated. These are also somewhat correlated with areas where families are more prevalent given the time in the lifecycle they are received or celebrated. Areas where there are more young people marrying and having children are going to be more sacramentally active—even when measured as a rate relative to the size of the Catholic population.

What about the things Catholics do outside of parishes? Here CARA relies on Google Trends for an estimate. What are people searching for online? What about those searches are Catholic? We looked at Google searches in the last year for: Catholic, Vatican, Pope Francis, and Rosary (in English and Spanish). We then created a weighted score using the search volumes for each of these terms. The table below shows the metropolitan areas where these searches are most likely to come from. Topping the list is Lafayette, Louisiana followed closely by Laredo, Texas.

There is certainly more data out there to collect and crunch to determine where Catholicville is today. Perhaps there was a time when this was somewhere along the Atlantic Ocean coastline between Baltimore and Boston. If there is one general area that appears more than any other across the tables presented above it is Texas. Louisiana also appears to be a center for Catholic presence and activity. Now Catholicville is likely somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico or along the Rio Grande. Generally, there are more areas of the geographic South noted than the North. Perhaps somewhere along a southern country road you might stumble into Catholicville… before we can determine more precisely just where it is.

Images courtesy of Lara Eakins, Andrew Filer, Wade Harris, Maren


Where Catholics Are “Moving In”

Most parishioners in the pews of the “average” American parish tell CARA that their community does either a “good” (42%) or “excellent” (32%) job with outreach to new parishioners. They also note that one of the qualities that most attracts them to their community is an “open, welcoming spirit” in their parish (86% say this attracted them). Yet, that sense of welcome may be more important for some dioceses than others.

Contrary to “conventional wisdom” Americans are moving less now than they have in the past. The “mover rate” in 2016 was 11.2% (i.e., the percentage of Americans moving in a given year).

For the Catholic Church, it is not so important how many people move, but where they end up going. According to the Census (ACS 1-year estimates from person-level reporting), in 2016, the top destinations for people “moving in” from out of state were within the following diocesan boundaries: Seattle (WA), Atlanta (GA), Phoenix (AZ), Los Angeles (CA), Galveston-Houston (TX), Raleigh (NC), Richmond (VA), Orlando (FL), and Charlotte (NC). These dioceses are all either in the South or West. One of the central themes of CARA’s recent book, Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2017) is the geographical shift in the Catholic population away from the Midwest and Northeast. This transformation continues.

The Census data does not include any information about religion. However, if one assumes that movers from a particular area have a similar religious makeup to those who do not move from that area, we can create estimates for the likely share of Catholics among movers. CARA utilized religious affiliation estimates from Pew (1, 2), PRRI, and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae to estimate movers’ religions based on the profiles of the communities they moved from.

The table below shows the dioceses with the largest estimated numbers of new Catholics “moving in” from out of state during 2016. This ranges from more than 30,000 new Catholic residents in the Archdiocese of Washington to nearly 70,000 in the Archdiocese of Miami. Each diocese has some variations in where people are moving from. For example, in the Archdiocese of Miami, a majority are coming from outside the United States, whereas in Archdiocese of Washington they are coming from nearby states and large states elsewhere in the country. Also note that these data do not account for the numbers of people moving out of a diocese (or moving from within state), the number of new births, and the number of deaths. Thus, these are not estimates of overall Catholic population growth. Regardless, each of the dioceses in the table below have more than 30,000 new Catholic residents from out of state who may need to connect with a parishes and schools as well as other institutions like charities and hospitals.

Only one of the dioceses making this list is in the Midwest and three are in the Northeast. Five are in the West and 11 are in the South. Although The Archdiocese of New York is eighth on the list with 49,845 new Catholics moving in, the broader state of New York is one of the most common places people move from to other areas in the country. New York state is the leading source of new Catholics for six of the other dioceses listed. Also note that just under half of the Catholics moving into the Archdiocese of New York, 46%, are coming from outside of the United States. Majorities of those moving into the archdioceses of Miami (76%), Galveston-Houston (55%), and Los Angeles (53%) are also from other countries.

The dioceses that are shaded in the darkest green on the map below (click to show full size) have the largest numbers of new Catholics moving in. These are regions where parishes need to reconnect Catholics to the life of the Church in their new home.

It is perhaps no surprise that dioceses with larger populations have more people moving in. People often move for jobs, retirement, or to be near family. It’s also not all that surprising that Catholics may be going to places where there are already many Catholics. What about the dioceses where people move in and there are not many Catholics, relatively speaking, to welcome them?

The number of parish-affiliated Catholics in dioceses is recorded in The Official Catholic Directory each year. These are Catholics known to the Church. In every diocese there are additional people who self-identify as Catholic but who do not attend Mass regularly or register with a parish. The estimates for Catholics moving in includes some who will become parish-affiliated in their new location and some who will not. The table below shows dioceses where Catholics are moving in and where there are not many parish-affiliated Catholics already present to welcome them. For example, in the The Archdiocese of Mobile in Alabama there are only about three parish-affiliated Catholics for every new self-identified Catholics moving in during 2016. The dioceses with an asterisk (*) appear in this table as well as the previous table measuring the dioceses with the largest numbers of Catholics moving in. These dioceses are perhaps most in need of developing welcoming committees.

Again, it is important to note that these numbers do not represent overall population growth. For example, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which covers the state of West Virginia, has seen net losses in population in recent years even though more people are moving in than out. The overall losses occur because deaths outnumber births in the state. By comparison, the state of New York has more people moving out than in but is experiencing population growth because the number of births is larger than the number of deaths in the state.

From year to year it may seem that few dioceses have big Catholic population losses or growth. Yet, what is missed in these aggregate totals is the “invisible churn” of people moving in and out as well as the changes that come with new births and some passing away. Although it may seem like there are just as many Catholics in dioceses that were there in the year previous, these data for people moving in show that significant portions of that Catholic population in many dioceses may need help and time settling in.

Regardless of overall growth, all the dioceses with many new Catholics moving in face challenges. Then again having many new faces is just the kind of dilemma that most diocesan, parish, and school leaders are probably happy to have.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Huk.

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