Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 3, 2015

The Church is Shrinking, the Faith is in Decline

This title’s sad conclusion comes by way of two polls – the Pew Forum, in their polls of American churches and beliefs, and a recent world-wide Catholic poll by Univision. The statistics are disturbing – or they ought to be! They ought to “disturb” our Church – clergy and laity – into action. Things need to change.

First, the Pew Forum Study

Church membership has been changing. The Pew Forum (1) finds that religious affiliation among Americans shows the following changes, in the years from 2007 to 2014: (The percent given is the percentage of the adult American population):

Catholic membership (now 20.8% of the American adult population), has declined 3.1%. Evangelical Protestants (now 25.4%), declined 0.9%. The Unaffiliated (now 22.8%), grew 6.7%. Mainline Protestants (now 14.7%), declined 3.4%. Non-Christian Faiths (now 5.9%), grew 1.2%.

The study reports, from a broader perspective, that America is now less “Christian” than at the beginning of the study in 2007:

“To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.”

This is not a good sign! But even more concerning is that those still in the Church are less “Catholic” than they used to be. We are not only fewer; we are less: less faithful and obedient to the Faith that our name, “Catholic,” proclaims.

Concerning Matrimony

The Pew Forum (2) has more recently reported a 10-year study of attitudes concerning homosexual “marriage.” Pew uses the term “gay marriage”, a term that does such violation to Truth that I cannot bring myself to using it. This study reports the following: Fully 85% of those who are religiously unaffiliated favor same-sex marriage, up from 60% in 2005. Majorities of white mainline Protestants (62%) and Catholics (56%) support same-sex marriage; a decade ago just 39% of both groups supported it.

Again, Catholics have declined in both numbers and in the Faith of the Church! In the past seven years membership has dropped by 3.1% to now only 20.8% of the American adult population. And in the past ten years our adherence to the Faith concerning (for example) the meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony (i.e. “marriage”) has withered from 61% down to at least 44% faithful, concerning only one issue of Matrimony, that is, whether “marriage” can rightly join two homosexuals! No doubt it is worse than that. No doubt more Catholics have separated themselves from the Catholic Faith concerning Matrimony because of other issues, contraception probably being the most likely divisive issue.

Univision’s Poll on Several Issues

Univision (3) polled 12,000 Catholics in twelve countries across the world on modern issues of contention, to determine whether the Catholic supported or opposed the teaching of the Church. The questions included:

1) Question: Do you agree or disagree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?

World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 36% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 18% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

2) Question: Do you think that women should be allowed to become Catholic priests?

Of course, the Church says “No!” on this issue. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 60% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 32% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

3) Question: Do you think that abortions should be allowed in all cases, allowed in some cases for example when the life of the mother is in danger, or should it not be allowed at all?

Of course, the Church does not allow direct intentional abortion in any case. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 40% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 17% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 23% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 12% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

4) Question: Do you support or oppose the use of contraceptives?

The Church does not allow any use of contraceptives. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 24% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 8% of those who seldom participate at Mass. In the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 16% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 9% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

5) Question: Do you support or oppose marriage between two persons of the same sex?

The Church does not support any so-called “marriage” of same-sex partners. World-wide, Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 74% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 45% of those who seldom participate at Mass. But in the U.S.: Catholics who agree with the Church on this issue: 45% of those who frequently participate at Mass; 20% of those who seldom participate at Mass.

So What?

Granted that interpretations of results of polls can be misleading, that important theological nuances can be blurred, and that questions can be leading, these results as they stand are deeply troubling to me, as a Catholic – although I must confess: I am not surprised by them, not any more. But in this Univision poll, in every one of these questions, a majority of Catholics in the U.S. polled – even among those who “attend Mass frequently” – do not accept Church teaching!

I have great joy and comfort in the assurance that the Catholic Church teaches and believes the truth of God in matters of faith and morals – that she has been entrusted with the truth of God’s holy revelation to mankind. But what about Catholics personally? What about the actual faith of members of His Holy Church? What about the witness of Catholics as they carry His Holy Name, and the Name of His Church, as they walk and talk and live among separated Christians and non-Christians and pagans and the lost of this world? What about the mission to be light in this dark world, entrusted to His Church? What about the honor of His Name, which we carry? What about the hope still flickering in the hearts of the lost, as they listen and watch for some sign of God who will save them?

The answer? We cannot make, or force, others to love truth – or to love truly – or even to hope in love and truth. The Church can, and must, proclaim the truth and live authentic love. Her light must be His light, so that men and woman can dare to hope, and to trust, in the saving Gospel that the Church is sent to preach and to teach. A major impediment, in my opinion, to the Church being Church in these dark times is that she is day-dreaming when she ought to be in training. The enemy is at the gate, and she is planning parish picnics. The enemy is advancing against every weak and easy target that can be attacked in the near future, and she is lounging in a reverie of days long past. He has plans, tactics, strategies, and ambition – and she ought to be preparing for the day of battle: it is close. Take a lesson from the rulers of kingdoms of earth: they form armies, they train them and arm them and prepare them for war. We ought to have their prudence.

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Eph 6:11  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph 6:12  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Eph 6:13  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Eph 6:14  Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Eph 6:15  and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
Eph 6:16  besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
Eph 6:17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Eph 6:18  Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,…

Every Catholic adult ought to recognize the need! It may not be too late, not yet. Every Catholic parish ought to have faith formation programs in place for every Catholic of every age – programs evaluated and re-evaluated regularly by clergy, staff and lay parishioners. Do these programs help us to grow, to mature in Christ? Do they lead us to holiness – to Christ?

Eph 4:11  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
Eph 4:14  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Eph 4:15  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph 4:16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

Church, wake up.


(1) Pew Forum study


  1. As always, brilliant post. Could you maybe blog about what lay Catholics can do at the parish level to help reverse the momentum? This is of interest to me, and I’m not really sure what I can do.

    • Dear Jamie,

      Thanks so much for your comment and your willingness to do your part in overcoming evil with good. May the Lord continue to give you His Grace to know His Truth, to love His Truth and to do His Truth, — now, always and everywhere.

      A prayer that helps me: “O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in Your servants. In the spirit of Your holiness, in the fullness of Your might, in the Truth of your virtues, in the perfection of Your ways, in the communion of Your mysteries, subdue every hostile power in Your Spirit for the glory of the Father. Amen.”

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Jamie. I will pray about a blog post on that question….


  2. I’m afraid that the programmes to educate the faithful soldiers are part of the problem: in recent months we have had a parish mission run by ‘nuns’ who went out of their way to foment discord among women about how their work is not recognised and we were told that in the early church there were women priests and there will be again. In a parish mission, the priest who led it held up Nelson Mandela as a role model; he didn’t like it when my husband, not a Catholic, told him that it was Mandela who introduced abortion on demand into South Africa. In my experience those who are teaching our children and young people are corrupting them and they are aided and abetted by priests and many of the bishops and Cardinals. Those who try to combat this are sidelined and ignored. It was no surprise to hear the Pope denigrate those Catholics who ‘breed like rabbits’. We had 7 children in the first 22 years of our marriage and were certainly not praised for this. You can imagine how my husband felt to find that we were mocked and cold shouldered because of this excessive breeding; it was implied that we were obviously having orgies in our marriage ! My husband, not surprisingly, has not been attracted to this Church. I could wish that I had found among my fellow Catholics any man with the integrity, honesty and pro-life attitudes to compare with my husband. I often feel ashamed at the words and actions of my fellow Catholics both lay and clerical. I did find such a woman but she was a convert and, sadly, was often disappointed.

    • Dear Lochain,

      Thanks so much for your comment. My heart goes out to you in your suffering. It must be so painful to you seeing your husband frustrated by the words and actions of some Catholics. I wonder sometimes if the translations of some statements by our Pope are faulty; every language can have idioms and words that are difficult to understand in another language. Large families continue to be a great blessing for the Church and the world.

      Too many members of the Catholic Church are poorly formed in their faith. I agree that the Faith has not been passed on well by many who were given that responsibility as teachers of children, young adults and older adults. We never were meant to stop learning our faith and growing spiritually! We never “graduate” from faith formation until faith ends with the beatific vision.

      Let us pray fervently for our families for they are the first place for children to learn God’s Love and His Will to save us. Let us continue to pray for the Church and every member, for it is only when every member of the Mystical Body of Christ is working properly that the Body can upbuild itself in love. (cf Ephesians 4: 15-16). The Church is sent to bring Christ’s Light into the World that He may overcome the darkness. Like Our Blessed Mother, may we carry Him “with haste” (cf Luke 1:39).

    • Hello Lochain,

      Thank you for your response. I know it is difficult – painful – when members of the Church seem to be more a part of the problem than of the solution! But the Lord made us all, and died for us all, and calls us all into His life. Maybe a response a few down the line after this, from Barbara Byars, speaks to the issue very well:

      Scripture tells us over and over that God uses His faithful remnant to bring about His will. May we remain faithful and let God use us to renew the Church.


  3. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for posting these disturbing statistics — as painful as they are to read, we need to face the enemy. We battle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The evils we face today are inspired by the prince of darkness and carried out by those who have chosen to turn from the God of Light.

    Even as the culture grows darker, the Light of Christ needs to shine more strongly through every disciple today. We must ask God in order to receive, seek Him to find His Will, and knock on the door of His Heart to have it open and God’s Holy Spirit pour into our minds and hearts. Only good can overcome evil. Without God we can do nothing.

    Your last blog on the “Diagnosis of the Heart: The Parable of the Sower” enabled me to search my own heart and by God’s grace, I continue to ask for God’s Holy Spirit to discern His Truth not only for myself, but for all those He brings daily into our lives. We need to hear the Truth from God, and lovingly do the Truth we hear.

    • Thank you Deborah. I too am helped so very much by the wonderful Parable of the Sower. The Lord, who sees perfectly into every heart, helps us begin to see into our own hearts. And He offers us grace to move toward healing in HIs light, and through His mercy, and because of His love.


  4. We must pray unceasingly that the Church will stand firm where She is teaching Truth and that the Holy Spirit will show Her what is wrong and must be corrected. Scripture tells us over and over that God uses His faithful remnant to bring about His will. May we remain faithful and let God use us to renew the Church. We aren’t being physically persecuted like the Christians in the Middle East and Africa, but we are being insidiously corrupted by our culture. Thank you for this post.

    • Thank you, Barbara, for your thoughts and comments – as always. Yes we must pray! We must be faithful to every gift and grace He gives us.

      In the world He has hidden so many cures, for so many diseases, guiding men as He does toward discovering and uncovering His saving work even in the midst of a fallen creation. That is an analogy, of sorts, of the spiritual struggles we have. He empowers His Church, His Body, His Bride, through the many gifts and graces entrusted to the members to be agents of healing and correction of the many faults, flaws and sins at work in opposition to Him (both within and outside of His Church!). The “faithful remnant,” as you wrote, are at work “to bring about His will.”

      So thanks be to God – the victory is His, yet we must be faithful, we must remain in Him, faithful! We must remain among those He entrusted with His powerful grace, and never fall away or fall back.


    • Dear Barbara,

      Thank you for your prayerful and insightful reply. How your words: “…we are being insidiously corrupted by our culture” ring true! Nevertheless, it lies very much within our own choices. If we refuse the graces which God offers us each day, we will continue to suffer the consequences.

      I continue to remind people of words from Pope St. John Paul II, to a group of Legion of Mary members, spoken in 1982:

      …Where the Mother is, there too is the Son. When one moves away from the Mother, sooner or later he ends up by keeping distant from the Son as well. It is no wonder that today in various sectors of secularized society, we note a widespread crisis of faith in God preceded by a drop in devotion to the Virgin Mother…

      May we remain close to Jesus through Mary, that we may hear His Truth and by His Grace do the Truth we hear, just as she did on this earth.

  5. The “New Springtime” of the Catholic Church since Vatican II has been a colossal, spectacular failure. It is time to return to traditional Catholic Faith, Liturgy, Worship, and Discipline.

    Find an FSSP, ICKSP, or other traditional Catholic faith community. Evangelize with this Mass; encourage those in dead modern parishes to come worship in this venerable rite. The heretical post-conciliar “Spirit of Vatican II” is responsible for this great loss of faith, this modern apostasy.

    • Hello mainenavveten. Thank you for your comment. This time in Church history is certainly troubling and difficult in many ways – but I disagree that it is “a colossal, spectacular failure.” Even specifically “the New Springtime” is not without successes, and fruit. Into this post-conciliar Church, the Church worshipping in the new form of the Mass, I personally returned – leaving the protestant evangelicalism where I had found (temporary) shelter from the world for some years.

      Indeed, through the selfless and holy ministry of a Jesuit priest – yes, a Jesuit priest – I heard the call of Christ to return to Him, and ultimately (after some more years) to the Catholic Church where He continues to most fully abide.

      When I returned, I was astounded to find, in His Church, that aberration of the actual Vatican II Council now known as “the spirit of Vatican II.” The weakness, the sickness, the worldly lukewarmness that are now deeply woven into the fibers of the Church present a great challenge today for the faithful.

      There is much to be said for the now “extraordinary form” of the Mass, but the “ordinary form” is also infinitely full, rich, immense – indeed, overflowing with graces to heal every sickness and weakness grieving us. Many Catholics today fail to take from the Mass all that is offered, not because of the liturgy itself, but because of the very little they know to bring to it. Thus to your call to return to tradition, I especially join a call for wholehearted embrace of the full Catholic Faith: the teachings, the sacraments, the moral truths, and the life of prayer that together comprise the life of Christ that He died to enable for us.

    • Dear mainenavveten,

      I would agree with Thomas that “the New Springtime” is not without some success. In a 2003 interview, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus said:

      “…my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities. So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles. And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction. So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

      interviewer : But, smaller numbers? In the macro?

      Cardinal: Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church. Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at this time; but it was clear, this is the future. So we can live in the future, just give us a way in a different future. And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, “Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow.”

      Each of us by God’s Grace is called to live the Life of Christ Who is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life”. I believe Cardinal Ratzinger spoke prophetically, for we may be growing smaller in number, yet the fullness of Truth continues to subsist in the Catholic Church. Each of us must hold fast to the faith that has been given to us in our Baptism and look to Mary our Mother who stood at the foot of the Cross, persevering and gazing on Her Son.

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