Catholics in America survey — commitment

American Catholics continue to maintain a moderate to high degree of commitment to the church. As in past surveys, we assessed our respondents’ commitment by combining their responses to three separate questions: “How important is the Catholic church to you personally?”; “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you go to Mass?”; and “On a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 indicating you would never leave the church, and 7 indicating you might leave the church, where would you place yourself?” We categorized highly committed Catholics as those who said that the church was the most important or among the most important parts of their life, who attended church once a week or more often, and who placed themselves at either one or two on the seven-point scale. Using these high-threshold criteria, 19 percent of our respondents were highly committed Catholics, an additional two-thirds (66 percent) were moderately committed, and 14 percent had low levels of commitment. Clearly, for Catholics, moderate commitment is the norm.

The percentage of Catholics who are highly committed to the church has declined –­­ from 27 to 19 percent — in the 25 years since we first began tracking American Catholics’ levels of commitment. Nonetheless, there is a relative stability in the commitment patterns over time. In 2005, for example, 21 percent of the respondents were classified as highly committed Catholics, and this figure was 23 percent in both the 1993 and 1999 surveys. Further, the percentage of Catholics with a low level of commitment has not increased over the past 25 years; in fact it has slightly declined over time. The relative stability in Catholic commitment is all the more noteworthy given that since the late 1990s, there has been a sharp decline both in the proportion of Americans who identify with a religious denomination and in the proportion who report weekly church attendance. In sum, while significant numbers of Catholics may leave the church (Pew Forum 2008), the snapshot of current Catholics that our surveys capture at any one point in time (e.g., 1987, 1993, 1999, 2005), suggests that despite Catholic fluidity (due to people leaving, the aging of current cohorts, the influx of new immigrants), the level of commitment of those who are Catholic at a given time is not dramatically changing. And yet we certainly live in a changing church and in a changing society where religion is losing some of its supreme salience.   Read more


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