The Roman Catholic Church in the United States ranks after Brazil, Mexico, and possibly after Italy with the highest percentage of Catholics in the population. There are around 64 million Catholics in the U.S., making it the largest denomination in this country. The Catholic Church in the U.S. is unique in that it exists in the richest country – and only superpower - in the world. It is somewhat powerful in this country, especially in areas where there are many Catholics. Currently, five Supreme Court Justices including the Chief Justice himself are Roman Catholics, the largest number of Catholics on this court in history. A Catholic ran for president in 2004, and other Catholics are already running for for the 2008 election.
American Catholics Today is the report of the survey and research conducted by William V. D’Antonio, James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hoge, and Mary L. Gautier in 2005. Some of this material has already appeared in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR); previous surveys were conducted in 1987, 1993 and 1999, and the authors also had access to other surveys and other research done before 2005. These surveys include 2000’s The Catholic Experience of Small Christian Communities, which William D’Antonio oversaw with Bernard Lee. James Davidson and several colleagues carried out a study in 1995 whose results were published as Search for Common Ground in 1997. Davidson was also involved in the study that was ultimately published as Lay Ministers and Their Spiritual Practices in 2003. Hoge and Gautier have been involved with other studies concerning the priesthood and other issues.
The first chapter summarizes previous surveys conducted by the authors with the Gallup Polling Organization, describing how the 2005 survey participants were divided into 4 groups based on age or generations:
Also considered were race, gender, education, marital status, political affiliation, and income, though these were not judged as important as the breakdown by generation. Eight hundred seventy-five Catholics were involved in the survey.
- Pre-Vatican II (born in 1940 or earlier).
- Vatican II (born between 1941 and 1960).
- Post-Vatican II (born between 1961 and 1978)
- Millennial (born between 1979 and 1987)
The surveys show how Catholics identify themselves and others as being Catholic, which varies from generation to generation, and an historical overview of Catholic history in the U.S. is presented as well. The section on American Catholics’ commitment to the institutional Church demonstrates that they vary in their support of the Church, again according to generation. What all agree on is that to be a Catholic, one must believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; helping the poor and devotion to Mary score high as well.
Acceptance of Church teachings and the sacraments varies, too, according to generational group. Many ignore Church teachings and still consider themselves Catholics. The surveys indicate that American Catholics receive baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, but they do not go to confession as often as they once did. An historical overview of reception of the sacraments is also given.
Regarding the entwined issues of problems the Church faces (sexual abuse scandals, priest and religious shortage, and participation of the laity in the ministry) and authority and those who hold it, American Catholics have lost confidence in the bishops and others - particularly in light of the sexual abuse scandals. The surveys show that the American Catholic laity wants to be more involved in the governance of the Church on all levels. Many want to assist the clergy in their ministry by relieving them from the necessity of taking care of temporal issues.
Catholics are involved in all political parties in the United States. Thirty-nine percent identify themselves as Republicans, 42% as Democrats and 19% as independents. Many
consider themselves part of the pro-life movement, while others count themselves pro-choice.
A conclusion and summary of the survey is followed by appendices on Catholic education; on Hispanic Catholics, a growing group in the United States; and on the 2005 Gallup survey. A bibliography and an index follow.
William V. D’Antonio (Ph.D. 1958 from Michigan State University) is a fellow at the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America. He is the co-author of eight books and editor of four others.
James D. Davidson (Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame) is a professor of sociology at Purdue University. The author or co-author of several books and articles, he has also published articles in America, Commonweal, and Liguorian.
Dean R. Hoge (Ph.D. 1970 from Harvard) is a professor emeritus of sociology and is a fellow at the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America. He has authored several books.
Mary L. Gautier (Ph.D. 1995 from Louisiana State University) is a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. She has authored two books and also edits The CARA Report.
American Catholics Today will be of interest to those involved in Church leadership and those interested in what Catholics think about various topics.