How many Americans will remain Catholic?

The new Pew Research Poll says that the number of Catholics in the U.S. declined from 23.9% to 20.8% from 2007 to 2014. But that is the number of persons who self-identify as Catholic, about 20% of the population. How many Catholics attend Mass regularly, and generally believe what the Church teaches? It’s a significantly smaller number, in my estimation.

What I want to point out to my readers, though, is not demographic but eschatological. Most Catholics are going to leave the Church within the next few years. The tribulation is about to begin, and it is commonly understood that the tribulation includes the great apostasy, a departure of most Catholics from the Faith. But even if the great apostasy were not a well-known prediction in Catholic eschatology, it would nevertheless be clear at this point in time.

[Matthew 16]
{16:1} And Pharisees and Sadducees approached him to test him, and they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
{16:2} But he responded by saying to them: “When evening arrives, you say, ‘It will be calm, for the sky is red,’
{16:3} and in the morning, ‘Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and gloomy.’ So then, you know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you are unable to know the signs of the times?
{16:4} An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. And a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And leaving them behind, he went away.

The current generation of Catholics is evil and adulterous. Most do not accept the Church as their teacher. Most have accepted grave sexual sins as if these acts were moral. Most believe whatever sinful secular society teaches, regardless of Church teaching. Most do not accept teaching or correction from the Popes and Councils of the Church. Most Catholics who attend Mass never go to Confession. The signs of the approaching apostasy are clear. Many Catholics have already apostatized in their hearts and minds.

If you subtract from the 20% of U.S. Catholics, those who do not attend Mass and those who do not believe that the Church teaches on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and various sexual sins, what number would be left? Then subtract those who never go to Confession. In a parish of one thousand adults, how many go to Confession at least once a month? Certainly not even one hundred. Probably not even fifty. Let’s over-estimate the number at 50 per 1,000, which is 5% of Mass-going Catholics.

A survey of a diocese in New Jersey is perhaps typical of the U.S. The survey found that 38% of Catholics only attend Mass on holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, and 15% of persons who consider themselves to be Catholic do not attend Mass at all. That’s a total of 53% of Catholics who call themselves Catholic. Only about half of Catholics are “practicing Catholics”, and some of those do not attend Mass every week-end.

I would estimate that of the 20% of the U.S. population who call themselves Catholic, only 10% are practicing Catholics. Then about 5% (probably an over-estimate) of that number go to Confession regularly. So about one half of one percent of Americans go to Confession regularly. Of the 321 million Americans, about 87% are 10 or older (Census.gov). That’s about 280 million persons old enough to go to Confession; if we count only adults, it’s about 75% of the population, so 240 million. These are very approximate numbers, but also very revealing.

So 20% of the adult population (240 million) is 48 million Catholics in the U.S. who should be going to Confession regularly. But by the above estimations, only about 1.2 million adult Americans go to Confession (if the rate is 5% of Mass-going Catholics).

There were about 38,000 priests in the U.S. in 2014 (Church stats). If 1.2 million Catholics go to Confession once a month with that number of priests, each priest needs to hear about 31 confessions per month. That’s definitely in the ballpark as a rough estimate.

When the great apostasy occurs, I suggest to you that baptized and confirmed Catholics, who attend Mass regularly AND go to Confession at least monthly will be the most likely to remain faithful to the Church. And that number is 2.5% of those who call themselves Catholic.

When the great apostasy unfolds over the next few years, during the pontificates of Pope Francis and his conservative successor, I expect that the number of persons who call themselves Catholic in the U.S. will shrink from about 48 million adults to several million only. And the number who still attend Mass regularly will shrink from about 24 million to perhaps 2 or 3 million. But the number of adult Catholics who go to Confession will likely increase. The Sacrament of Confession gives us strength in difficult times.

[Psalms]
{22:4} For, even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they have given me consolation.

The rod of correction is Confession and the staff of bread (cf. Ezek 4:16) is the Eucharist.

When you sit in the pews at Mass this coming week-end, imagine that only 10% of those persons will still be Mass-going Catholics in a few years. That is the approaching crisis for the Church. Most parishes will not have enough attendance at Mass, when collections are taken, to support the parish financially. And instead of a priest shortage, we will have a parishioner shortage. But those who still attend will be among the most devout.

The Church will suddenly become much smaller, and much holier. But the change will be shocking and difficult.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you. If you wish to support my work, purchase and read some of my books.

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8 Responses to How many Americans will remain Catholic?

  1. Dot says:

    What will happen to the bishops and the clergy? At least there will no longer be a priest shortage!

    • Ron Conte says:

      More than a few Bishops will commit schism. Many priests and religious will fall away by schism, or heresy, or (eventually) apostasy.

  2. Paul says:

    Ron, to what degree do you expect this apostasy to be undertaken overtly? Surely a covert apostasy has been underway for the last half century or more? Perhaps it will soon accelerate greatly.

    And do you think schism will play a role in this great apostasy? I know you have mentioned the potential for schism coming out of the Synod, but surely a sudden drop in funding would provide enormous potential for division. There would be even greater pressure on bishops to cede to the culture. If what you say is correct, it seems like there could be potential for schism on both sides of the aisle.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It begins with schism when many conservatives break away from the Church in reaction to the Synod. This worsens as the months pass. I think that Pope Francis will eventually approve of women deacons. Then in 2016 or 2017, Pope Francis resigns, because of the schism. His conservative successor does not undo all of his teachings and decisions on discipline. Liberal Catholics will be the next to break away, in reaction to the next Pope’s conservative teachings and changes in discipline. Then, as the tribulation continues, the confusion and controversy increases, and many Catholics leave the Faith altogether. So it is overt schism, heresy, and then apostasy.

      This topic is discussed in my books of eschatology, especially “The First Part of the Tribulation“.

  3. Dot says:

    In all seriousness… I’m struggling to imagine the actions which may be taken by schismatic bishops and priests, for example, claiming entire parishes or perhaps adopting a change in garb. I don’t know precisely who holds claim to the diocesan properties and the churches, or how this might affect seminaries. Basically, how this abstraction would present itself concretely after it happens, in terms of bishops and priests.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It’s hard to say. The great apostasy is a well-accepted part of the tribulation, but there are few details in any predictions. Yes, they might have enough supporters to try to claim a parish or diocese. In the beginning, this will not be the case. But as the apostasy continues, I expect that the liberal schismatics will attempt to elect a pope (an antipope, elected in the late 2010’s).

  4. Matt says:

    Ron,
    Won’t the Warning, Consolation, and Miracle in 2016, cause many, in the millions, to return to the Catholic faith? I am having difficulty reconciling the apostasy and the unveiling of the first three Secrets of Medjugorje

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Warning only shows each person the sins on their conscience. So if you are sincerely mistaken about any objectively sinful act (thinking it to be moral), the Warning does not show you that act as a sin. Also, the great apostasy begins with a conservative schism in reaction to the Oct 2015 Synod. But most of the apostasy occurs after the Warning, Consolation, and Miracle. Some sinners do not repent at the Warning. Others backslide after repenting. And as the tribulation begins, later in 2016, fear weighs on many who are weak in faith. So that is why the WCM do not prevent or suddenly end the apostasy.

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