US Roman Catholics

Perhaps more American Catholic than Roman Catholic


In emails and a few face-to-face discussions recently, I hear a variety of conflicting reports about American Catholics. One member of the hierarchy warned me that U.S. Catholics are now solidly Republican conservatives and are fed-up with my kind of “quasi-heretical liberalism.”

So what are the current facts about Roman Catholics in the United States of America?



How many American Catholics these days?

American Catholics now make up about 23% of the US population. (The USCCB’s Kennedy Directory says we now make up 22%). Although we remain the largest single denomination, our numbers are decreasing. There is a very significant drop in Catholic membership throughout New England.

18% of American Catholics are in the 18 to 29 age group, 41% in the 30 to 49 age group, 24 % the 50 to 64 group and 16% are 65+.

Weekly church attendance:

33% of us attend church at least once a week. The US national average for weekly religious service attendance is now 24%. The only religious group with a higher weekly attendance rate is the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints: 44%.

Racial and ethnic composition:

American Catholics are: 65% white, 2% black, 2% Asian and 29% Hispanic

Literal Interpretation of Scripture among Catholics

American Catholics are not biblical fundamentalists. While 23% say the Bible contains the Word of God and is literally true word for word,  39% say the Bible offers the Word of God, but is not literally true word for word; and 27% of say the Bible is simply a religious book and is not the Word of God.


Interpretation of Religious Teachings Among Catholics

American Catholics are not rigidly doctrinaire. Some see this as a sign of US secularization. Others see it is a sign of religious maturity. In any event, 77% of American Catholics agree that there is more than one true way to interpret official Catholic Church teachings, and 79% believe that many religions can lead to eternal life


When we look at American Catholics and ethical issues, we see quite a mix.


Despite the Catholic Church’s strong opposition to abortion, a slim majority (51%) of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 44% oppose abortion in most or all cases. This breakdown is nearly identical to the views of the public as a whole. However, white Catholics who attend church at least once a week (60%) and Latino Catholics (53%) are more likely than Catholics as a whole to oppose legalized abortion in most or all circumstances.

Catholics are slightly more supportive of gay marriage than is the public as a whole and when asked about homosexuality, 58% said homosexuality should be accepted by society. When it comes to the use of torture against suspected terrorists, however, 25% of the US population says it can never be justified and 20% of Roman Catholics. On the issue of the death penalty, a majority of Catholics express views that are in tension with the Catholic Church’s teachings against capital punishment. In the August 2007 Pew survey, six-in-ten Catholics expressed support for the death penalty, while only about one-third (35%) opposed it


Political party engagement

Some US bishops will not like this, but 33% of US Catholics are Democrats with another 16% leaning that way. And 23% are Republican with another 10% leaning that way. 10% are independents.



One thought on “Who are American Catholics today and what do they think and believe?

  1. i find the stats interesting and quite consistent with my own experience as a retired Catholic pastor. I consider myself a centrist with leanings toward the left. However, as a pastor, I insisted that there be room at our table for ‘everyone’ regardless of gender, transgender, political affiliation, age, etc. I have had my fill of clericalism to last a lifetime and view this as a primary issue facing the Catholic Church. However, I grew up in a family in which major decisions about life — including our faith life — were made at our family table rather than by the pope or the pastor or the nuns at school — speaking of which, my life in Catholic elementary school (1944-50) was a disaster and am still facing issues that have haunted me for years. I have forgive those poor elderly nuns because they themselves were victims a an inbred, dysfunctional system that pretty much destroyed their humanity.
    I remain a priest/pastor ‘at large’ in because I believe in our tradition and I am committed to helping the thousands who still want to be Catholic but without the shackles that have bound them for years. True religion should be a liberating experience.

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