Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change comes out officially tomorrow. Today my brief reflection is about climate change in the American Catholic Church. 
One can say the waters of change are rising. Or, membership is sinking. 
          In seven years, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA has lost about 3 million adult members; and the Millennial generation shows no indication (no interest) in rebuilding church membership. 
          As we boomers (actually I am a pre-boomer, born three years before the boomers started arriving, but have always felt like a boomer) die off, the church will decline even more.

In the last 25 years, the RCC has had a net loss of 2,137 parishes nationwide: In 1990, there were 19,620 U.S. Catholic churches. Today, there are 17,464.

The New York archdiocese announced the consolidation of 112 parishes in October 2014, effectively closing 31 parishes. In December, it announced that it is considering closing another 38 parishes.

The Boston archdiocese has closed more than 125 parishes in the past 25 years. In November 2012, it announced the consolidation of the remaining 288 parishes into 135 “parish collaboratives.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago had 1,000 fewer priests in 2014 than it had in 1980. In last 20 years of Cardinal Francis George’s administration, everything was down: 2,000 fewer women religious, 21 fewer parishes, 74 fewer elementary schools and 11 fewer high schools. There were also 10,000 fewer baptisms, half as many weddings, and 33 percent fewer funerals annually.

Nationwide, Catholic priests may be a disappearing species? Today, there are 3,496 U.S. parishes that have no resident pastor. There are nearly 20,000 fewer priests in the United States than there were 25 years ago.

Half the diocesan priests in the United States will retire in the next five years. Many dioceses in the U.S. do not have sufficient funds to pay their pensions.

Religious orders of brothers and sisters are disappearing even faster than diocesan priests. There are only about 50,000 U.S. sisters today, down from almost 180,000 in 1965. 

The only really bright spot in the Roman Catholic vocations picture is the permanent deaconate. Today there are more than 17,000 permanent deacons, up from about 900 in 1975. When it comes to ordained ministry, maybe marriage helps? 

In St Louis, at their recently completed Spring General Assembly, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted on and approved a draft of their priorities for the 2017-2020 strategic plan and the “Program of Priestly Formation, 5th edition.” They also voted on English translations of the Old and New Testament Canticles.  

          In a 165-14-3 vote, the bishops approved a working draft of the Conference’s strategic priorities for their 2017-2020 planning cycle. Input shared by the bishops from the floor will be provided to the various committees as they write the final version. The resulting draft will be presented for approval by the full body of bishops at the November 2015 General Assembly. The priorities are: 

Family and marriage
Religious Freedom
Human Life and Dignity
Vocations and ongoing formation

          As a specific agenda item, I would also have liked to see “U.S. Catholic climate change.” On the other hand, perhaps one has to be realistc: according to the Pew Research Center, only 47 percent of U.S. Catholics attribute climate change to human activity. Perhaps only 47% of U.S. Catholic bishops feel the same way about climate change in the church?
(Church trends data, thanks to Pew Research Center and Fr. Peter Daly, Parish Diary, NCR)


5 thoughts on “Climate Change in the U.S. Catholic Church

  1. They really sincerely truly no excuses. Clean up the pedophile scandals change canon ław must report to the police. Not just to the Vatican Who will convenientky lose all. Mail. Or just poo poo it Then they just might bring the people back. Here is no point in seeing sprinterskim in others eyes but walk with plants in Their own

    1. Well a big part of climate change is indeed making the environment safe for human habtation………Leadership speaks a lot about protecting the not yet born. I am on agreement. But then….what do we do with people after they they have been born: children, teenagers, single parents, gays, etc……

      In any event, thanks for your comments Irena!

  2. I grieve the loss of faith. With all of its warts, I love my Catholic faith, but I understand how the loss is happening. It’s crazy-making when I see and hear new priests saying things like”mental illness is demonic possession,” or “being pro-life is only about saving babies.” I have to get up and leave the sanctuary when these things are being spouted. I guess I grieve for the loss of thinking, prayerful, intelligent people at the ambo who actually homilize, as well. As you say, the climate is changing, and if Pope Francis, and the cardinals and bishops won’t figure that out, soon it will be too late for them.

  3. I am more concerned about quality in the priesthood, than I am about numbers, however much an uptick in the priesthood (well vetted women and men, I might add) and in religious progressive communities and orders would be wonderful. But this is the age of the laity, and I suspect there will be big structural changes in carrying on the vision and mission of Christ. I hope to see that before I’m gone. Excellent article. Statistics should awaken.

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