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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 7, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
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  Study points

The survey was completed in May and June by 1,239 self-identified Catholics who were 18 years of age or older — a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

• 1 in 20 Americans reads a Catholic diocesan newspaper or magazine.

• 14 percent say they have read a religious or spiritual book during the same period.

• 6 percent of adult Catholics read a religious or spiritual blog in the last three months.

• Fewer read a religious newspaper or magazine online (3 percent), religious or spiritual pages or posts on Facebook (2 percent) or following religious or spiritual related tweets on Twitter.

• Adult Catholics are six times more likely to buy a print copy of a religious or spiritual book than to buy one for use on an e-reader (e.g., Kindle, Nook).

• 14 percent of Catholics had visited a parish website.

• 53 percent of Catholic newspapers and magazines readers agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that having a print version of these publications is important to them.

• 8 in 10 readers of diocesan newspapers or magazines evaluate these as “good” or “excellent” sources of news, information and dialogue about their diocese and the Catholic faith.

• 14 percent had visited a parish website.


Surprising new research indicates that for religious information, Catholics, even young Catholics, don’t go to the Internet, but prefer traditional sources, like print.

Mass attendance down; Catholics remain loyal

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Although Mass attendance continues to decline among American Catholics, loyalty to Catholic identification remains strong, according to the results of a new survey commissioned by National Catholic Reporter newspaper.

Mass attendance by pre-Vatican II Catholics, born in 1940 or before, slipped to 54 percent, down 10 percentage points from the high recorded in the 1999 survey, but it still topped all age groups. The rate for Vatican II Catholics, those born 1941-60, is 31 percent; for post-Vatican II Catholics born 1961-78, 29 percent; and for millennial Catholics born since 1979, 23 percent.

Older Catholics cited “I’m just not a religious person” as the reason they don’t go to Mass more often, while younger Catholics cited family responsibilities as their principal reason.

Still, healthy majorities in all age groups agreed with the statements, “I cannot imagine being anything but a Catholic” and “Being a Catholic is a very important part of who I am.” But no majority in any age group agreed with the statement, “Church is among the most important influences on my life.”

“One reason why Catholics continue to remain loyal to Catholicism while skeptical of some of its teachings and practices is that there are many aspects of Catholicism that they find meaningful,” said Michelle Dillon, who chairs the sociology department at the University of New Hampshire, in an essay accompanying the survey findings.

Catholics, she added, can “disagree with or make moral judgments that contravene church teaching and yet also respect the church’s moral stance. Thus, for example, although six in 10 Catholics ... think that a person can be a good Catholic without helping the poor and without agreeing with church teaching on abortion, very large majorities nonetheless also say that it is meaningful for them that the Church shows active concern for the poor (88 percent), and that it is willing to stand up for the right to life of the unborn (72 percent).”

Sixty percent of survey respondents said one can be a good Catholic without adhering to church teaching on birth control. On the matter of helping the parish, the figure was 56 percent; on having a valid marriage, 48 percent; on weekly Mass attendance; 48 percent; on divorce and remarriage, 46 percent; on helping the poor, 39 percent; and on abortion, 31 percent.

A majority in each age group said they believe that “at the consecration the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.” Majorities also agreed that the following things were very important to them as Catholics — the sacraments, belief in Jesus’ resurrection, helping the poor and the church’s teaching on Mary — although in smaller percentages than in 2005.

But no majority in any age group said they considered “teaching authority as claimed by the Vatican” to be “very important.”
The study, which builds on an earlier survey, revealed that readership of Catholic newspapers has held steady over the past six years, a far cry from the secular newspaper business, which has recorded continuous declines in revenue, readership, advertising and employment.

Both this year’s and a 2005 study were conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The 2011 study was funded with a grant from the Catholic Communication Campaign.

“It’s not that Catholics aren’t online or using new media,” the study found. “They just aren’t using these to do Catholicism in any great number.”

The survey summary states, “Few Catholics report doing anything with new media that is related to religion and spirituality at all,” and, “Millennials (those under 30) are not more likely than older Catholics to say they have done anything online . . . related to religion and spirituality.” In fact, “Millennials are less likely than older Catholics to access any type of religious or spiritual media content.”

The study showed that 26 percent of adult Catholics had read a print copy of their diocesan newspaper or magazine in the past three months, but only 4 percent had gone to their computer to view the online version of the publication.

The study gives solid evidence that Catholic newspaper readers are loyal to the print format. Leaders of the Catholic Press Association trade group have wrestled with how to approach the hypothetical diocesan chief financial officer who would argue that “you can put this newspaper online and we can save a lot of money and it can be just as effective,” said Tim Walter, CPA executive director. “What it verified is that if you take away this print product, you don’t have another communications tool to reach them.”

He said one surprising aspect of the study was a finding about “millennials,” those born in 1982 and later. “We were more likely to reach them by pushing a print product in their home than by inviting them to come to our website,” he said. “If you don’t put a print product in the hands of a younger Catholic adult, you have no way of reaching them, because you can’t force them to come to your browser.”

“Younger folks are really not looking to the Web for religious content,” said Karen Franz, a past CPA president and editor/general manager of the Catholic Courier, diocesan newspaper of Rochester, N.Y.

The CARA study also showed, Walter said, that Catholics will spend nearly five times as much time perusing a print product than a website — 17 minutes with print vs. three-and-a-half minutes on a website.

Franz said the study needs close review by diocesan officials who say, “We’ll look to the Web and abandon print and this will solve all our problems.” Instead, she added, “it will make some new problems.”

Mark M. Gray, principal author of the CARA study, pointed to one survey question that asked respondents: “How would you feel if print versions of Catholic newspapers and magazines — including your diocesan newspaper or magazine — ceased publication and moved their operations entirely online?” Thirty-nine percent responded negatively; 18 percent gave a positive response. Another 39 percent were mixed or neutral. “I think I was surprised” by the response, he said.

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