Church Pew

A researcher for Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has found evidence that the Catholic faith in the United States may be on the rise.

The CARA researcher, Mark Gray, analyzed a 2014 sociology survey – the General Social Survey (GSS) – and found that the strength of faith reported by a random sampling of Catholic adults has risen across several categories.

Gray reports in a blog post on CARA’s website that the retention rate for U.S. Catholics has been steadily declining since the 1970’s. But the results of the 2014 GSS show that despite an all-time low 65% retention rate for Catholics in 2012, there has since been a 7% rise in those reporting a “strong” level of faith while those reporting a “not very strong” level of faith has dropped 6%. Gray notes this is not “a massive shift by any means but it breaks a trend of consistently declining numbers of Catholics saying their affiliation is ‘strong’ in the last decade.” This report comes at a time when the retention among other Christian denominations is dropping while those reporting no religious affiliation is rising.

According to The Huffington Press, Gray suggests that the Catholic faith may be finding renewed energy in Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013. Gray’s conclusion, dubbed the Pope Francis Effect, is supported by a similar study conducted by the Pew Research Center. Jessica Martinez of the Pew Research Center, commenting on the apparent resurgence of Catholic faith, “This suggests that if there was a ‘Francis effect,’ in the first year of his papacy, it was most pronounced among Catholics who were already highly committed to the practice of their faith.”

Despite the Pope Francis Effect, there has been no indication that a change in mass attendance has occurred. Gray is optimistic, though, writing, “The best news from the GSS for the church in 2014 is that some worrisome trends have halted.”

Pope Francis is set to visit the U.S. in September 2015.


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