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Catholic Mass attendance in U.S. plunges under Francis pontificate

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

April 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Church is seeing its biggest decline in Mass attendance in the U.S. in decades that started between the papacies of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, a new Gallup poll says.

"From 2014 to 2017, an average of 39% of Catholics reported attending church in the past seven days. This is down from an average of 45% from 2005 to 2008 and represents a steep decline from 75% in 1955," the poll found.

Francis became Pope in 2013. 

Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics dropped six percentage points, the findings said, with fewer than four in 10 Catholics going to Mass in any given week.

In contrast, the survey said church attendance remained strong over the last decade with U.S. Protestants.

The number of weekly Mass-attending Catholics had leveled out at the 45 percent mark in the mid-2000s after dropping significantly during the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its tumultuous aftermath.

The downhill shift in Mass attendance has picked back up under Francis with the biggest drop since the 1970s.

The Vatican’s Central Statistics Office published a report last year in which it found that vocations to the priesthood have continued a downward trend since 2012. The decline was found to have accelerated under the pontificate of Pope Francis. Total seminarians worldwide dropped from 118,251 in 2013 to 116,843 in 2015.

Gallup does not give an exact count from one year to the next, conducting its church attendance surveys toward the middle of each decade from the 1950s to present, Thomas Williams notes in a Breitbart report. Consequently, the time period of 2005-2008 selected for the survey corresponds to the first four years of Benedict’s papacy, and the 2014-2017 period similarly coincides with the Francis pontificate.

“After stabilizing in the mid-2000s, weekly church attendance among U.S. Catholics has resumed its downward trajectory over the past decade. In particular, older Catholics have become less likely to report attending church in the past seven days -- so that now, for the first time, a majority of Catholics in no generational group attend weekly,” the poll states.

The biggest drop in Mass attendance between the Benedict and Francis pontificates came among Catholics between the ages of 50 and 59, falling from 46 to 31 percent, a decline of 15 percent.

The only rise in weekly Mass attendance came from American Catholics aged 30-39, rising three-percentage points from 40 to 43 percent.

The young adult demographic – aged 21 to 29 – had seen a small rise in weekly Mass attendance under Benedict from 2005-2008, to 29 percent. But this then dropped under Francis between 2014-2017 to 25 percent.

The current rate of weekly church attendance among Protestants and Catholics is similar at most age levels, the survey said, with the exception of that 21-to-29 demographic. Protestants in the young adult segment more likely at 36% than Catholic young adults (25%) to say they have attended church in the past seven days.

This drop in Mass attendance among Catholic young adults and the disparity between their attendance rate and that of their Protestant counterparts comes as Francis is in the process of convening a youth synod.

Williams noted that the drop in Catholic Mass attendance while Protestant church attendance has remained largely consistent is telling. 

This “suggests that specific confessional issues rather than broader societal changes are behind the recent drop in Catholic Mass attendance,” he wrote.

It would be unfair to attribute the entire decline in Catholic Mass attendance to the “Francis effect,” Williams said.

However, he wrote “it is unlikely that the pontiff’s continual deemphasizing of the importance of obedience to church rules such as regular Mass attendance and adherence to Catholic doctrine has not had an appreciable effect on Catholic practice.”

“The Francis pontificate correlates to the sharpest drop in U.S. Mass attendance in recent decades,” Williams said.

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