The American Religious Identification Survey has come out. Americans of European descent leave the Catholic Church at about the same rate that Episcopalians leave the Episcopal Church. The Catholic numbers stay the same because the gap is filled by Latinos. Because immigration in Europe is Moslem rather than Catholic, the decline of Catholicism is more apparent there.
A handful of Catholics leave for more liberal churches; more leave for conservative evangelical and Pentecostal churches, but most drift off into indifference. The decline of Catholicism in New England is especially striking. Phil Lawler has described it in The Faithful Departed.
Faith is not a matter of mere knowledge. But the sad state of catechetics for the past two generations must have contributed to the decline. My family offered to fund a study to see whether Catholic school children in Baltimore at least knew the basic vocabulary of Catholicism; the archdiocese did not even reply to our letters offering money; the bureaucrats did not want to know the truth.
The disruptive reforms also must have caused much of the loss. Catholicism was for many people a matter of habit – a good habit, but mostly habit. When the mass was changed and almost all popular devotions suppressed, the habit was broken.
Indifferentism was also a result of the renunciation of triumphalist Catholicism. Catholics were warned there was no salvation outside the juridical boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. That certainty was eroded and then rejected, and the Church has not found a convincing way of presenting the doctrine that the Catholic Church is indeed willed by God, although He can work outside its visible boundaries.
The sexual scandals also helped undermine faith. William Lobdell lost his faith in God after he covered the sexual scandals for the Los Angeles Times. He recounts the painful story in Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace. I will have more to say about this book later.
The situation in Africa and the Far East is different, but America and Europe still provide the financial and intellectual leadership in the Church, and troubles here will eventually hurt the Church in poorer countries.