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Catholic church attendance in the United States fell by six percent between the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the sharpest drop in decades, a new Gallup poll has revealed.
An average of 39 percent of U.S. Catholics attended church weekly during the heart of the Francis papacy, from 2014 to 2017, Gallup found in a survey released April 9, which represents a significant drop from the 45 percent of Catholics who attended weekly Mass from 2005 to 2008, in the early years of the Benedict pontificate.
Weekly Mass attendance among American Catholics had stabilized in the mid-2000s at around 45 percent, after falling sharply during the period comprising the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its aftermath, which many Catholics experienced as a time of confusion and upheaval.
The downward trend has resumed during the Francis years, falling more abruptly than it had since the 1970s.
Gallup’s methodology has been to conduct surveys on church attendance near the middle of each decade from the 1950s through the present, so it does not provide a strict year-to-year accounting. Nonetheless, their choice of the period 2005-2008 happened to coincide with the first four years of the Benedict papacy, while the period of 2014-2017 does nearly the same for the pontificate of Francis, who was elected in 2013.
The most recent survey provides useful data regarding the demographics of churchgoers as well, by breaking down attendance by age groups. American Catholics between the ages of 50 and 59 saw the sharpest decline in Mass attendance between the pontificates of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, falling from 46 to 31 percent, or a drop of 15 percent.
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