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Surge in Secularism Creates Volatile Challenge for Catholics

It's now becoming a question of survival.

October 2, 2023  0


I'm Michael Voris, coming to you from onboard our fall Retreat at Sea as we steam back toward New York.

The experience of Catholics in America, which has been the theme of this retreat, the history of the Church here, went from bad to good and then back to its present-day bad.

And, in truth, the present day (as we have said before) is nothing less than a total dumpster fire. For example, the bishop statistics group just last week published its findings that the number of Catholics who attend Mass each Sunday has plummeted even further, down now to just 17%.

There's not really a need to go through all the depressing (yet revealing) stats other than to say no conclusion can be drawn other than the Church in the United States is headed for extinction.

A number of sociological data points also point to impending shipwreck. For example, Gallup published its poll last week and it was immediately seized upon by atheists like the Freedom From Religion Foundation as proof of their success.

A majority of Americans no longer identify as simply 'religious.'

It revealed for the first time since Gallup has asked the question that a majority of Americans no longer identify as simply "religious" — 51%, in fact. And as you might already have surmised, the future outlook is even more bleak, as large numbers of young people skew the poll even further.

And as a population trends more and more atheist, or at the very least "religiously indifferent," the politics will be sure to follow. Politics is always downstream of culture. Leaders rarely actually lead. They follow what their constituents want so they can hold on to their own power.

In a democracy, once the citizenry becomes immoral, the laws will eventually catch up to that. There are now fewer parishes in America than there were in 1965. The number of marriages, baptisms, confirmations and first Communions is tanking.

Catholicism specifically is heading the way of religion in general in America, which is into the arena of irrelevance. The largest group of Catholics in the country is now former Catholics.

Among all religious bodies, there is one trend in general that sticks out: Protestantism, predictably, is disintegrating at a shocking rate. In the aftermath of World War II, almost 70% of Americans identified as such.

Today, that number has been cut in half, down to 34%. So-called non-denominations, which did not exist immediately after the war, do comprise 11% of the population, but even when you add them together with Protestants (which they really are themselves, without identifying that way), it still comes up to less than half the total population of the country.

Catholicism has flatlined since the war, with a modest overall uptick in the post-war years right up until the Reagan White House years and, after that, a steady decrease. The average percentage of Catholics had held relatively steady for decades after the war at around 23–25%. Today, it is closer to 18%.

The rise among Americans has been with those who say they have no religion, the so-called "nones."

For the first time ever, there are now more people in the United States who identify as having no religion than there are Catholics. Buried and hidden inside that group saying they belong to no religion are millions of former Catholics.

There are more Catholics who have walked away from the Catholic Church than there are adherents of any other single religion. That's owing partly to the fact that there were more Catholics than any other religion to begin with for the last century, but is also a testament to the massive collapse of the Church.

There was a decade roughly immediately following the war where America could have been on its way to a Catholic-majority nation.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen was hosting the No. 1-rated show on TV. Catholic Notre Dame football ruled the gridiron. Catholic schools and parishes were opening everywhere. Religious orders and vocations were booming. Catholic cultural icons dotted the movie landscape — Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Danny Thomas. Catholic movies were winning Academy Awards — The Song of Bernadette, A Man for All Seasons.

Everything looked ripe for the nation to become Catholic. Heck, America elected its first Catholic President in 1960. Conquest looked assured.

So what happened?

It's extremely difficult to pinpoint one single cause, and that's true because there really wasn't one single cause. But underneath that rosy social picture, warning signs were already appearing. And perhaps the most telling was Mass attendance.

The Church in America is now heading into preservation mode.

While many U.S. Catholics trumpet 1945–1960 as a kind of "golden age" for the Church here in America, 25%, one in four Catholics, were not going to Mass each week. Today, as we said, it's closer to five in six Catholics that do not go to Mass each week, which, by comparison, makes 1950 look stellar.

Still, when one out of four are not going to Mass, participating in the routine sacramental life of the Church, that is a massive red flag, a flag that was either missed or ignored by the bishops. Answering the question, "Why were one in four not attending and why did the bishops miss or ignore that?" likely holds the answer to the question, "What happened?"

Regardless, the Church in America is now heading into preservation mode. Too much has been lost or surrendered, too much ground given up.

The situation now facing Catholics is not what to do in a Protestant-majority country (which it no longer is), but what to do in the face of an impending atheist or religiously indifferent country.

How we respond to that as a people will determine if the Church even survives, or perhaps thrives once again, on these shores.

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