The "trending" in the social media world means something is getting a lot of attention, and everyone is sharing it and retweeting it and posting it — yada, yada. But the more accurate understanding of the term refers to how something is unfolding, developing or advancing, so there is some relationship between the more traditional definition and the social media jargon.
What is trending in the Church in the United States these days is near extinction. But the funny thing is not many people are actually talking about it. It's not getting a lot of attention. So the issue is both "trending" and not "trending," depending on where you fall in the world of "trending."
Let's look at an example from the world of politics and culture to make the point. Last week, Pew Research released a poll, measuring the differences between political parties. It found two things of import for our purposes. One, despite a growing disparity between Republicans and Democrats on almost every issue, the trend among even Republicans is decidedly leftward. Two, on the issue of homosexuality, a whopping 70 percent of Americans overall are in favor of homosexuality being accepted by society, and that's up from 46 percent in 1994 — the first time since Pew has been tracking these issues. That is a gigantic statistical turnaround in less than a quarter of a century.
In political terms, the shift that has happened among Republican voters, who in 1994 returned the GOP to a political majority in the U.S. Congress for the first time in more than 40 years, has been seismic — from a minority support to a majority support in less than two generations. And here's the explanation why — it's all demographics. A huge number of those GOP voters who voted for Republican dominance in 1994 and completely stalled the Bill Clinton liberal agenda, well, they are dead now. They have been replaced by GOP voters, who while still more conservative than Democratic voters, are "trending" more Democratic in their social views.
A breakdown of the age tells the story. Overall, 83 percent of voters under 30 favor homosexuality. Seventy-two percent of voters in their 30s and 40s are in support. Those between 50–65 support homosexuality at a rate of 65 percent. And those older than 65 support homosexuality at a rate of 58 percent.
Now, let's transfer all this into the realm of the Church in America. Roughly 70 million of these Americans are baptized Catholics. Multiple surveys reveal that a majority no longer identify as Catholic and even more do not attend Mass — only about 1 in 5 — and that number continues to decline. Actually, all of the "Catholic numbers" continue to decline. And the reasons adherence to Catholic morality and teachings continue to decline are directly the same reasons why GOP voters continue to trend more and more liberal.
The older generation is dying and being replaced by people who know nothing in these areas. A very small number of Catholics between 18–29 identify as Catholic in any meaningful way. They have given up the Faith. They are the ones "trending." In a very short amount of time, within five years, 10 on the outside, the raw number of Catholics in the U.S. is going to begin to plunge, not decline, mind you — plunge.
This isn't so much a case of people changing their minds about the Church, although that happens to a much lesser degree. Rather, it's just a matter of biology. The last stable group and even that is somewhat of a reach — the last stable group of Catholics who believe will be dead. Period. What will be left is a handful of Catholics currently in their 50s who will move into the category of 65 and older. The other age group categories will undergo an enormous decline, and the plunge will turn into a death spiral right about then.
What this portends for the church by 2027 is essentially something unrecognizable as the Church by today's standards and historical standards. The shrinking will accelerate to the point that thousands of parishes in practically every diocese will be closed down. The Church's assets in land and investments will have to be sold off — what's left that is — after the multi-billion dollar, gay priest sex-abuse settlements. Archdioceses will be busted down to mere dioceses because, frankly, how can you call a diocese with just a few dozen parishes an archdiocese?
There is no way on earth these things can be argued against — severe drops in Catholic marriages, Catholic baptisms, Catholic births, Catholic baptism. It's simply unsustainable, and the end is quickly approaching. What's interesting is that there is so little trending in Church discussion on this overwhelming trend that will simply swamp the Church here in the U.S.
The end is in sight, clearly in sight, and that's much more than just a trend. The question for faithful Catholics is what are you doing now to prepare?
More on this tomorrow.