Mar 25, 2021
Eight years ago I published a book called American Church. The subtitle explained what it was about: “The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.”
Now the future is here. That sound you heard was the future of the Church in America landing with a masked-up thud. At least for the short run it is anything but bright.
Before covid-19 made its devastating presence felt, 21.1% of American Catholics attended Mass every week, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. That was nothing to brag about, compared with 54.9% in 1970, but it looks positively hearty next to the 12% or so projected for the post-covid era.
Using data from dioceses, Villanova University’s Center for Church Management, the source of that projection, had previously seen Mass attendance dropping to that level in 2030. But the pandemic speeded things up. “It’s not going to be 2030. It could be 2022 (or) 2023,” center director Matthew F. Manion told Catholic News Service.
What’s happening is no mystery. As churches closed and bishops suspended the Sunday Mass obligation during the pandemic--measures initially required by state and local officials responding to a genuine public health crisis--people in the habit of attending Mass weekly acquired the new habit of staying home instead.