An expansive new study shows that in the Catholic church, bigger parishes, more masses and ministries in languages other than English are becoming the norm.
In the last decade, the numbers of Catholic priests and Catholic parishes have declined in number, but the scale of parish life in the U.S. has expanded along with the nation’s growing Catholic population, according to “The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes.” The report is part of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, an initiative being supported by several national ministerial organizations.
Information in the report is based a 2010 national survey of pastors and other parish leaders at 846 randomly selected U.S. parishes.
The survey documents changes in parish life as the U.S. Catholic Church has downsized its number of parishes in recent years. In the last decade, through a combination of closing and mergers, U.S. Catholic Church leaders have reduced the number of parishes in the U.S. by 1,359 (a decline of 7.1 percent). In 2000, the Church had more than 19,000 parishes nationally and by decade’s end it had fewer than 17,800, almost the same number it had in 1965.
The survey shows that in the wake of these closures, the average number of registered households in U.S. parishes has grown to 1,168. A third of parishes now have more than 1,200 registered households. The percentage of parishes with 200 or fewer households dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010. The survey results indicate that 40 percent of the increase in registered parishioners from 2005 to 2010 was among Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholics.
With more Catholics and fewer parishes, the number of Masses offered per parish has increased as well. Half of U.S. parishes celebrate four or more Sunday/Saturday Vigil Masses each week. Only one in ten parishes (10 percent) celebrate just one weekend Mass per week, while 28 percent celebrate five or more. The average number of weekend Masses per parish has increased from 3.5 in 2000 to 3.8 in 2010.
The Twin Cities archdiocese has not been immune to such parish mergers as it deals with tighter budgets, shifting demographics and a projected shortage of priests. Archdiocese leaders announced this past the fall that 21 parishes would merge into 14 “receiving” parishes as part of a massive reorganization plan.