Mass departure

Report outlines sharp declines in participation among RI's Catholic community

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The notion that the number of people actively participating in the Catholic faith in Rhode Island has been declining has been observed for some time now, but recently the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released precise numbers to verify that fact.

In a “pastoral profile” assembled by the Diocese released earlier this month, data reveals that everything from the overall number of parishioners, the number of masses and attendance at masses to the number of priests in the state have all sharply declined since 2000.

What the numbers show is a snapshot is a widespread departure from traditional Catholic practice in Rhode Island, which the Pew Research Center still identifies as the most Catholic-dense population in the country, with 43 percent in the state identifying as followers of the faith.

In his address attached to the report, Bishop Thomas Tobin declared, “The inescapable conclusion from reviewing the report is that the Diocese of Providence is experiencing a quantitative decline,” and indicated “the Diocese must continue making the structural adjustments we have already begun in responding to the new realities in which we are living. These changes will include clergy assignments, parish configurations, Mass schedules, and educational resources.”

“Every member of the Church should expect to be affected by these changes,” Tobin continues. “Second is that we need to renew our efforts at evangelization – with boldness and creativity – to welcome new members into our Church, to reach out to those who have fallen away, and to nourish and strengthen the faith of the many who are still with us.”

To highlight some of the data, while the state’s population has risen about 7 percent from 987,429 in 2000 to 1,057,315 in 2018, the number of Catholic parishioners has shrunk from about 525,181 in 2000 to 321,315 in 2018 – a decline of about 39 percent over that span. This coincides with a 21 percent decrease in the number of masses observed (609 in 2000 to 482 in 2018), likely an adjustment reacting to a significant 57 percent decrease in mass attendance (187,708 in 2000 versus 79,936 in 2018).

The number of priests in Rhode Island has also declined from 216 in 2000 to just 134 in 2018 (a 38 percent decrease). Of those 134 priests, more than half (77) are aged 60 or older, and 16 percent of the priests will be 70 years old or older in 2019. There are 22 priests under 40 years of age, and 13 seminarians actively studying for the priesthood, per the report.

Interestingly, the report revealed that 37 priests in Rhode Island (about a quarter of them) are responsible for more than one assignment within the diocese.

This can be seen locally in Warwick, where nearly all Catholic parishes have engaged in the practice of “yoking” – where two churches remain independent with separate congregations, but pool resources and share a single priest. As of this writing, St. Benedict and St. Kevin, St. Catherine and St. Francis and, most recently, St. Timothy and St. Rita have all yoked with one another. St. Rose of Lima and St. Clement used to be independent parishes, but merged to form St. Rose and Clement in 1997. St. Peter and St. Gregory the Great remain independent without having yoked at this time.

St. William Church, serving the Norwood neighborhood, closed in April of 2017.

Fr. Robert Marciano is one of those priests with multiple assignments. He is the pastor for St. Benedict and St. Kevin, which began yoking in 2017. He also serves as the president for Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick. Marciano believes that the numbers reveal a cultural shift that indicate younger generations are not joining organizations in general, not just churches.

“That’s a cultural shift. The Elks and the Masons are experiencing it as well,” he said. “This particular generation is not joiners, and organized religion is something they just don’t seem to participate in.”

Marciano opined that the effect of technology – and how it creates virtual spaces for modern youths to congregate – cannot be ignored as a possible cause for the dwindling numbers within Catholic churches.

“I’ll be at a restaurant and I see four people at the table with their phones not talking to each other,” he said. “I think technology has contributed to that.”

While other congregations have seen diminishing parishioners, Marciano said the numbers at St. Benedict’s in particular were “strong” with full 10 a.m. masses being the norm. When asked if there was a “secret” to getting people enthusiastic about coming to church and participating in religion during a time of significant downturn elsewhere within the Diocese, his response was relatively straightforward.

“I think a priest, pastor or president should be hopeful, happy and the cheerleader of the organization,” he said. “My job is to highlight the good things that happen in all these places, and there’s so much good going on. So much good being done and so many lives being changed.”

The report from the Diocese touches upon the good things happening within the Catholic faith as well. For example, it cites that $3.35 million has been raised through donations since 2005 for the diocesan heating assistance program “Keep the Heat On,” which has helped 14,089 families stay warm.

It reports giving “hundreds” of men in addiction recovery a warm place to stay and food to eat at the Emmanuel House Homeless Shelter located in Providence. In the larger picture, the profile states that 103,315 people have been helped through other diocesan social service programs that bolster outreach, legal services, counseling, food pantries and soup kitchens.

It highlights that nearly $2 million in tuition assistance grants were provided to over 2,000 Catholic School students in 2018 alone, and that nearly 10,000 hospital and homebound visits were made by members of the clergy and parishes in 2018 as well.

Marciano said that as long as he does his job well, people will continue to show up for services at church, and that the work he does at Hendricken should continue to inspire the next generations to consider educational opportunities at the school.

“With a donation to Hendricken, it literally changes a boy’s life,” he said. “That’s great news and is something to shout about.”

Interestingly, according to the report a decline in Catholic education enrollment statewide has inordinately affected elementary students, but not high school enrollment to the same degree. There has been a 56 percent decline in elementary enrollment (from 13,541 in 2000 to 5,911 in 2018), but only an 11 percent decrease at Catholic high schools (from 5,440 in 2000 to 4,806 in 2018).

The most drastic decreases across the Catholic religion in Rhode Island have been seen in the numbers of ceremonial practices undertaken by those in the faith. Marriages, for example, have dropped by 67 percent, with only 681 Catholic marriages occurring in 2018 versus 2,056 occurring in 2000. Baptisms have fallen 63 percent from 6,274 in 2000 to 2,343 in 2018. The same can be said for those taking their First Communion, which dropped 63 percent from 6,363 in 2000 to just 2,345 in 2018.

Marciano, however, said he doesn’t worry too much about the numbers that have been released, as he is solely focused on doing the best job that he can through what he can control. Given the scandals that have rocked the foundation of the Catholic religion in recent times, Marciano said that faith – appropriately – is what has always helped the virtuous persevere in light of the darkness.

“Jesus sees the future. Let him worry about it. The church has had troubled times in the past, and there have always been great leaders who rose up in the past...God has always risen up to guide us through and come out on the other side stronger,” he said. “Europe has gone through it for decades, and now it’s our turn. We have strong Catholics here.”

Even as the numbers appear to be daunting and indicative of an overall religious decline in the state, Marciano hearkened back to the very beginning of the faith to make his point about resiliency.

“Our Lord had 12 [disciples] and he changed the world. I’m not really worried about the numbers,” he said.

Comments

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The Skipper

Hypocrisy really dosen't help membership in any organization, and if you try to tell people they should be celibate but your being sued for millions of dollars for child molestation? It most likely going to ruin your testimony to the goodness of The Lord and the sincerity of the words coming out of your mouth.Even the Bible says "It is not good for man to be alone" yet the Catholic Church says their priests can't marry? What's the matter? Afraid if you allow it the people will see how many Aberrant individuals there are in the Priesthood? Maybe if you let men marry you'd see how fast the ranks of the priesthood would be filled.

Of course when the fox is guarding the hen house there isn't much hope.

Tuesday, September 24
Robert

There's a mass exodus from the RCC? Hopefully it's because folks are finally awakening to how incredibly unbiblical the RCC has been. The Pope is God's vicar on earth. The Pope is infallible. Mary is God's mother. Mary is our redemptrix. Mary can hear and answer prayers. Pay the church indulgences and they will allow your loved ones to escape purgatory. Works-based gospel taught; man gets to Heaven by his own good works rather than by faith in Jesus Christ. The RCC is the Devil's crown jewel. Hopefully theses ex-Catholics will actually start reading the KJV bible.

Tuesday, September 24
warwick10

Technology? Technology is not to be blamed... the recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests reflect that there are still ongoing problems in the church.

Tuesday, September 24
justanidiot

couldn't have happened to a nicer religion

Wednesday, September 25
Louise

Next do the mass departure out of Warwick.

Wednesday, September 25
Johnny Tsnami

In my opinion, the RCC needs to:

1) allow for females priests

2) allow persists to marry

3) revamp the Mass to actually connect with the congregants.

4) Attract local musicians to vamp up the singing. Pipe organs are for hockey games and minor league baseball.

5) One and for all, release all records on the molesters, make the victims whole and end the guilt.

Of course, none of this will happen and I predict the eventual demise of the institution in the next 20-30 years

Wednesday, September 25
Hillsgrove Hal

And still -- STILL! -- the Catholic Church refuses to acknowledge and answer for the real problem: The systematic rape and abuse of children and young adults for decades, not only under their watch, but aided by their culture of secrecy.

Who were the "great leaders" who "rose up" in the 1990s and early 2000s when the truth about the dozens of rapist priests in Rhode Island and Massachusetts was finally brought into the light of day?

There were none. Only bishops looking to sweep the issue under the rug and buy the silence of the victims and their families.

And maybe they could acknowledge that an entire generation has grown up learning of new rapist priests seemingly every week, and that it's not "technology" that's the issue.

Father Marciano is still wearing his Vatican-issued blinders while ignoring (or forgetting) that one of his predecessors was removed as principal of Hendricken for harming a student in the mid-80s.

Until every single person in supposed authority of the Roman Catholic Church fully, honestly, and repeatedly admits the true past of that organization, they all remain accomplices to its decades of criminal behavior.

Losing attendance and money is the least negative consequence that the Catholic Church deserves.

Thursday, September 26
Cat

Young people do not see the need to go into a building to have a relationship with God. It is rather galling to have to sit there an be lectured about how we are supposed to act by men that have apparently sinned without consequences. Why would I want to be associated with that? Do as I say, not as I do? There is no reason to waste my time sitting in mass or going to confession if it means I can act whatever way I want and just ask forgiveness. I can do that at home.

The Catholic Church will die out as the older generation dies off. The youth want no part of it.

Thursday, September 26
OldButInformed

Until and unless the Catholic Church begins ordaining married men they’ll continue to be a magnet for pedophiles and other sexual deviates. If they cannot being themselves to fumigate and cleanse their church they’ll continue to lose their flock. Return to the “Veil Of Christian Orthodoxy”, abandon the fool’s errand of a celibate Priesthood, and focus on the Gospel Of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s your best and, probably, only chance to return to relevance in North America.

Thursday, September 26
Robert

Go to nearly every Catholic Church in Rhode Island and what may you find buried on the property? Lots of baby bones from the abortions of the nuns impregnated by the priests.

Friday, September 27
Hillsgrove Hal

OldButInformed, I've seen that argument so many times over the last two decades, I've lost count.

It doesn't get any more true by being repeated, though.

Marriage doesn't magically take away the intent to harm children, just as celibacy doesn't magically create it.

You know what would have avoided the decades of criminal behavior by priests?

Honesty by the supposed leaders of the Catholic Church. Transparency. Insistence on bringing their priests' criminal behavior to law enforcement instead of covering it up.

The utter failure of the Roman Catholic Church in dealing with their rapist priests had nothing to do with orthodoxy and everything to do with how its human representatives chose to protect their institution instead of the people in their care.

Friday, September 27
Cat

Hillsgrove Hal,

I agree with you 100%. There are many married men from other religions that molest young children as well. Society has a real problem because they naturally tend to "trust" those in the ministry and blindly send their children to spend time with them without fully vetting their suitability. Compounded by a lack of believing on the parents part that it is happening because, once again, we blindly trust a man of God. It's a well known fact that pedophiles tend to go where the children are so we should be extra careful with teachers, ministers, boy and girl scout leaders, etc. Stop trusting in someone's morality based on their profession.

Friday, September 27
OldButInformed

HILLSGROVE HAL; Yup, that’s the bet, just keep doing what you’ve been doing because it works so well. As if dramatically increasing the Church’s potential talent pool won’t allow them to be far more selective and hire far fewer deviates! You’re reminiscent of the business consultants who told Sears, Borders Books, Almacs, and Brown & Sharpe that they were fine because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. The Catholic Church is on life support in North America; face it.

Saturday, September 28
Apollo

Religion is done. Thank the diddlers for that. But you can still have faith.

Saturday, September 28
RISchadenfreude

Catholic church attendance is also tied to the "Elephant in the Room", the exodus of the middle class from RI- this is not a situation unique to Catholics in RI.

Since residents got easy access to the internet around 2003, they have been leaving RI in droves having discovered that not every State is doing terribly and there are many better places to raise a family, no matter who the General Assembly blames and the Projo parrots. The numbers of elderly who attend church regularly have been dropping due to attrition. RI's new population of illegals and other immigrants attend storefront "Iglesias" as they do in their home countries because community churches actually help the community- their money isn't deposited and sent off to the home office (Vatican). Storefront / community churches actually provide almost immediate assistance (cash, services, volunteer aid).

Monday, September 30
Hillsgrove Hal

OldButInformed, I am glad the Roman Catholic Church is "on life support" because it is finally suffering the consequences of its criminal behavior and continued attempts to cover it up.

Unlike you, I feel no obligation to "fix" the Roman Catholic Church by opening the priesthood to more people.

Monday, September 30
Patient Man

What would the RCC's population be if not for the increased # of Hispanic families that have moved into the state? It would be interesting to know if & how many masses are held in Spanish. Take that # and compare it to 2000.

Thursday, October 3