Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Census results, parish closings

Mark Gray has an interesting blog post (charts!  graphs!) on yesterday's census report, which documents the U.S. population shift from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West.  Continuing his attempt to nuance headlines about Catholics leaving the church (he seems to think numbers matter, go figure), he notes that the pattern of parish closings and openings correlate with this population shift.  States like New York and Ohio are both closing parishes and losing congressional seats; states like Texas and Florida are opening parishes and gaining seats.

In other words, while Catholics in Boston may well be losing their religion, it's also possible that a Catholic stronghold like Boston has fewer Catholics because Catholic Boston has fewer people, period.

Still.  First off, I'll look forward to more slicing and dicing of the data.  For example, New York lost 2 congressional seats and Florida gained 2, but New York closed 288 parishes and Florida opened 11 -- so yes, while many Catholics loaded up their U-hauls and headed off down I-95, it also sounds like some of these had a conversion experience on the road to Boca Raton.

On the other hand, do note that we're looking at data which represent different lenses.  Census numbers are snapshots, an immediate count of bodies, with a ten-year comparison rate.  A parish's "lifetime" is a longer arc, these are generational comparisons.  Chances are, many of these parishes were already past their sell-by date ten years ago, and a variety of factors (yes, including the turmoil of the sex abuse crisis) have simply led to this period as being one of consolidation, reflecting changes that have been many decades in the making.

Still.  In an even tighter frame, just this year there's been a significant drop in the Catholic population in Germany.  At some point, someone will write an interesting study on the Polish pope and (then) contemporary Poland, and the German pope and contemporary Germany.