"We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation and thus we no longer manage to interpret within it what Benedict XVI calls 'the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.'"
+ Pope Francis
Here are some questions for you: In the United States, how many self-identified Catholics attend Mass every Sunday? How many believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist? And what’s the percentage of Catholics going to Confession?
The answers (we’ll get to those in a moment) may surprise you.
For now, there's another set of questions that have many shaking their heads. “We have lots of work to do” has been the common response by Catholic eco-activists to a recent poll by the Associated Press, working with NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Yale University.
The study of some 1,000 American Catholics taken a month after the release of Laudato Si’ indicates that only 40% of those responding had heard of the encyclical. That number drops to 31% among adult Catholics.
And only 23% said they heard about the encyclical at Mass.
The poll’s accompanying Associated Press story by Rachel Zoll (who I've worked with and respect) and Emily Swanson write that the “new survey has found fewer than half of U.S. Roman Catholics said they knew of Pope Francis' bombshell encyclical on curbing climate change.”
Of course the encyclical is not about climate change. Only four of its 246 paragraphs are about that particular topic. Laudato Si' has much to offer Catholics about their faith and the moment of history in which we live.
That's why the findings about American Catholic awareness of the papal eco-encyclical is depressing—even if it is what most of us have come to expect.
There is in American Catholicism a stubborn tendency to pay little attention to the life and the teachings of the Church. (Think of the number of Catholics using artificial birth control.) This is one reason why Rome spent so much time preparing us for Laudato Si’. When I spoke to Fr. Michael Czerny S.J. of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace in November he voiced just such concerns about maintaining long-term interest in the papal document.
For Catholic ecologists working in the United States, the AP poll was a reminder of why we’re working triple time to jumpstart the place of Laudato Si’ into the life of the Church at the local level—especially in these months before the papal visit and the United Nation’s talks on climate change.
This won’t be easy. At the heart of the matter is the tenacious habit of many American Catholics—lay and clergy—to disregard the magisterium and focus instead on their own particular liturgical and social interests. In short, we sometimes forget that we are a communal faith.
For every dedicated Catholic attending Mass weekly—not to mention devotions, volunteering at their parish, and attending Bible studies—there are many others who prefer only to come to Mass on Sunday (or monthly, of less often) and leave their faith at that. For this latter group, the content of any encyclical is alien material.
And that group isn’t small.
According to a 2008 poll of American Catholics by the Georgetown University-based CARA research group, only 23% of American Catholics attend Mass weekly. (Oddly, that’s the same percentage that report hearing a homily about Laudato Si’ in the AP poll.) Only 91% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. That number falls to an abysmal 65% for those that attend Mass about once a month and even less for those who rarely attend Mass.
Among weekly Mass attendees, only 62% receive Confession once a year, and those numbers likewise plummet among the 77% of self-identified Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly.
In all, many Catholics in the United States simply aren’t engaged in their faith. Perhaps Pope Francis’s visit in September will bump up those numbers. But even with that, Catholic ecologists have a challenge: our hope that American Catholics will dramatically impact ecological and climate discussions doesn’t seem a likely one without first seeing more engagement among those who profess membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
To repeat and underscore what many of my colleagues are saying: we have lots and lots of work ahead of us even if we've made lots of progress thus far.
In the News
- 1 of 69
- next ›
About the Blog
Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.