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Whither RCIA? Part Three:The Marriage Factor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 31 August 2009 12:38
When we left our heroine, Catholic marriage rates had plummeted 25% since 2001 and the number of adults entering the Church through RCIA had dropped 30.5% in the same time period. The obvious question is "Why?"

Both have become rites of passage in our culture. Increasingly, choosing one religious faith is much like choosing one's spouse - a normal part of young adulthood. (For more on this topic, see an earlier post, Looking for God.)

Of course, marriage is primarily for the young. 81% of Catholics were married for the first time by age 30. The median age is 24.

But it is concerning that only 41% of never-married Catholics who say that it is at least "a little likely: that they will be married in the future also say that it is either "somewhat or "very" important that their future spouse be Catholic. And especially that only 46% say it is either "somewhat" or "very" important that they be married in the Catholic Church.

This dynamic becomes a bit clearer when we look at figures for those who attend Mass regularly. While the numbers are higher for those who attend Mass weekly, I was still surprised at how low they were: 58% of those who attend Mass every week say it is "very important" to be married in the Catholic Church. But as I noted in an earlier post, 2007 CARA figures indicate that only 10% of Millennial adults attend Mass on a weekly basis. Now we are into single digit territory.

It shouldn't surprise us that believing in the importance of being married in the Church dips dramatically with attendance. Only 18% of those who attend a few times a year and only 3 % of those who rarely or never attend Mass think it very important to be married in the Church.
And if you aren't married in the Church, are you likely to care if your children baptized in the Church? At this point, the entire pastoral structure based upon sacramental motivation breaks down completely.

If Mass attendance affects one's view of marrying a Catholic and being married in the Church, the reverse also seems to hold true. While 88% of those who attend Mass on a weekly basis are married to a Catholic spouse, only 52% of those who rarely or never attend Mass have a Catholic spouse.

And the younger you are, the more likely it is that you will marry a non-Catholic. Although not statistically significant (according to CARA) the younger respondents are, the more likely they are to say that their spouse is not Catholic. 33% of Gen X and Millennial Catholics are married to a non-Catholics compared to 28% of Boomers and 21% of pre-Vatican Ii Catholics. 60 -75% of participants in RCIA (according to the 2000 US Bishop's Study on RCIA) were in an interfaith marriage or expected to be in the near future. Only 6% of the non-Catholic spouses of Catholics are interested in becoming Catholic themselves.

And here is a not altogether surprising side effect: Those married to non-Catholics are more likely (understandably) to attend non-Catholic religious services at least a few times a year (30%) as opposed to 22% of those with Catholic spouses.

Which bring us to this fascinating tidbit. 7% of self-identified Catholics are "practitioners" of non-Catholic religions as well. What do I mean?

If we use our own standard of attending services at least once a month as the standard for "practicing", these Catholics do so - but in a non-Catholic faith community while still regarding themselves as Catholic. 2% of Catholics attend non-Catholic religious services "at least once a month", another 2% attend "nearly every week", an additional 2% attend "every week", and another just under !% "attend more than once a week".

I have long estimated that 10 -20% of the most devout people in our pews were "double-dipping" and getting large parts of their formation in the evangelical world in some form: through attending services, Bible studies, watching evangelicals television, reading evangelical books, listening to evangelical radio and music, etc. Now I finally have some numbers to work with although these figures are for all non-Catholic religious groups.

So here's where we stand: 44% of US Catholics attend Mass "at least once a month" and about 7% attend non-Catholic services at least once a month and just under 5% do so with great regularity.. Double-dipping takes many forms. How many are attending both in the same week is unknown. But how many of the nearly 5% of Catholics who attend other religious services practically on a weekly basis or more are likely to also attend Mass on a weekly basis? I'm pretty sure that the majority do not.

Of those who leave the Church for another faith or for nothing, the vast majority do so before turning 24. 66% of Catholics who eventually become Protestant have left the Church by age 23. 79% of Catholics who leave the faith to become nothing ("unaffiliated") have also done so before their 24th birthday. Among those who left the Catholic faith as minors, most say it was their own decision rather than their parent's decision.

And this final, stomach-churning bit of data:

In the words of the Pew researchers "Among those raised Catholic, becoming Protestant is the best guarantee of stable church attendance as an adult."

Among Catholics turned Protestant (15%) weekly church attendance is stable at 63%. for practicing Catholics, 21%, and for Catholics who have dropped the identity altogether and become "unaffiliated", it is a mere 2%. All three groups report very similar levels of religious education as children and youth group activity as teens and neither seems to have a statistical impact on whether, in the end, young adult Catholics choose to stay or to go.

Oh, and just a word on the education factor. RCIA, as it exists today, was created by the educated for the educated and that reality has had the unintentional effect of ensuring that those with only a high school education seldom make it all the way. RCIA "alums" are 270% more likely to have BA's then the general population of Catholics and 3 times as likely to have a graduate degree as Catholics at large. The person least likely to finish RCIA is someone with a high school education or less.

Of course, the Church is full of intellectual, doctrinal, cultural and spiritual riches but entering the Church cannot be an option merely for the intellectual and culturally oriented or the privileged. RCIA must be adapted successfully for spiritual seekers with a lower educational profile - a profile much closer to the three quarters of our fellow Catholics and of our fellow citizens who do not have BA or graduate degrees. "Here comes everyone" has to be real.

One more post to come - with some suggestions as to how we can effectively respond in light of these 21st century realities.

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