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Whither RCIA? Part One PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 31 August 2009 07:27
Morning, Y'all.

I've been crunching RCIA related numbers this weekend (in the midst of a number of other things) and finally feel like I've got a handle on a question that hit me after to returned home from speaking to an RCIA team support network in Omaha a couple weeks ago.

The group in Omaha was great but I couldn't help but notice that the overwhelming majority of the people present seemed to be of or near retirement age. I already knew the majority of those who enter the Church through RCIA are young adults and that most Catholics who leave the Church do so very young - the majority before age 24. I started mulling it over and then got on line to peruse some resources that I've not had time to read thoroughly before.

After pouring through several major CARA reports (Sacraments Today, 2008; Marriage in the Catholic Church, 2007) and putting their findings together with what I've already gathered from the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey, 2008; the Pew Faith in Flux survey, 2009; and the results of the US Bishop's Study of RCIA in 2000 "Journey to the Fullness of Life", a picture began to emerge.

One that startled even me.

First of all, I hadn't realized that the numbers of adults entering the Church through RCIA has plummeted over the past few years. Partly this was because the US Bishops were not publishing the number of those entering as they once did a few years ago. I had wondered about this but it didn't seem urgent enough to make the effort necessary to find the statistics in other ways. This weekend, I was able to cobble together the whole picture from a variety of online sources.

The basics: According to CARA, 7% of US Catholics entered the faith as adults - aged 18 or older. According to the Pew studies, 2.6% of US adults are "converts" to the Catholic faith - about 6.5 million people which amounts to nearly 11% of those who consider themselves Catholic in this country - practicing or not. (Since the majority of those who enter the Church through RCIA leave the practice of the faith within a year, it is hard to know how many of them still hold to their Catholic identity and so told the Pew surveyors that they were Catholic. The total number of all who have at some point in their lives, entered the Catholic Church - whether as a child, teen, or adult - is almost certainly higher.)

3% of those raised Protestant in this country have become Catholic. 63% of RCIA "alums" were Protestant before becoming Catholic, 28% were not part of any faith, and 8% enter from an non-Protestant religious background.

This is the group for which RCIA is intended. (84% of Catholics enter the faith as infants, 8% as a child, up to 12 years old; 1% as a teen; and 7% as adults.) 75% of adults enter the Church through the RCIA process.

(Which raises the question: does being part of three RCIA processes but a graduate of none count? Or do Mark Shea and I fall into the 25% of adults who are not counted as having gone through RCIA because we were received before Christmas and never completed the RCIA process. Although our experience is clearly what the Church envisions happening for those who are already practicing Christians and who have a good grasp of the basics of the faith, I don't know where we fall on this spectrum.)

How many are entering the Church through RCIA?

In 1993, the US Bishops started to report not only adult baptisms but the number of already baptized adults being received into full communion. Between 1993 and 1998, between 154,000 and 162,000 entered every year.

Then came a surge. In 1999 and 2000, about 171,000 adults entered each year and the numbers grew again in 2001 when 178,000 adults became Catholic. (I wonder if the visibility of the Great Jubilee of 2000 and John Paul Il, failing but also in some ways, at the height of his fame and still capable of things like the iconic trip to the Holy Land was a factor)

2002: The Scandal broke in Lent of that year. 161,132 adults entered.

2005: Pope John Paul II died in April while 154,501 are received.

2006: The number received rises a bit to 157,500. (Perhaps related to the enormous global media coverage of the Pope's funeral and all the attendant talk of "John Paul the Great"?)

2007: The slide begins in earnest. 136,778 are received.

2008: Another drop to 124,000 adults received. A 54,000 person or 30.5% drop in new Catholics over a 7 year period. And with no ecumenical council to blame it on. What is going on?

2009: Figures will not be available until the Official Catholic Directory is published in June, 2010. The US Bishop's website had an article published just before Easter which speculated that perhaps as many as 150,000 adults would be received at Easter. If this did, in fact, happen, it would be a real bounce upward. (Would it be related to the success and media coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to the US in the spring of 2008?) But we'll have to wait another 10 months to know.

And I meditated on this, it occurred to me that one really significant factor might be something other than our usual debates about bad catechesis and culture war stuff or even highly positive media events involving the Popes. it might have to do with the turn of the generational tide and the coming into their own of the Millennial generation.

More on this topic in a second post.

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