Change and Growth

It's been a while since we've had a good Catholic Standard & Times story, and lucky for you all that ends right now.

A recent feature from the venerable CS&T, "Numbers Tell of Change, Growth," takes a surprisingly frank look at the demographic and geographic shifts of the Roman Catholic population in the area. It's still not completely honest with itself or with us, and for every point they earn for being upfront, they lose two for getting lost in their own babble. As usual.

Some of the more interesting highlights:

In the case of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the big movement for Catholics has been from the city to the suburbs.

No @$#%.

Nothing underscored this Catholic flight to the suburbs like the 2008 closing of West Philadelphia’s Most Blessed Sacrament, a former mega-parish which once had the largest parochial school in the nation.  

I'd think a bigger sign would be the 16 parishes you had to close in North Philadelphia, most of them happening 15 years earlier, but sure, whatever.

The suburbs are not totally immune to these population shifts either.

Don't even go there.

As a matter of fact, according to the 2009 October Count, the Archdiocese’s 10 largest parishes in terms of registration are now located in the suburbs.

Again, no

Although there has been a decline in infant baptisms, there has been an increase in baptisms of young children and teens, and beginning this year the Office for Research and Planning has factored in these later baptisms to show a ratio of 1.33 for every funeral reported.

“I believe the new ratio employing all the baptisms represents a more accurate picture of how the Catholic population is replacing itself through baptism,” said Dr. Robert J. Miller, director of the Research and Planning Office.

Interesting. But....

Less encouraging is the overall Mass attendance figure, which according to the statistics has dropped from 390,500 in 1994 to 283,245 in 2009.

So you get them, but you're not keeping them. Got it.

Although the number of priests have declined, the 2010 archdiocesan Catholic Directory shows Masses are now celebrated in more than 20 different languages, including Latin and American Sign Language.

Someone needs to go back and take Logic 101. The second part of that statement in no way counteracts or balances the damning facts of the first. And someone will have to celebrate all these new masses, right?

Like I said, one step forward, two steps back. Most damning is the lack of any real context or substance for these numbers. It's nice to see them acknowledge the decline in city attendance and the number of priests, but what are you doing to address it? Data is good, but data without analysis and action is worthless.

Let me know when you get around that.