Black Catholics More Engaged in Church

Catholic News Service reported the findings of the first National Black Catholic Survey, and the results are both encouraging and challenging:

Whether in a majority black church, a mixed or mostly white parish, the survey found African-American Catholics feel satisfied and fulfilled in their parishes, explained retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.


...Among the conclusions of the survey were that black Catholics feel more committed to their parishes emotionally, spiritually and socially than do white Catholics. In those respects, as in many other aspects of the survey, black Catholics were shown to be much more like black Protestants in their approach to church than they are like white Catholics.

"Compared with other religious and racial groups, African-American Catholics behave and look like African-American Protestants," said the executive summary written by study authors Darren W. Davis, a professor of political science and associate vice president for research at Notre Dame, and Donald B. Pope-Davis, professor of psychology and vice president and associate provost Notre Dame.

Still, "African-American Protestants are clearly more highly involved by every measure of engagement," they continued. Therefore, they said, the pattern "is taken as suggestive of a cultural effect, as opposed to a Catholic effect, whereby the historical and cultural norms of the African-American community weigh just as heavily on African-American Catholics as on African-American Protestants."

...In one set of comparisons, asking "how well does your parish meet your needs," black Catholics, and both black and white Protestants were more likely than their white Catholic counterparts to agree. For instance, when the question asked about spiritual needs, 78 percent of black Catholics and 86 percent of black Protestants said "well" or "very well," while 67 percent of white Catholics and 81 percent of white Protestants said the same.

The difference was sharper when the question asked about parishes meeting social needs, with 62 percent of black Catholics, 76 percent of black Protestants and 63 percent of white Protestants saying "well" or "very well," while just 41 percent of white Catholics said so.

CNS states that the survey results will also be used as "the basis of a pastoral plan for evangelization that will be presented during next July's National Black Catholic Congress in Indianapolis." How well has the church welcomed black Catholics, thus far? The good news is that 77 percent of black Catholics don't consider the church racist. But the bad news is that that number isn't higher. The article stated that "nearly a third [of black Catholics] have felt uncomfortable being the only black in a church and a quarter have encountered people avoiding them or refusing to shake hands." The insights from the survey, and possibly from the pastoral plan, have the potential to benefit not only black Catholics but the entire church. We often ask why people leave the church, but this survey has offered a closer look at why some people stay and why some are more satisfied at a parish or within the church than others. This information can offer additional insight into how the church as a whole can be more welcoming and can better embody the Spirit. It also pushes us to look to our Protestant neighbors. What can the wider church learn from the Protestant attitudes toward community and stewardship that have resonated so strongly with black Catholics?

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C Walter Mattingly
6 years 10 months ago
This is a really interesting, somewhat perplexing, summary. 
"The good news is that 77% of blacks don't consider the Church racist. The bad news is that the number isn't higher."

Although 77% is short of ideal, I would nonetheless disagree with Kerry Webber's second statement above.  Since the Gallup poll of August 2008 found that 78% of American blacks consider the country racist, while only 20% consider it not racist, this reversal of the numbers, with almost 4 times the African American population finding the Church not racist, is by comparison nothing short of spectacular. All are from the same country, after all. Hard not to conclude, while not perfect, that the Church is doing quite well compared with the population of the country from which its membership is drawn.

Much more troubling is the minority of all Catholics which find the Church meeting their spiritual needs. This should lead to much soul-searching. It seems counterintuitive, however, when compared with the numbers of non-Pentacostal Protestants, much more satisfied according to the survey, who are leaving their churches in significantly greater percentages than Catholics. All this suggests that more study is needed.


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