A memo from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University offers some stats worth worrying over. The Great Recession appears to have had a significant effect on U.S. fertility, and infant baptisms have tracked that overall decline. Fewer babies have been part of the reason that the number of people entering the church in the United States has dropped below 1 million a year for the last three years. Since 1947 that 1 milllion level has only been breached during another period of economic decline and high unemployment, 1973 to '79.
And now hastening the descent below 1 million has been a still unexplained collapse of non-infant entries, teens and adults, into the church that began in 2001. Just the year before the number of non-infant entries had peaked at 172,581. A CARA researcher noted "something happened" the following year, beginning the decline. That something may not have been the clergy sex abuse crisis since numbers of non-infant entries actually went up briefly during the height of that trauma in 2002 and '04.
But the decline has been just about constant since then. CARA notes: "Generally, the numbers entering the Catholic Church are nearly sufficient to keep up with the number of Catholics who pass away each year.... However, this may not always be the case if current trends continue."