Don’t Make Assumptions About Why Catholic Parishes Are Closing

closing catholic parish sexual abuse

Every morning two things happen. We drink coffee. And the sun comes up.

But we know that one doesn’t cause the other.

That’s why we should all be careful when someone draws a “cause and effect” conclusion just because two things happen simultaneously.

Which brings us to a common misconception about Catholics parishes closing in the United States.

“These expensive abuse lawsuits are really hurting the church, forcing parishes to close. . . “

Like anyone who reads newspapers, we at Horowitz Law see comments like this from time to time in the “Letters to the Editor” sections and quotes like this in news articles from rank-and-file Catholics.  And it’s easy to see why some Catholics make the assumption that clergy sex abuse lawsuits and parish closings are connected.

But we wince, because we think it’s wrong. Or at the very least, it’s unknowable.

It’s unknowable because few if any bishops are fully honest about their assets, income, property and all the rest. So it’s unwise to make conclusions based on inadequate or inaccurate information.

And it’s wrong because there are plenty of reasons some of the nation’s 17,000 parishes are closing.

Here are just a few:

There are far fewer priests.

Vatican statistics show that between 1975 and 2008 the world’s Catholics increased by 64% but the number of priests increased by only 1%.

In 2008, nearly 49,631 of the world’s 218,865 parishes did not have a resident priest.

The same sources, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate study, notes that half of the 19,302 active diocesan priests in the U.S. plan to retire by 2019.

There are far fewer parishioners.

Studies show that Catholicism “has experienced a greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S.”

Overall, 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious “nones,” as Protestants, or with another religion.

There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every convert to the faith.

No other religious group analyzed in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study has experienced anything close to this ratio of losses to gains via religious switching.

(According to a recent survey, those who were raised Catholic are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people -39% vs. 29%, respectively – and the clergy sexual-abuse scandal – 32% vs. 19%, respectively – as primary reasons they left the Church.

There’s been a considerable geographic shift in the US Catholic population.

After two decades of migration, today, Catholics cluster in the South and West, a dramatic change from the long-standing concentration of Catholics in the Northeast and Midwest.

demographic changes

There are still-uncounted Covid-related closings, like these in Los Angeles:

What’s the bottom line here?

We at Horowitz Law offer this advice: If you’re a victim of a child molesting cleric, don’t let the Catholic hierarchy ‘poor-mouth’ you. Don’t assume that any particular Catholic institution can’t afford to do right by you and others who’ve been betrayed and wounded.

And if you’re a Catholic employee, donor or member, we urge you to insist on true, verified financial information from church officials.