Catholic Church in the United States
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The American Catholic Church, or Catholic Church in the United States, is composed of ecclesiastical communities in full communion with the Holy See. With 23% of the United States population as of 2018[update], the Catholic Church is the country's second largest religious grouping, after Protestantism, and the country's largest church or religious denomination. The United States has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world, after Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines.
In the colonial era, Spain and Mexico (Mexico, after 1821) established missions (1769-1833) that had permanent results in New Mexico and California (Spanish missions in California). Likewise, France founded settlements with missions attached to them in the Mississippi River region, notably, St. Louis (1764) and New Orleans (1718). English Catholics, on the other hand, "harassed in England by the Protestant majority," settled in Maryland (1634) and founded the first state capitol, St. Mary's City, Maryland. In 1789, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the first diocese in the newly independent nation. John Carroll became the first American bishop. His brother Daniel Carroll was the leading Catholic among the Founding Fathers of the United States. George Washington in the army and as president set a standard for religious toleration. No religious test was allowed for holding national office, and colonial legal restrictions on Catholics holding office were gradually abolished by the States. However, in the mid-19th century there was political anti-Catholicism in the United States, sponsored by pietistic Protestants fearful of the pope. In the 20th century anti-Catholicism seldom appeared except when a Catholic was running for president as in 1928 and 1960. The number of Catholics grew rapidly in the 19th century through high fertility and immigration, especially from Ireland, Germany, and after 1880, Eastern Europe and Italy. Large scale Catholic immigration from Mexico began after 1910 and in 2019 Latinos comprise 37 percent of American Catholics. By 1900, it was the largest denomination. Parishes set up parochial schools, and hundreds of colleges and universities were established by Catholic religious orders, notably by the Jesuits, who founded 28 such schools of higher education. Nuns were very active in teaching and hospital work. Since 1960, the percentage of Americans who are Catholic has fallen slowly from about 25% to 22%. In absolute numbers, Catholics have increased from 45 million to 72 million. As of April 9, 2018[update], 39% of American Catholics attend church weekly, compared to 45% of American Protestants.
About 10% of the United States' population as of 2010[update] are former Catholics or non-practicing, almost 30 million people. People have left for a number of reasons, factors which have also affected other denominations: loss of belief, disenchantment, disaffiliation for another religious group or for none, indifference. Compared with other religious groups, Catholics are fairly evenly dispersed throughout the country, but they currently remain scarce in the deep South. Regional distribution of U.S. Catholics (as a percentage of the total U.S. Catholic population) is as follows: Northeast, 24%; Midwest, 19%; South, 32% (region with the largest number of Catholics); and West, 25%. Owing to their numbers, more Catholics (13.3 million) reside in households with a yearly income of $100,000 or more than any other religious group.
Roman Catholics gather as local communities called parishes, headed by a priest, and typically meet at a permanent church building for liturgies every Sunday, weekdays and on holy days. Within the 196 geographical dioceses and archdioceses (excluding the Archdiocese for the Military Services), there were 17,007 local Catholic parishes in the United States in 2018. The Catholic Church has the third highest total number of local congregations in the US behind Southern Baptists and United Methodists. However, the average Catholic parish is significantly larger than the average Baptist or Methodist congregation; there are more than four times as many Catholics as Southern Baptists and more than eight times as many Catholics as United Methodists.
In the United States, there are 197 ecclesiastical jurisdictions:
- 177 Western Catholic dioceses
- including 32 Latin Catholic archdioceses
- 18 Eastern Catholic dioceses (eparchies)
- 2 personal ordinariates
Eastern Catholic Churches are churches with origins in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa that have their own distinctive liturgical, legal and organizational systems and are identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. Each is considered fully equal to the Latin tradition within the Catholic Church. In the United States, there are 15 Eastern Church dioceses (called eparchies) and two Eastern Church archdioceses (or archeparchies), the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
The apostolic exarchate for the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in the United States is headed by a bishop who is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. An apostolic exarchate is the Eastern Catholic Church equivalent of an apostolic vicariate. It is not a full-fledged diocese/eparchy, but is established by the Holy See for the pastoral care of Eastern Catholics in an area outside the territory of the Eastern Catholic Church to which they belong. It is headed by a bishop or a priest with the title of exarch.
The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter was established January 1, 2012, to serve former Anglican groups and clergy in the United States who sought to become Catholic. Similar to a diocese though national in scope, the ordinariate is based in Houston, Texas, and includes parishes and communities across the United States that are fully Catholic, while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions.
The central leadership body of the Catholic Church in the United States is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made up of the hierarchy of bishops (including archbishops) of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although each bishop is independent in his own diocese, answerable only to the Holy See. The USCCB elects a president to serve as their administrative head, but he is in no way the "head" of the church or of Catholics in the United States. In addition to the 195 dioceses and one exarchate represented in the USCCB, there are several dioceses in the nation's other four overseas dependencies. In the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the bishops in the six dioceses (one metropolitan archdiocese and five suffragan dioceses) form their own episcopal conference, the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference (Conferencia Episcopal Puertorriqueña). The bishops in US insular areas in the Pacific Ocean—the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Territory of American Samoa, and the Territory of Guam—are members of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific.
No primate exists for Catholics in the United States. In the 1850s, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was acknowledged a Prerogative of Place, which confers to its archbishop some of the leadership responsibilities granted to primates in other countries. The Archdiocese of Baltimore was the first diocese established in the United States, in 1789, with John Carroll (1735–1815) as its first bishop. It was, for many years, the most influential diocese in the fledgling nation. Now, however, the United States has several large archdioceses and a number of cardinal-archbishops.
By far, most Catholics in the United States belong to the Latin or Western Church and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Rite generally refers to the form of worship ("liturgical rite") in a church community owing to cultural and historical differences as well as differences in practice. However, the Vatican II document, Orientalium Ecclesiarum ("Of the Eastern Churches"), acknowledges that these Eastern Catholic communities are "true Churches" and not just rites within the Catholic Church. There are 14 other churches in the United States (23 within the global Catholic Church) which are in communion with Rome, fully recognized and valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. They have their own bishops and eparchies. The largest of these communities in the U.S. is the Chaldean Catholic Church. Most of these churches are of Eastern European and Middle Eastern origin. Eastern Catholic Churches are distinguished from Eastern Orthodox, identifiable by their usage of the term Catholic.
The church employs people in a variety of leadership and service roles. Its ministers include ordained clergy (bishops, priests. and deacons) and non-ordained lay ecclesial ministers, theologians, and catechists.
Some Catholics, both lay and clergy, live in a form of consecrated life, rather than in marriage. This includes a wide range of relationships, from monastic (monks and nuns), to mendicant (friars and sisters), apostolic (priests, brothers, and sisters), and secular and lay institutes. While many of these also serve in some form of ministry, above, others are in secular careers, within or without the church. Consecrated life – in and of itself – does not make a person a part of the clergy or a minister of the church.
Additionally, many lay people are employed in "secular" careers in support of church institutions, including educators, health care professionals, finance and human resources experts, lawyers, and others.
Leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States is provided by the bishops, individually for their own dioceses and collectively through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. There are some mid-level groupings of bishops, such as ecclesiastical provinces (often covering a state) and the fourteen geographic regions of the USCCB, but these have little significance for most purposes.
The ordinary office for a bishop is to be the bishop of a particular diocese, its chief pastor and minister, usually geographically defined and incorporating, on average, about 350,000 Catholic Christians. In canon law, the bishop leading a particular diocese, or similar office, is called an "ordinary" (i.e., he has complete jurisdiction in this territory or grouping of Christians).
Dioceses are grouped together geographically into provinces, usually within a state, part of a state, or multiple states together (see map below). A province comprises several dioceses which look to one ordinary bishop (usually of the most populous or historically influential diocese/city) for guidance and leadership. This lead bishop is their archbishop and his diocese is the archdiocese. The archbishop is called the "metropolitan" bishop who strives to achieve some unanimity of practice with his brother "suffragan" bishops.
Some larger dioceses have additional bishops assisting the diocesan bishop, and these are called "auxiliary" bishops or, if a "coadjutor" bishop, with right of succession.
Additionally, some bishops are called to advise and assist the bishop of Rome, the pope, in a particular way, either as an additional responsibility on top of their diocesan office or sometimes as a full-time position in the Roman Curia or related institution serving the universal church. These are called cardinals, because they are "incardinated" onto a second diocese (Rome). All cardinals under the age of 80 participate in the election of a new pope when the office of the papacy becomes vacant.
There are 428 active and retired Catholic bishops in the United States:
255 active bishops:
- 36 archbishops
- 144 diocesan bishops
- 67 auxiliary bishops
- 8 apostolic or diocesan administrators
173 retired bishops:
- 33 retired archbishops
- 95 retired diocesan bishops
- 45 retired auxiliary bishops
There are 15 U.S. cardinals.
Six archdioceses are currently led by archbishops who have been created cardinals:
- Blase J. Cupich – Chicago
- Daniel DiNardo – Galveston-Houston
- Timothy M. Dolan – New York
- Seán Patrick O'Malley – Boston
- Joseph W. Tobin – Newark
- Wilton Daniel Gregory - Washington, D.C.
Three cardinals are in service to the pope, in the Roman Curia or related offices:
- Raymond Leo Burke – patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
- Kevin Farrell – Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life
- James Michael Harvey – Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
Six cardinals are retired:
- Roger Mahony – Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles
- Adam Maida – Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit
- Edwin Frederick O'Brien – Grand Master Emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
- Justin Francis Rigali – Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia
- James Stafford – Major Penitentiary Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary and Archbishop Emeritus of Denver
- Donald Wuerl – Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C.
Clergy and ministers
In 2018, there were approximately 100,000 clergy and ministers employed by the church in the United States, including:
- 36,580 presbyters (priests)
- 25,254 diocesan
- 11,326 religious/consecrated
- 18,291 ordinary (permanent) deacons
- 39,651 lay ecclesial ministers (2016)
- 23,149 diocesan
- 16,502 religious/consecrated
There are also approximately 30,000 seminarians/students in formation for ministry:
- 3,526 candidates for priesthood
- 2,088 candidates for diaconate
- 16,585 candidates for lay ecclesial ministry
The 630 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. have a combined budget of $101.7 billion, and employ 641,030 full-time equivalent staff.
The 6,525 Catholic primary and secondary schools in the U.S. employ 151,101 full-time equivalent staff, 97.2% of whom are lay and 2.3% are consecrated, and 0.5% are ordained.
The 261 Catholic institutions of higher (tertiary) education in the U.S. employ approximately 250,000 full-time equivalent staff, including faculty, administrators, and support staff.
Overall, the Catholic Church employs more than one million employees with an operating budget of nearly $100 billion to run parishes, diocesan primary and secondary schools, nursing homes, retreat centers, hospitals, and other charitable institutions.
Approved translations of the Bible
USCCB approved translations
- New American Bible, Revised Edition
- Books of the New Testament, Alba House
- Contemporary English Version – New Testament, First Edition, American Bible Society
- Contemporary English Version – Book of Psalms, American Bible Society
- Contemporary English Version – Book of Proverbs, American Bible Society
- The Grail Psalter (Inclusive Language Version), G.I.A. Publications
- New American Bible, Revised Old Testament
- New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, National Council of Churches
- The Psalms, Alba House
- The Psalms (New International Version) – St. Joseph Catholic Edition, Catholic Book Publishing Company
- The Psalms – St. Joseph New Catholic Version, Catholic Book Publishing Company
- Revised Psalms of the New American Bible
- Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, National Council of Churches
- Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition, National Council of Churches
- So You May Believe, A Translation of the Four Gospels, Alba House
- Today's English Version, Second Edition, American Bible Society
- Translation for Early Youth, A Translation of the New Testament for Children, Contemporary English Version, American Bible Society
By the middle of the 19th century, the Catholics in larger cities started building their own parochial school system. The main impetus was fear that exposure to Protestant teachers in the public schools, and Protestant fellow students, would lead to a loss of faith. Protestants reacted by strong opposition to any public funding of parochial schools. The Catholics nevertheless built their elementary schools, parish by parish, using very low paid sisters as teachers.
In the classrooms, the highest priorities were piety, orthodoxy, and strict discipline. Knowledge of the subject matter was a minor concern, and in the late 19th century few of the teachers in parochial (or secular) schools had gone beyond the 8th grade themselves. The sisters came from numerous denominations, and there was no effort to provide joint teachers training programs. The bishops were indifferent. Finally around 1911, led by the Catholic University of America in Washington, Catholic colleges began summer institutes to train the sisters in pedagogical techniques. Long past World War II, the Catholic schools were noted for inferior plants compared to the public schools, and less well-trained teachers. The teachers were selected for religiosity, not teaching skills; the outcome was pious children and a reduced risk of marriage to Protestants. However, by the later half the 20th century Catholic schools began to perform significantly better than their public counterparts.
Universities and colleges
According to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in 2011, there are approximately 230 Catholic universities and colleges in the United States with nearly 1 million students and some 65,000 professors. In 2016, the number of tertiary schools fell to 227, while the number of students also fell to 798,006. The national university of the church, founded by the nation's bishops in 1887, is The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The first Catholic college/university of higher learning established in the United States is Georgetown University, founded in 1789. The richest U.S. Catholic university is The University of Notre Dame (founded in 1842) with an endowment of over 13 billion in 2018. In the 2021 edition of US News and World Report rankings, 10 of the top 100 national universities in the US were Catholic.
According to the 2016 Official Catholic Directory, as of 2016[update] there were 243 seminaries with 4,785 students in the United States; 3,629 diocesan seminarians and 1,456 religious seminarians. By the official 2017 statistics, there are 5,050 seminarians (3,694 diocesan and 1,356 religious) in the United States. In addition, the American Catholic bishops oversee the Pontifical North American College for American seminarians and priests studying at one of the Pontifical Universities in Rome.
In 2002, Catholic health care system, overseeing 625 hospitals with a combined revenue of 30 billion dollars, was the nation's largest group of nonprofit systems. In 2008, the cost of running these hospitals had risen to $84.6 billion, including the $5.7 billion they donate. According to the Catholic Health Association of the United States, 60 health care systems, on average, admit one in six patients nationwide each year. According to Merger Watch (2018), Catholic facilities make up about 10% of all "sole community providers" in the US (49 out of 514). In some states, the percentage is much greater: in Wisconsin and South Dakota, for example, "Catholic hospitals account for at least 50% of sole community providers."
Catholic Charities is active as the largest voluntary social service networks in the United States. In 2009, it welcomed in New Jersey the 50,000th refugee to come to the United States from Burma. Likewise, the US Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services has resettled 14,846 refugees from Burma since 2006. In 2010 Catholic Charities USA was one of only four charities among the top 400 charitable organizations to witness an increase in donations in 2009, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Catholic Church and labor
The church had a role in shaping the U.S. labor movement, due to the involvement of priests like Charles Owen Rice and John P. Boland. The activism of Geno Baroni was instrumental in creating the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The Catholic Worker Movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. It campaigns on various social justice issues and aims to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ".
It was named after Dismas, the repentant thief. The ministry was founded in 2000 by Ron Zeilinger who found no "Catholic organization of a national scope providing Catholic materials”. The ministry distributes bibles to prisoners.
There were 70,412,021 registered Catholics in the United States (22% of the US population) in 2017, according to the American bishops' count in their Official Catholic Directory 2016. This count primarily rests on the parish assessment tax which priests evaluate yearly according to the number of registered members and contributors. Estimates of the overall American Catholic population from recent years generally range around 20% to 28%. According to Albert J. Menedez, research director of "Americans for Religious Liberty," many Americans continue to call themselves Catholic but "do not register at local parishes for a variety of reasons." According to a survey of 35,556 American residents (released in 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), 23.9% of Americans identify themselves as Catholic (approximately 72 million of a national population of 306 million residents). The study notes that 10% of those people who identify themselves as Protestant in the interview are former Catholics and 8% of those who identity themselves as Catholic are former Protestants. In recent years, more parishes have opened than closed.
The northeastern quadrant of the US (i.e., New England, Mid-Atlantic, East North Central, and West North Central) has seen a decline in the number of parishes since 1970, but parish numbers are up in the other five regions (i.e., South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central, Pacific, and Mountain regions) and are growing steadily. Catholics in the US are about 6% of the church's total worldwide 1.2 billion membership.
A poll by The Barna Group in 2004 found Catholic ethnicity to be 60% non-Hispanic white (generally of mixed ethnicity, but almost always includes at least one historically Catholic ethnicity such as Irish, Italian, German, Polish, or French), 31% Hispanic of any nationality (mostly Mexicans but also many Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans and Colombians among others), 4% Black [including Africans, Haitians, black Latino and Caribbean], and 5% other ethnicity (mostly Filipinos, Vietnamese and other Asian Americans, Americans who are multiracial and have mixed ethnicities, and American Indians). Among the non-Hispanic whites, about 16 million Catholics identify as being of Irish descent, about 13 million as German, about 12 million as Italian, about 7 million as Polish, and about 5 million as French (note that many identify with more than one ethnicity). The roughly 7.8 million Catholics who are converts (mainly from Protestantism, with a smaller number from irreligion or other religions) are also mostly non-Hispanic white, including many people of British, Dutch, and Scandinavian ancestry.
Between 1990 and 2008, there were 11 million additional Catholics. The growth in the Latino population accounted for 9 million of these. They accounted for 32% of all American Catholics in 2008 as opposed to 20% in 1990. The percentage of Hispanics who identified as Catholic dropped from 67% in 2010 to 55% in 2013.
According to a more recent Pew Forum report which examined American religiosity in 2014 and compared it to 2007, there were 50.9 million adult Catholics as of 2014[update] (excluding children under 18), forming about 20.8% of the U.S. population, down from 54.3 million and 23.9% in 2007. Pew also found that the Catholic population is aging, forming a higher percentage of the elderly population than the young, and retention rates are also worse among the young. About 41% of those "young" raised Catholic have left the faith (as opposed to 32% overall), about half of these to the unaffiliated population and the rest to evangelical, other Protestant faith communities, and non-Christian faith. Conversions to Catholicism are rare, with 89% of current Catholics being raised in the religion; 8% of current Catholics are ex-Protestants, 2% were raised unaffiliated, and 1% in other religions (Orthodox Christian, Mormon or other nontrinitarian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.), with Jews and Hindus least likely to become Catholic of all the religious groups surveyed. Overall, Catholicism has by far the worst net conversion balance of any major religious group, with a high conversion rate out of the faith and a low rate into it; by contrast, most other religions have in- and out-conversion rates that roughly balance, whether high or low. This is credited to the more liberal stance of the church since Vatican II, where conversion to Catholicism is no longer encouraged, and the de-emphasizing of basic Catholic religious beliefs in Catholic education. Still, according to the 2015 Pew Research Center, "the Catholic share of the population has been relatively stable over the long term, according to a variety of other surveys By race, 59% of Catholics are non-Hispanic white, 34% Hispanic, 3% black, 3% Asian, and 2% mixed or Native American. Conversely, 19% of non-Hispanic whites were Catholic in 2014 (down from 22% in 2007), whereas 55% of Hispanics were (versus 58% in 2007). In 2015, Hispanics were 38%, while blacks and Asians were at 3% each. Because conversion away from Catholicism as well as dropping out of religion completely is presently occurring much more quickly among Hispanics than among Euro-American whites, Black (2.9% of US Catholic population) and Asian-American Catholics, it is doubtful they will outnumber the latter three categories of Catholics in the foreseeable future. Pew Research Center predicts that by 2050 (when the Hispanic population will be 128 million), only 40% of "third generation Latinos" will be Catholic, with 22% becoming Protestant, 24% becoming unaffiliated, and the remainder, other. This corresponds to a sharp decline in the Catholic percentage among self-identified Democrats, who are more likely to be nonwhite than Republicans.
Within the United States, it "represents perhaps the most multi-ethnic organization of any kind, and so is a major laboratory for cross-cultural cooperation and cross-cultural communication completely within the nation's borders."
There has never been a Catholic religious party in the United States, either local, state or national, similar to Christian Democratic parties in Europe.
Historically, a majority of the Catholics in the United States supported the Democratic Party before 1968. Since the election of the Catholic John F. Kennedy as President in 1960, Catholics have split about 50-50 between the two major parties, but the Democrats have a slight lead due to the growing population of Hispanic Americans.
On social issues, the Catholic Church takes strong positions against abortion, which was partly legalized in 1973 by the Supreme Court, and same-sex marriage, which was fully legalized in June 2015. The church also condemns embryo-destroying research and In vitro fertilization as immoral. The church is allied with conservative evangelicals and other Protestants on these issues.
However, the Catholic Church throughout its history has taken special concern for all vulnerable groups. This has led to progressive alliances, as well, with the church championing causes such as a strong welfare state, unionization, immigration for those fleeing economic or political hardship, opposition to capital punishment, environmental stewardship, gun control, opposition and critical evaluation of modern warfare.
The Catholic Church's teachings, coming from the perspective of a global church, do not conform easily to the American political binary of "liberals" and "conservatives." A majority of pro-choice Catholics support the Democrats, while many pro-life Catholics support the Republicans. In 2021, 30.9% of Congress was Catholic and 24.5% of the Senate was of that faith.
The Catholic Church's involvement in social or political movements was not very prominent until bishops in the United States addressed problems on racism in 1958 in a written piece called "Discrimination and Christian Conscience". In the 1960s, the Catholic Church showed support in the Selma to Montgomery marches, which involved the attendance of Dutch priest Henri Nouwen.
Early colonial period
One of the colonies of British America; the Province of Maryland; was founded with an explicitly English Catholic identity in the 17th century, contrasting itself with the neighbouring Protestant-dominated Massachusetts Bay Colony and Colony of Virginia. It was named after the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I of England. Politically, it was under the influence of Catholic colonial families of Maryland such as the Calvert Baron Baltimore and the Carroll family, the latter of Irish origin. Much of the religious situation in the Thirteen Colonies reflected the sectarian divisions of the English Civil War and in a larger sense the aftermath of the English Reformation. Furthermore, radical Puritans, who were viewed as outsiders in England for their opposition to the establishment Laudian-leaning Anglican Church, saw settlement in the American Colonies, particularly with the Plymouth Colony, as a way to escape religious restrictions against them in "the motherland" and were often theologically even more hostile to Catholics than the situation in England itself. The Province of Pennsylvania, which was given to the Quaker, William Penn by the last Catholic King of England, James II, advocated religious toleration as a principle and thus some Catholics lived there. There were also some Catholics in the Province of New York (named after the aforementioned James II). In 1785, the estimated number of Catholics was at 25,000; 15,800 in Maryland, 7,000 in Pennsylvania and 1,500 in New York. There were only 25 priests serving the faithful. This was less than 2% of the total population in the Thirteen Colonies.
Following the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States came to incorporate into itself territories with a pre-existing Catholic history under their previous governance by New France and New Spain; the two premier European Catholic powers active in North America. The territorial evolution of the United States since 1776 has meant that today more areas that are now part of the United States were Catholic in colonial times before they were Protestant. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase saw vast territories in French Louisiana transferred over from the Catholic Kingdom of France, areas that would become the following states; Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Louisiana, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, half of Colorado and North Dakota, parts of New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota. The French named a number of their settlements after Catholic saints, such as St. Louis, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, St. Charles and others. The Catholic, culturally French population of Americans, descended from this colony are today known as the Louisiana Creole and Cajun people.
During the 19th century, territories previously belonging to the Catholic Spanish Empire became part of the United States, starting with Florida in the 1820s. Most of the Spanish American territories with a Catholic heritage became independent during the early 19th century, this included Mexico on the border of the United States. The United States subsequently annexed parts of Mexico, starting with Texas in the 1840s and after the end of the Mexican–American War an area known as the Mexican Cession, including what would become the states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, the rest of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. To an even greater extent than the French, the Spanish had named many settlements in the colonial period after Catholic saints or in reference to Catholic religious symbolism, names that they would retain after becoming part of the United States, especially in California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Santa Clarita, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Obispo and numerous others), as well as Texas (San Antonio, San Juan, San Marcos and San Angelo), New Mexico (Santa Fe) and Florida (St. Augustine). As late as 1898, following the Spanish–American War, the United States took control of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as Cuba for a time, all of which had several centuries of Spanish Catholic colonial history (though they were not made into states).
Towards the founding of the United States
Anti-Catholicism was official government policy for the English who settled the colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Maryland was founded by a Catholic, Lord Baltimore, as the first 'non-denominational' colony and was the first to accommodate Catholics. A charter was issued to him in 1632. In 1650, the Puritans in the colony rebelled and repealed the Act of Toleration. Catholicism was outlawed and Catholic priests were hunted and exiled. By 1658, the Act of Toleration was reinstated and Maryland became the center of Catholicism into the mid-19th century. In 1689 Puritans rebelled and again repealed the Maryland Toleration Act. These rebels cooperated with the colonial assembly "dominated by Anglicans to endow the Church of England with tax support and to bar Catholics (and Quakers) from holding public office." New York, interestingly enough, proved more tolerant with its Catholic governor, Thomas Dongan, and other Catholic officials. Freedom of religion returned with the American Revolution. In 1756, a Maryland Catholic official estimated seven thousand practicing Catholics in Maryland and three thousand in Pennsylvania. The Williamsburg Foundation estimates in 1765 Maryland Catholics at 20,000 and 6,000 in Pennsylvania. The population of these colonies at the time was approximately 180,000 and 200,000, respectively. By the time the American War for Independence started in 1776, Catholics formed 1.6%, or 40,000 persons of the 2.5 million population of the 13 colonies. Another estimate is 35,000 in 1789, 60% in Maryland with not many more than 30 priests. John Carroll, first Catholic Bishop, in 1785, two years after the Treaty of Paris (1783), reported 24,000 registered communicants in the new country, of whom 90% were in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
After the Revolution, Rome made entirely new arrangements for the creation of an American diocese under American bishops. Numerous Catholics served in the American army and the new nation had very close ties with Catholic France. General George Washington insisted on toleration; for example, he issued strict orders in 1775 that "Pope's Day," the colonial equivalent of Guy Fawkes Night, was not to be celebrated. European Catholics played major military roles, especially Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing, Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko. Irish-born Commodore John Barry from Co Wexford, Ireland, often credited as "the Father of the American Navy," also played an important military role.
Beginning in approximately 1780 there was a struggle between lay trustees and bishops over the ownership of church property, with the trustees losing control following the 1852 Plenary Councils of Baltimore.
Of the colonial era, historian Jay Dolan says:
- They had lived as second-class citizens, discriminated against politically, professionally, and socially. The revolution changed all this. New laws and new constitutions gave them religious freedom.... [leading] John Carroll to observe in 1779 that Roman Catholics are members of Congress, assemblies, and hold civil and military posts.
President Washington promoted religious tolerance by proclamations and by publicly attending services in various Protestant and Catholic churches. The old colonial laws imposing restrictions on Catholics were gradually abolished by the states, and were prohibited in the new federal constitution.
In 1787 two Catholics, Daniel Carroll of the Irish O'Carrolls and Irish born Thomas Fitzsimons, helped draft the new United States Constitution. John Carroll was appointed by the Vatican as Prefect Apostolic, making him superior of the missionary church in the thirteen states. He formulated the first plans for Georgetown University and became the first American bishop in 1789.
19th century (1800–1900)
The number of Catholics surged starting in the 1840s as German, Irish, and other European Catholics came in large numbers. After 1890, Italians and Poles formed the largest numbers of new Catholics, but many countries in Europe contributed, as did Quebec. By 1850, Catholics had become the country's largest single denomination. Between 1860 and 1890, their population tripled to seven million.
Some anti-Catholic political movements appeared: the Know Nothings in the 1840s. American Protective Association in the 1890s, and the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, were active in the United States. Animosity by Protestants waned as Catholics demonstrated their patriotism in World War I, their commitment to charity, and their dedication to democratic values.
The bishops began standardizing discipline in the American Church with the convocation of the Plenary Councils of Baltimore in 1852, 1866 and 1884. These councils resulted in the promulgation of the Baltimore Catechism and the establishment of The Catholic University of America.
Jesuit priests who had been expelled from Europe found a new base in the U.S. They founded numerous secondary schools and 28 colleges and universities, such as Georgetown University (1789), St. Louis University (1818), Boston College, the College of Holy Cross, the University of Santa Clara, and several Loyola Colleges. Many other religious communities like the Dominicans, Congregation of Holy Cross, and Franciscans followed suit.
In the 1890s the Americanism controversy roiled senior officials. The Vatican suspected there was too much liberalism in the American Church, and the result was a turn to conservative theology as the Irish bishops increasingly demonstrated their total loyalty to the Pope, and traces of liberal thought in the Catholic colleges were suppressed. As part of this controversy, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Isaac Hecker, was accused by the French cleric Charles Maignen (article in French) of subjectivism and crypto-Protestantism. Additionally some who sympathized with Hecker in France were accused of Americanism.
Nuns and sisters
Nuns and sisters played a major role in American religion, education, nursing and social work since the early 19th century. In Catholic Europe, convents were heavily endowed over the centuries, and were sponsored by the aristocracy. But there were very few rich American Catholics, and no aristocrats. Religious orders were founded by entrepreneurial women who saw a need and an opportunity, and were staffed by devout women from poor families. The numbers grew rapidly, from 900 sisters in 15 communities in 1840, 50,000 in 170 congregations in 1900, and 135,000 in 300 different congregations by 1930. Starting in 1820, the sisters always outnumbered the priests and brothers. Their numbers peaked in 1965 at 180,000 then plunged to 56,000 in 2010. Many women left their orders, and few new members were added.
On April 8, 2008, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Benedict XVI, met with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious leaders in Rome and communicated that the CDF would conduct a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR, expressing concern that the nuns were expressing radical feminist views. According to Laurie Goodstein, the investigation, which was viewed by many U.S. Catholics as a "vexing and unjust inquisition of the sisters who ran the church's schools, hospitals and charities", was ultimately closed in 2015 by Pope Francis.
In the era of intense emigration from the 1840s to 1914, bishops often set up separate parishes for major ethnic groups, from Ireland, Germany, Poland, French Canada and Italy. In Iowa, the development of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, the work of Bishop Loras and the building of St. Raphael's Cathedral, to meet the needs of Germans and Irish, is illustrative. By the beginning of the 20th century, approximately one-sixth of the population of the United States was Catholic. Modern Catholic immigrants come to the United States from the Philippines, Poland and Latin America, especially Mexico and Central America. This multiculturalism and diversity has influenced the conduct of Catholicism in the United States. For example, most dioceses offer Mass in a number of languages, and an increasing number of parishes offer Masses in the official language of the church, Latin, due to its universal nature.
Sociologist Andrew Greeley, an ordained Catholic priest at the University of Chicago, undertook a series of national surveys of Catholics in the late 20th century. He published hundreds of books and articles, both technical and popular. His biographer summarizes his interpretation:
- He argued for the continued salience of ethnicity in American life and the distinctiveness of the Catholic religious imagination. Catholics differed from other Americans, he explained in a variety of publications, by their tendency to think in "sacramental" terms, imagining God as present in a world that was revelatory rather than bleak. The poetic elements in the Catholic tradition—its stories, imagery, and rituals—kept most Catholics in the fold, according to Greeley, whatever their disagreements with particular aspects of church discipline or doctrine. Despite the unchanging nature of church doctrine, Greeley insisted that Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical upholding the Catholic ban on contraception is solely responsible for the sharp decline in weekly Mass attendance between 1968 and 1975.
In 1965, 71% of Catholics attended Mass regularly.
In the later 20th century "[...] the Catholic Church in the United States became the subject of controversy due to allegations of clerical child abuse of children and adolescents, of episcopal negligence in arresting these crimes, and of numerous civil suits that cost Catholic dioceses hundreds of millions of dollars in damages." Because of this, higher scrutiny and governance as well as protective policies and diocesan investigation into seminaries have been enacted to correct these former abuses of power, and safeguard parishioners and the church from further abuses and scandals.
One initiative is the "National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management" (NLRCM), a lay-led group born in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal and dedicated to bringing better administrative practices to 194 dioceses that include 19,000 parishes nationwide with some 35,000 lay ecclesial ministers who log 20 hours or more a week in these parishes.[when?]According to a 2015 study by Pew Researchers, 39% of Catholics attend church at least once a week and 40%, once or twice a month.
Although the issue of trusteeism was mostly settled in the 19th century, there have been some related issues. In 2005, an interdict was issued to board members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church (St. Louis, Missouri) in an attempt to get them to turn over the church property to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 2006, a priest was accused of stealing $1.4 million from his parish, prompting a debate over Connecticut Raised Bill 1098 as a means of forcing the Catholic church to manage money differently. Related to issues of asset ownership, some parishes have been liquidated and the assets taken by the diocese instead of being distributed to nearby parishes, which in violation of church financial rules.
In 2009 John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist and co-author of God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World, said that American Catholicism, which he describes in his book as "arguably the most striking Evangelical success story of the second half of the nineteenth century," has competed quite happily "without losing any of its basic characteristics." It has thrived in America's "pluralism."
In 2011, an estimated 26 million American Catholics were "fallen-away", that is, not practicing their faith. Some religious commentators commonly refer to them as "the second largest religious denomination in the United States." Recent Pew Research survey results in 2014 show about 31.7% of American adults were raised Catholic, while 41% from among that group no longer identify as Catholic.
In a 2015 survey by researchers at Georgetown University, Americans who self identify as Catholic, including those who do not attend Mass regularly, numbered 81.6 million or 25% of the population, and 68.1 million or 20% of the American population are Catholics tied to a specific parish. About 25% of US Catholics say they attend Masses once a week or more, and about 38% went at least once a month. The study found that the number of US Catholics has increased by 3 to 6% each decade since 1965, and that the Catholic Church is "the most diverse in terms of race and ethnicity in the US," with Hispanics accounting for 38% of Catholics and blacks and Asians 3% each. The Catholic Church in the US represents perhaps "the most multi-ethnic organization of any kind, and so is a major laboratory for cross-cultural cooperation and cross-cultural communication completely within the nation's borders." It is as if it wishes to forge a broader ecclesial identity to give newcomers a more inclusive welcome, similar to the aspirations of 19th century church leaders like Archbishops John Ireland and James Gibbons who "wanted Catholic immigrants to become fully American, rather than 'strangers in a strange land.' " Only 2 percent of American Catholics go to confession on a regular basis, while three-quarters of them go to confession once a year or less often; a valid confession is required by the Church after committing mortal sin in order to return to the State of Grace, necessary to receive Holy Communion. As one of the precepts of the church, it is also required that every Catholic makes a valid confession at least once a year.
According to Matthew Bunsen’s analysis of a Real Clear poll of American Catholics in late 2019:
- Catholicism has been battered by the winds of secularism, materialism, and relativism. Failures in catechesis and formation have created wide gaps in practice and belief that stretch now into every aspect of Catholic life.
The RealClear poll data indicates that the Latino element has now reached 37 percent of the Catholic population, and growing. It is 60 percent Democratic, while the non-Latinos are split about 50-50 politically. Although many Americans still identify as Catholics, their religious participation rates are declining. Today only 39% of all Catholics go to Mass at least weekly. Nearly two-thirds of Catholics say that their trust in the church leadership has been undermined by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Nevertheless, 86% of all Catholics still consider religion important in their own lives.
Some notable American Catholics
- Amy Coney Barrett
- Joe Biden
- Jeb Bush
- Charles Carroll of Carrollton
- Daniel Carroll
- John Carroll
- Stephen Colbert
- Jimmy Fallon
- Nicholas J. Fuentes
- Melinda Gates
- Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga)
- Brett Kavanaugh
- John F. Kennedy
- Jimmy Kimmel
- Toni Morrison
- Gavin Newsom
- Conan O'Brien
- John Glover Roberts
- Paul Ryan
- Marco Rubio
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Martin Sheen
- Roger B. Taney
- Clarence Thomas
- Melania Trump
- Mark Wahlberg
- John Wayne
Servants of God and those declared venerable, beatified, and canonized saints
The following are some notable Americans declared as Servants of God, venerables, beatified, and canonized saints:
Servants of God
Top pilgrimage destinations in the United States
- National Shrine of The Divine Mercy (Stockbridge, Massachusetts)
- National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)
- Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Crosse, Wisconsin)
- National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi (San Francisco, California)
- Saint Anthony's Chapel (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania
- National Blue Army Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Washington Township, Warren County, New Jersey)
- National Shrine of the North American Martyrs (Auriesville, New York)
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Baltimore, Maryland)
- El Santuario de Chimayo (Chimayo, New Mexico; north of Santa Fe)
- Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Emmitsburg, Maryland)
- Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels (Hanceville, Alabama)
- Basilica of Our Lady of Victory (Lackawanna, New York)
- National Shrine of Saint John Neumann (in St. Peter the Apostle Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington, D.C.)
- History of the Catholic Church in the United States
- Catholic Home Missions
- Catholic Church by country
- List of Catholic dioceses in the United States
- List of American Catholic priests
- List of Catholic authors (Lists include American Catholics [Roman/Latin/Western and Eastern Catholic])
- List of converts to the Catholic Church
- List of Catholic scientists
- List of Catholic clergy scientists
- List of Catholic musicians
- Christianity in the United States
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- Carroll, Michael P. American Catholics in the Protestant Imagination: Rethinking the Academic Study of Religion (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
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- Curan, Robert Emmett. Shaping American Catholicism: Maryland and New York, 1805–1915. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2012.
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- Deck, Allan Figueroa, S.J. The Second Wave: Hispanic Ministry and the Evangelization of Cultures (New York: Paulist, 1989).
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- Morris, Charles R. American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church (1998), a popular history
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