WASHINGTON: Catholics make up around a quarter of the US population and their numbers are growing, thanks in part to immigration, according to researchers at Georgetown University.
Americans who self-identify as Catholic, including those who do not attend Mass regularly, numbered 81.6 million in 2015, more than 25 percent of the US population.
The number of Catholics tied to a specific parish yields a smaller total of 68.1 million Catholics, or about 20 percent of Americans, the Jesuit university’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has found.
Mary Gautier, a researcher at CARA, said the figures make Catholics the largest single faith group in the United States.
Although Protestants as a whole account for more than half the population, they are divided up among a number of different denominations, she told Agence France-Presse.
After Catholics come Jews and Muslims but their numbers are much smaller as a proportion of the total population.
The number of US Catholics has increased by 3 to 6 percent each decade since 1965, according to CARA’s numbers.
“Part of it is immigration, part of it is birth rate,” Gautier told AFP.
She said the Catholic Church is “the most diverse in terms of race and ethnicity in the US,” with Hispanics accounting for 38 percent of Catholics and blacks and Asians three percent each.
Geographically, Catholics are pretty evenly distributed around the country, with the largest concentrations in big-city suburbs.
But some parishes have closed in the Northeast and Midwest, where past waves of immigrants once settled, while new churches in the South and western United States “are stuffed” with new immigrants from Latin America, Gautier said.
In terms of vocations, the number of seminarians has held steady over the past 15 years, she said.
But the number of priests has fallen from some 50,000 in 1995 to around 37,600.
“There are more priests from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who are dying or retiring so the new seminarians are one third as many as we would need to replace them,” the researcher said.
About one quarter of US Catholics attend church once a week or more, a figure that has been stable for 20 years, and about 38 percent go at least once a month.