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August 1, 2011

The "gold standard" for a moral economic system -
U.S. parishes grew larger, will grow larger yet -
How the church communicates within an angry culture -
The debt ceiling, the budget and the bishops

In this edition:
1. U.S. Catholic parishes are growing larger.
2. Multiparish ministries and parish staffs.
3. Profiling the U.S. Catholic parish.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The church as communicator in an angry culture;
b) the church's view on nuclear weaponry.
5. The debt ceiling, the U.S. budget and the bishops.
6. The "gold standard" for a moral economic system.

1. U.S. Catholic Parishes Getting Supersized

Catholic parishes in the U.S. are getting supersized, the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate said July 15. The average parish grew significantly over the past decade and is expected to continue growing in the future, CARA announced.

"Bigger parishes, more Masses and ministries in languages other than English are becoming the norm," CARA said.

The growth in size of the average U.S. parish has occurred in consort with a decline in the number of Catholic priests and a decline in the number of parishes due to factors such as mergers and consolidations. CARA said the number of U.S. parishes "has declined by 1,359 since the year 2000 to 17,784 in 2010."

These developments also have occurred in a context that includes an increase in the number of permanent deacons and an increase of lay ecclesial ministers serving in parishes.

A reason parishes will continue to grow larger is that the nation's Catholic population will grow larger, CARA stressed. It explained:

"In the last 40 years, the Catholic population has grown by about 75 percent to 77.7 million according to self-identification of religion in national surveys. Even by conservative estimates, there are likely to be more than 110 million U.S. Catholics by the middle of the century."

Furthermore, though "Mass attendance has declined since the 1950s," CARA indicated that no decline or increase of attendance, percentage-wise, has shown up "in national surveys in the last decade." CARA's own research confirms that trend, it added.

CARA concluded that "if Mass attendance remains steady and the Catholic population grows as expected, demands will increase on parishes and parish staffs as the real number of Catholics attending and needing sacraments increases."

One-third of parishes "now have more than 1,200 registered households," CARA reported. In addition, it said that "the percentage of parishes with 200 or fewer households dropped from 24 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010."

When it comes to the number of individual registered parishioners, CARA said the average for U.S. parishes grew to 3,277 in 2010, "an increase of 45 percent over the 2,260 average a decade earlier. It is noteworthy, CARA suggested, that "40 percent of the increase in registered parishioners from 2005 to 2010" was accounted for by Hispanic and Latino Catholics.

Titled "The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes," this CARA research was conducted on behalf of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a consortium of five national Catholic ministerial organizations: the National Association for Lay Ministry; the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development; the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators; the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association; and the National Federation of Priests Councils.

2. Multiparish Ministries and Parish Staffs

A growing percentage of U.S. parishes are involved today with other parishes in shared ministries, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate says in "The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes," the report it released July 15 detailing the results of a survey conducted in 2010.

Some 27 percent of U.S. parishes now cooperate with others in "multiparish ministry" in which "the parish is most often 'clustered' or 'linked' (among other arrangements) to another parish." One-third of those parishes "indicate that this is a relatively new development, beginning sometime after 2004," CARA said.

The multiparish ministries these parishes participate in "are most likely to share sacramental preparation ministries (54 percent), RCIA (53 percent) or religious education and faith formation for children (51 percent)."

The CARA researchers also looked into the makeup of today's typical parish staff. "The total number of people on parish staffs in the United States is estimated to be 168,448," CARA said. This number encompasses "ministry staff and volunteers, as well as nonministry staff and volunteers (including parish bookkeepers, groundskeepers, cooks, etc.)."

The CARA study found that "the average parish has a total staff size of 9.5 members, with 5.4 individuals in ministry positions."

An estimated 38,000 lay ecclesial ministers who are paid for at least 20 hours per week serve in U.S. Catholic parishes, CARA said. The average number of these ministers in individual parishes is 2.1. And who are these people?

Fourteen percent of lay ecclesial ministers in U.S. parishes are vowed religious, while 86 percent are "other laypersons." CARA reported that some 80 percent of lay ecclesial ministers are women, while 20 percent are men. CARA estimated "that the U.S. church is adding about 790 new lay ecclesial ministers to parish ministry staffs each year."

Over the course of a given year, today's typical Catholic parish in the U.S. has "57 infant baptisms, 58 first communions, 44 confirmations, 14 marriages and 29 funerals," according to the CARA report.

The CARA study found that 93 percent of U.S. parishes "indicate that they have a pastoral council, and more, 97 percent, say they have a parish finance council."

3. ... Profiling the U.S. Catholic Parish

"The average number of Mass attenders at Sunday/Saturday vigil Masses on a typical weekend in October is 1,110," according to "The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes," published July 15 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The center reported that "on average, this number represents 38 percent of registered parishioners and 47 percent of parish capacity."

Here are just a few more details about contemporary U.S. Catholic parishes gleaned from CARA's research:

-- "Total weekly offertory is about $9,200 or $9.57 per registered household" in Catholic parishes. This figure has risen "in the last five years, on average, by more than 14 percent," and "smaller parishes generally collect more per registered household in offertory than larger parishes."

-- Eighty-two percent of parishes "celebrate Mass at only one site. But "13 percent celebrate Mass at two sites in a typical week, and 5 percent of parishes celebrate Mass" at three sites or more.

-- About one in three parishes "celebrates Mass at least once a month in a language other than English." This statistic represents "an increase from 22 percent of parishes in 2000." Eighty-one percent of these Masses are celebrated in Spanish.

-- "Thirty-seven percent of parishes indicate that they have some special observance for particular cultural or ethnic groups. By far the most common of these is a celebration for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Twenty-one percent of all U.S. parishes indicate a special observance of this day."

-- The operating revenue in the average U.S. parish adds up to about $695,000 and "exceeds expenses of $626,500." But "30 percent of parishes indicate that their expenses exceed their revenue. Of those parishes reporting a deficit, the average size of the shortfall is 15.8 percent of revenue."

-- Those who responded to the CARA study indicated that, on average, "the proportion of parishioners who are non-Hispanic white has decreased in the last five years as Catholics of other races and ethnicities make up a larger part of registered parishioners. Parishes in the South and West are more racially and ethnically diverse than those in the Midwest and Northeast."

-- "On average, 78 percent of parishioners are non-Hispanic white, and 13 percent" are Hispanic or Latino. "Four percent are black, African-American or African, 3 percent Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 1 percent are American Indian or Alaskan Native."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

How Should the Church Communicate in an Angry Culture? "In our efforts to communicate, we have to choose between engaging the culture around us or confronting it. There must be times and places for confronting the culture with the message of the Gospel and the church, but such 'confrontation' must be done with civility, conviction, truthfulness and charity. Catholicism has its own internal culture wars that are certainly well known to us. A great part of the culture war phenomenon occupies elites and rarely occasions involvement of denomination membership. We cannot simply bash various cultures and play into the hands of loud agents of culture wars who do not necessarily reflect or speak to the vast majority of ordinary people who spend their lives searching for meaning and truth in daily living." (From a July 18 speech in New York by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto)

The Church's View on Nuclear Weaponry: "The simple truth about the use of nuclear weapons is that, being weapons of mass destruction by their very nature, they cannot comply with fundamental rules of international humanitarian law forbidding the infliction of indiscriminate and disproportionate harm. Nor can their use meet the rigorous standards of the just-war principles' moral assessment of the use of force. Both just-war principles and international humanitarian law prohibit the use of means of attack which are incapable of distinguishing between military objectives and civilians or civilian property." (From a July 1 address at the Catholic Center in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Vatican ambassador to the United Nations)

5. The Debt Ceiling, the Budget and the Bishops

The long July debate in Washington over the budget and raising the national debt ceiling drew a response from the U.S. bishops, who insisted that "a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons."

The bishops' priorities appeared to differ considerably from those that were the object of most discussion in the halls of government this summer. While insisting that they wrote as pastors and not as experts or partisans, the bishops made clear their conviction that government has a role in fostering human well-being, especially for people living on society's margins.

"The moral measure of this debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated," said the leaders of two key bishops' committees in a July 26 letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said a budget that is just "requires shared sacrifice by all," and that includes "raising adequate revenues." Such a budget also requires that "unnecessary military and other spending" be eliminated and that "long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs" be addressed fairly, the bishops said.

Bishop Blaire chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, and Bishop Hubbard chairs the International Justice and Peace Committee.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., was among religious leaders who met July 20 with President Obama to discuss the debate over the debt ceiling and the budget. Representing the USCCB, Bishop Ramirez said that what the bishops wanted to advance in the meeting was not a particular plan, but a basic moral principle: "Put the needs of the poor first in allocating scarce resources."

The Catholic bishops were not concerned about which party would win the end-of July "political battles," Bishop Ramirez said. But he added that the bishops knew who was "likely to lose: the families trying to feed their kids, the jobless looking for work, the children who need health care, the hungry and sick and hopeless around the world."

In their letter to the House, Bishops Blaire and Hubbard wrote that "government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

6. The Gold Standard for a Moral Economy

The "gold standard for a moral economic system" from the point of view of the Christian tradition requires meeting the needs of all, "with particular attention to those least able to take care of themselves," according to Daniel Finn, a professor of economics and theology at Benedictine-run St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn.

Finn addressed a June 16-17 Vatican summit on ethics for the business world, held under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

A profit-seeking business firm that wants to be regarded as ethical needs to serve "a purpose beyond efficiency or economic growth," Finn said. He commented in his address that "too many in our financial system assume that each person and firm is morally justified in pursuing self-interest as long as no laws are broken. The problem, of course, is that morality demands more than the law requires."

Finn's speech explored the requirements of a moral economy and entered into a thought-provoking discussion of the importance of trust within business firms that hope to be judged ethical, as well as within society at large. "A firm which has a strong culture of mutual trust among individuals and departments within the firm can be said to have a large supply of social capital," he explained.

"It is important to recognize that the presence of a strong ethical culture within an organization depends greatly upon the level of trust that exists among the persons who make up that organization," Finn said. He called this "simply a fact of human life," and observed that "when we live in a situation where trust is in short supply and we must be cautious for fear someone will harm us greatly, it is far more difficult to voluntarily live a highly ethical life."

"Conversely," Finn continued, "even employees who may not be disposed toward a highly ethical life may learn to live more ethically when they experience the security and personal affirmation which a culture of pervasive mutual trust can provide."

Finn expanded his thinking about trust beyond business firms to society at large. In nations where "trust is not prevalent" and where people "must worry that others are ready to take advantage of them at every turn, it is far more difficult for individuals and organizations to be trusting or to engage in gratuitous action," he said.

On the other hand, Finn said that "in a society where individuals and firms are accustomed to trusting each other, greater economic efficiency typifies economic transactions. As within the firm, so within the nation:

"If people can be trusted, there is far less need for surveillance and enforcement, both of which are economically quite expensive. But even more important, from a moral point of view the meaningfulness of life increases when we experience relations of trust daily."

Gratuitous reciprocity in human relationships builds trust, Finn suggested. The professor explained how trust grows when reciprocity prevails - when one person's consideration for another, for example, is returned by the other.

I suppose it is a little like saying that people come to trust each other when they know they can count on each other to return favors, or to express basic respect, or to respond to a generous action with generous actions of their own.

Finn said that "acts of gratuitousness initiate relationships of reciprocity," and "a history of reciprocity builds up trust over time."

He said business firms that are highly ethical "are characterized by strong ties of reciprocity; it forms the backbone of their internal culture. These reciprocal relationships exist among co-workers as well as between managers and their subordinates." (The text of Finn's speech appeared in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, July 21, 2011.)