A Portrait of American Catholics on the Eve of Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.S.

  • March 27, 2008

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States on April 15, he will find a Catholic Church that is undergoing rapid ethnic and demographic changes, and whose flock is quite diverse both in their religious practices and levels of commitment, as well as in their social and political views. And, as this portrait of American Catholics underscores, the pontiff will also find a church that again is likely to play a key role in the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Catholics account for nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults. By comparison, more than half (51.3%) of the adult population is Protestant and almost one-in-six (16.1%) are unaffiliated with any particular religion. The proportion of the U.S. population that identifies itself as Catholic has remained relatively stable in recent decades, but this apparent stability obscures major changes that are taking place within American Catholicism.

No other major faith in the U.S. has experienced greater net losses over the last few decades as a result of changes in religious affiliation than the Catholic Church. Nearly one-third (31.4%) of U.S. adults say they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults say they are affiliated with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points. Overall, roughly one-third of those who were raised Catholic have left the church, and approximately one-in-ten American adults are former Catholics.

Read the full report A Portrait of American Catholics on the Eve of Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.S. on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Web site.