04/01/2008 - As he tours Washington and New York on his first visit to the United States since ascending to the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI will be greeted by a Catholic population that, while undergoing rapid ethnic and demographic changes within itself, continues to occupy a unique spot in the global Catholic community. Generally less religious than their fellow Catholics in the developing world, and generally more religious than those in Europe, American Catholics occupy something of a middle ground in a faith that is often pulled in opposing directions by its diverse constituencies across the globe.
Rome may remain the organizational and symbolic hub of Catholicism, but in many ways the center of the faith has been gravitating southward for decades. As Europeans increasingly turn away from the Church, religious commitment remains relatively strong among Catholics in regions such as Latin America. The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes survey explored religious views around the world, and the findings shed some light on the sharp differences among followers of Catholicism. Faith plays a much more central role in the lives of Latin American Catholics than among those from Europe. Meanwhile, American Catholics stand squarely in the center.
In order to compare the religiosity of Catholic publics in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S., we constructed an index based on three questions: whether faith in God is necessary for living a moral life, the importance of religion in respondents' lives, and a how often respondents pray.
Read the complete analysis America's Catholics Occupy a Unique Place in the World of Religion on the Pew Research Center Web site.