New Study on Cultural Diversity Displays Catholic Church’s Growing Multicultural Parish Population

November 15, 2016 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—Culturallydiverse parishes are the fastest growing type of parish in the United States,according to a report on Cultural Diversity in Catholic parishes, presented by ArchbishopGustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committeeon Cultural Diversity in the Church.  Thereport was presented during the annual fall General Assembly in Baltimore,November 15.

TheCenter for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted the two phasestudy, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat onCultural Diversity. "The Catholic Church in the United States has always been avery diverse entity, but it is the first time that all available data wasbrought together to map this diversity nationwide in remarkable detail," saidArchbishop García-Siller. "It is also the first time that parish life waslooked at from the point of view of the experience of diversity. Multiculturalparishes are a growing phenomenon in the United States. This is what makes thisstudy so fascinating and ground-breaking."

Thefirst phase identified the populations and parishes in the United States thatare known to serve specific racial, ethnic, cultural, and/or linguistic groups communitiesusing a variety of sources. In all, 6,332 (36 percent) of parishes wereidentified as multicultural or as serving particular groups of Catholics.

Therecently concluded second phase consisted of in-pew surveys in multiculturalparishes across the U.S. Over 11,100adults completed the survey with topics ranging from race, primary languagespoken at home, marital status, sacramental life, parishioner attitudes aboutcultural diversity, parish understanding of different cultures, welcoming ofnew parishioners, interacting with priests of different cultural backgrounds,staff reflection of cultural diversity of parishioners, tension betweendifferent cultural groups, among other topics. To facilitate and encourageparticipation, the study was translated into 20 languages at the request of thelocal pastors.

Someof the key findings, as they relate to religious practices include:

  • Thelargest segment of parishioners in multicultural parishes (37 percent) are of thePost-Vatican II Generation (born 1961 to 1981), and are between the ages of 34and 54.
  • Thosewith school-age children in multicultural and ethnic communities are much morelikely to enroll children in a Catholic school than the general Catholicpopulation. Enrollment is most common among multi-racial and Vietnameserespondents, and is least common among foreign-born Hispanic or Latino parents.
  • Regardingreligious participation, 83 percent of respondents have received their FirstCommunion and 77 percent have been confirmed.
  • 76percent consider themselves "active Catholics." Nine percent are "returned Catholics"who may have left the faith for a period of time and have now returned. Eightpercent indicate they are "converts" to Catholicism. Two percent are"non-Catholics," most often attending Mass with a Catholic relative. Fivepercent are "inactive Catholics."
  • 67percent of respondents are registered with their parish and 83 percent say thisis their primary place of worship.
  • U.S.born black or African American respondents are most likely to be personallyinvolved in multiple ministries or activities (other than Mass attendance).

Asthey relate to the parish experience of diversity for each group, the findingsare:

  • Widespread majority agreement amongall sub-groups that "having people of different cultural backgrounds enrichesthe parish."
  • Few feel like an outsider in theirparish. The group most likely to do so are foreign-born Hispanic or Latinoparishioners (36% agree).
  • Many agree that they have a role inthe "decision-making" of their parish. Those most likely to "strongly" disagreewith this are Koreans (51%) and Hispanics or Latinos (28%).
  • Foreign-born parishioners are moreinterested than U.S.-born parishioners to believe their parish should beproviding pastoral care for refugees and immigrants.

CARA affirms that the study reveals someimportant trends, and provides the following conclusions:

  • The Catholic Church in the UnitedStates is one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the country and itwill become even more diverse in the future.
  • Parishes, schools and colleges,hospitals, charities, and other ministries need to adapt and prepare for thisgrowing diversity.
  • In the pews, many of those who aremost comfortable with growing diversity are those who immigrated to the UnitedStates, though African American Catholics are one of the most likely to saythey welcome diversity in the parish and that diversity enriches parish life.
  • Those who are descendants ofprevious waves of immigration from Europe appear to be the least comfortable withdiversity and less willing to engage in parish life beyond attending Mass.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller, asked thebishops to consider how the data speaks to their local realities and how thesefindings may affect the way local dioceses plan, set priorities and allocateresources for the continuation of the mission of the Church. He reminded themof Pope Francis' call to a pastoral conversion and to put the entire church ina "permanent state of mission."

The report is available at:

Keywords: USCCB, U.S. bishops, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Novembermeeting, Fall General Assembly, Baltimore, Committee on Cultural Diversity inthe Church, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, cultural diversity, parishes,Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, CARA, multicultural, in-pew,Hispanic, Latino, Asian, African American, Koreans, European, Mass attendance,returned Catholics

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Norma Montenegro Flynn

O: 202-541-3202