Mass Attendance and Scandal
Fr. Peter J. Daly
September 1, 2003
Mass attendance is down in the Archdiocese of Washington.
For the first time in a decade, the number of people coming to Sunday mass has declined. The decline over the previous year was 7.55%. It mirrors similar declines in many parts of the country.
less than a third of
The data in the Archdiocese of Washington is based on a headcount taken each year by ushers at all the Sunday masses in October. The attendance is then averaged out.
Like many dioceses,
Our October 2002 decline was the first since 1994. It represents a real reversal.
One would probably expect a modest
increase in attendance each year in the
Over the past ten years mass attendance had inched up by two or three percent each year, consistent with overall population growth. Therefore, a decline of 7.55% is serious. It is actually a reversal of more than 9% to 10% because it wiped out our typical two or three percent increase.
What is our response to this decrease? Nothing, so far.
In 1997, Sunday mass attendance went up just over 5%. That year we were very proud of the increase. Our archdiocesan paper covered the story. This year, with the decline, we are saying nothing. Perhaps that is because nobody is sure exactly why the decline took place and nobody knows what to do.
There are several possible reasons
for the decline. One of the most frequently mentioned reasons is the
However, the sniper scare does not
account for whole decline. Attendance was down even in areas untouched by the
sniper, such as
I think a major reason for the decline in mass attendance in 2002 is the fallout from the child abuse scandal. In October of 2002, when our count took place, the scandal had just passed its crescendo.
During the height of the scandal,
poll after poll showed 95% of the faithful saying that the scandal would not
affect their faith. But 5% said that it would affect their faith. Five
percent of the Catholics in the
Nationwide, declining mass attendance is a real challenge for the Church, especially among young people.
Whatever the reasons for the decline this past year, it is serious. Not cause for alarm, but certainly cause for reflection and discussion.
I believe that Jesus has the words of everlasting life. I believe that the Eucharist is the bread of life. If we are followers of the good shepherd, maybe now is the time to go is search of the lost sheep. Somehow they have strayed from the flock.