Monday, June 25, 2007

USA Today: Are There Really 69 Million Catholics?

Plus instructions on how to formally declare yourself a defector....

From USA Today:

Are there really more than 64 million U.S. Roman Catholics?

That's what the 2007 Official Catholic Directory, due out this week, will say. But what about the dead, the double-counted and the disgruntled ex-Catholics — all of whose names may still plump up parish rolls?

Yes, there are probably "ghosts" in the lists, says demographer Mary Gautier, senior researcher for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in Washington, D.C. The center analyzes data for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

CARA's analysis counts 64.4 million Catholics in 2006, up from 63.9 million in 2005. (The directory's overall totals are higher because they include Puerto Rico, Guam and American protectorates.)

Totals are up, with minor fluctuations — 1% a year for the past 25 years, Gautier says. "But counting Catholics is more art than science."

And this:

Although no one knows how many global Catholics have discovered the forms and mailed exit letters to their priests, "we see a traffic spike every time the pope says something unpopular," site manager Raffaele Carcano told Wired.

No, they're not getting unbaptized. It's impossible.

"You may not practice, you may not believe. You may not belong to a parish. But technically, you're always a Catholic," says Monsignor Michael Servinsky, a canon law expert and the vicar general for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa.

"We used to get letters all the time from Jehovah's Witnesses asking to be taken off the baptismal registry, but we never did it because you can't be unbaptized. We did make note in the registry and stop counting them as practicing Catholics," says Servinsky.

A 1983 revision of canon law for the first time permitted born Catholics and converts to formally leave the church. There tend to be three reasons why people want to leave, Servinsky says: conversion; a wish to marry a non-Catholic and still have the marriage recognized; and, in some European countries, a gambit for lowering income taxes by no longer having a percentage designated for the church.

But the Vatican found that the 1983 code didn't specify the exit process and it befuddled bishops, canon lawyers and judicial vicars. So in March, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts elucidated a procedure for the Actus Formalis Defectionis Ab Ecclesia Catholica.