O'SHEA: The Challenges Facing the Catholic Church

For the first time in history the number of people in the United States who identify as belonging to a church, mosque or synagogue is less than those who don’t associate with any established religion. Just 47% of American adults identify with a particular creed, down a prodigious 20% in just two decades.

This decline can be directly attributed to the growth of “nones.” This burgeoning group covers people who declare no religious affiliation. The decline is particularly notable in younger age groups. Only 36% of millennials express any church allegiance while 58% of baby boomers remain loyal to some religious denomination. Overall, 21% fall under the ”nones” umbrella, a larger number than any denomination, except for Protestants.


Among Christians, the decline is particularly noticeable among Catholics where the drop-off is twice the Protestant exit numbers. Non-college graduates showed a more pronounced reduction than college graduates, and among members of the two main political parties, Democrats and political independents reveal a somewhat sharper decline than men and women wearing the MAGA hat.

Focusing on the Catholic statistics, whose numbers in the overall population have declined from 23% to 20%, leads inevitably to differing diagnoses of the worrying dilemmas facing the church leadership. How best can they slow down the exodus?


Pope Francis is championing the Synodal Way, an approach that focuses on collegiality among all church members, stressing listening skills as Catholics collaborate in a process of mutual evangelization. He challenges people to respond to the spirit of the universe which inspires everyone to find new ways to build a vibrant, caring community. The spirit’s influence is universal and always positive and responsive to authentic truth-seekers.

This sounds nebulous and wishy-washy, but for the pope the only way forward involves somehow tuning in to the rank and file, listening to the wisdom of all members, from the poorest and those with the least schooling, to the pompous men in colorful regalia announcing their importance at every turn.

Traditional Catholic thinking still dominates the church hierarchy, especially in America. For instance, they trot out the same messages claiming divine approval for outdated opinions on homosexuality. They fail to realize how correct Cardinal Newman was when he preached that the Christian story has to reflect the changing culture and wisdom of the faith community in every era.

Francis made the same crucial point even more emphatically: “Tradition is a living reality. The word of God cannot be mothballed. It is a living changing reality.”



Pope Francis is championing the Synodal Way, an approach that focuses on collegiality among all church members, stressing listening skills as Catholics collaborate in a process of mutual evangelization. He challenges people to respond to the spirit of the universe which inspires everyone to find new ways to build a vibrant, caring community. The spirit’s influence is universal and always positive and responsive to authentic truth-seekers.

This sounds nebulous and wishy-washy, but for the pope the only way forward involves somehow tuning in to the rank and file, listening to the wisdom of all members, from the poorest and those with the least schooling, to the pompous men in colorful regalia announcing their importance at every turn.

Traditional Catholic thinking still dominates the church hierarchy, especially in America. For instance, they trot out the same messages claiming divine approval for outdated opinions on homosexuality. They fail to realize how correct Cardinal Newman was when he preached that the Christian story has to reflect the changing culture and wisdom of the faith community in every era.

Francis made the same crucial point even more emphatically: “Tradition is a living reality. The word of God cannot be mothballed. It is a living changing reality.”