Roman Catholicism in the United States

Roman Catholicism in the United States

Roman Catholicism in the United States has grown dramatically over the country's history, from being a tiny minority faith during the time of the Thirteen Colonies to being the country's largest profession of faith today. With 76.9 million residents professing the faith in 2003, the United States has the third largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil and Mexico.

As of 2001, approximately 24.5% of Americans identified themselves as Roman Catholic; this accounts for roughly 32% of American Christians.cite paper
author = Kosmin et al.
title = American Religious Identification Survey, 2001
date = 2001
url =
format = PDF
accessdate = 2008-04-17
] The 2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, a statistical listing of major religious bodies published by National Council of Churches, reports 67,515,016 registered members of the Roman Catholic Church. The next largest Christian denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported only 16,306,246.

The church's leadership body in the United States is the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made up of the hierarchy of bishops and archbishops of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although each bishop is independent in his own diocese, answerable only to the Pope.

No primate for Catholics exists in the United States. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first diocese established in the country, received "Prerogative of Place" in the 1850s, which confers to its archbishop a subset of the leadership responsibilities granted to primates in other countries.


Catholicism first came to the territories now forming the United States before the Protestant Reformation with the Spanish explorers and settlers in present-day Florida (1513) and the southwest. The first Christian worship service held in the current United States was a Catholic Mass celebrated in Pensacola, FL.(St. Michael records) The influence of the Alta California missions (1769 and onwards) forms a lasting memorial to part of this heritage.

In the English colonies, Catholicism was introduced with the settling of Maryland in 1634; this colony offered a rare example of religious toleration in a fairly intolerant age, particularly amongst other English colonies which frequently exhibited a quite militant Protestantism. (See the Maryland Toleration Act, and note the pre-eminence of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in Catholic circles.) However, at the time of the American Revolution, Catholics formed less than 1% of the population of the thirteen colonies.

The main source of Roman Catholics in the United States was the huge numbers of European immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These huge numbers of immigrant Catholics came from Ireland, Southern Germany, Italy, Poland and Eastern Europe. Substantial numbers of Catholics also came from French Canada during the mid-19th century and settled in New England. Since then, there has been cross-fertilization of the Catholic population as members of historically Catholic groups converted to various Protestant faiths, and vice-versa, with Catholics of (usually partial) English, Scottish, north German, Norwegian, or Swedish descent not uncommon.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the first attempt at standardizing discipline in the American Church occurred with the convocation of the Plenary Councils of Baltimore. These councils resulted in the Baltimore Catechism and the establishment of the Catholic University of America.

Modern Catholic immigrants come to the United States from the Philippines and Latin America, especially from Mexico. This multiculturalism and diversity has greatly impacted the flavor of Catholicism in the United States. For example, many dioceses serve the faithful in both the English language and the Spanish language. Also, when many parishes were set up in the United States, separate churches were built for parishioners from Ireland, Germany, Italy, etc. In Iowa, the development of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, the work of Bishop Loras and the building of St. Raphael's Cathedral illustrate this point.

Some anti-immigrant and nativism movements, like the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, have also been anti-Catholic. Indeed for most of the history of the United States, Catholics have been persecuted. It was not until the Presidency of John F. Kennedy that Catholics lived in the U.S. free of scrutiny. The Ku Klux Klan ridden South discriminated against Catholics for their commonly Irish, Italian, Polish, or Spanish ethnicity, and the "righteous", Protestant North and Midwest labeled all Catholics as anti-American "Papists", incapable of free thought without the approval of their heir to St. Peter. This was done to keep "mongrel Catholic peoples" from having further success in their rapid assimilation into American society. It is during these times that Protestants gave Catholics some of their more disturbing nicknames like "paddy", "mick", and "dunkey" for the Irish, or "guinea", "wop", and "dago" for Italians.


*US Catholic Bishops
*US Catholic Cathedrals
*US Catholic Dioceses


Over 19,000 parishes exist in 195 dioceses or archdioceses:
* 146 Latin Catholic Dioceses
* 2 Eastern Catholic Archdioceses or Archeparchies
* 15 Eastern Catholic Dioceses or Eparchies

This gives the Catholic Church the third highest total number of churches in the U.S., behind Southern Baptists and Methodists. However, because the average Catholic parish is significantly larger than the average church from those denominations, there are about 3 times as many Catholics as Southern Baptists and almost 5 times as many as Methodists.

The Church has over 30,000 diocesan priests, and over 15,000 priests vowed to a specific order; also over 30,000 lay ministers, 13,000 deacons, 75,000 sisters, and 5,600 brothers.

150,000 Catholic school teachers operate in the United States, teaching 2.7 million students.

There are about 60-70 million people in the United States who were baptized as Catholics, or roughly 26% of the U.S. population. [] Today the Catholic Church in America has 69,135,254 members by the Official Catholic Directory 2006. As of 2002, a Pew Research poll found that roughly 24% of the adult U.S. population self-identifies as Catholic. [] . Other estimates from recent years generally range around 20% to 28%. According to a new survey of 35,000 American adults (released in 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), 23.9% of American adults identify themselves as Roman Catholic (of a national population of 300 million). [Michael Paulson, "US religious identity is rapidly changing," BOSTON GLOBE, February 26, 2008, 1] The study also notes that 10% of those people who identify themselves as Protestant in the interview are former Catholics and 8% of those who identity themselves as Catholic are former Protestants. [Ted Olsen, "Go Figure," CHRISTIANITY TODAY, April, 2008, 15] Catholics in the U.S. are about 6% of the church's total worldwide membership.

A poll by The Barna Group in 2004 found Catholic ethnicity to be 60% non-Hispanic white (commonly called Caucasian), 31% Hispanic of any race, 4% Black, and 5% other ethnicity (mostly Filipinos and other Asian Americans). []

As of 2006 of 195 dioceses, seven are vacant, two for more than 18 months. Another 14 bishops, including two cardinals, are past the retirement age of 75.

Roman Catholicism by State

By Percentage of Catholics

[See each state's Religious Demographic section]

By Number of Catholics

[See each state's Religious Demographic section]

ee also

*Catholicism and American politics

Additional reading

*Fogarty, Gerald P. "Commonwealth Catholicism: A History of the Catholic Church in Virginia", ISBN 978-0268022648.

External links

* [ Global Catholic Statistics: 1905 and Today] by Albert J. Fritsch, SJ, PhD
* [ Largest Religious Groups in the United States of America]

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