Afflicting the Comfortable:
The Role of Catholic Social Teaching
in Catholic Studies Programs
MARGARET M. MCGUINNESS
Faculty members involved in Catholic Studies programs at Catholic colleges and universities throughout the United States (and their deans, provosts, and presidents) should pay careful attention to a recent report released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life detailing the religious landscape of the modern United States. Based on interviews with 35,000 Americans over the age of eighteen, the study found that many of us move from one religion to another with relative ease. More than a quarter of Americans, for instance, no longer practice the religion in which they were raised and have either joined another denomination or disassociated themselves from organized religion altogether; if change in religious affiliation is broadened to include those who have moved among Protestant denominations, the number increases to 44 percent.1 The section of the report focusing on American Catholicism is particularly telling. As a number of sociological and demographic studies have reported over the years, Catholics in America continue to constitute about 25 percent of the general population—a figure many of us have dutifully repeated in classes—but, as the Pew report’s summary notes, Catholicism “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.” Furthermore, although “nearly one-in-three Americans (31 percent) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24 percent) describe themselves as Catholic.” Overall, “approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.” In other words, about 10 percent of Americans describe themselves as former Catholics, a net loss of 7.5 per cent. “These losses would have been even more pronounced,” the report continues, “were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.”
The portrait of American Catholics displayed on the Pew Forum’s website demonstrates most American Catholics live comfortably and
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Publication information: Book title: The Catholic Studies Reader. Contributors: James T. Fisher - Editor, Margaret M. McGuinness - Editor. Publisher: Fordham University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2011. Page number: 193.
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