The Impact of Religious Switching


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The Impact of Religious Switching and Secularization on the Estimated Size of the U S Adult Catholic Population1 Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate CARA at Georgetown University How many Catholics have left the faith In February 2008 The Pew Forum on Religion Public Life released results from their U S Religious Landscape Survey partially addressing this important question Pew s report for this study and many of the media stories2 that followed it highlighted the following statements regarding the U S adult Catholic population Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes While nearly one in three Americans 31 were raised in the Catholic faith today fewer than one in four 24 describe themselves as Catholic These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration p 6 the Catholic share of the U S adult population has held fairly steady in recent decades at around 25 What this apparent stability obscures however is the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church Approximately one third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic This means that roughly 10 of all Americans are former Catholics These losses however have been partly offset by the number of people who have changed their affiliation to Catholicism 2 6 of the adult population but more importantly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U S p 7 The Catholic Church has indeed lost the most in terms of total population but it is important to remember that the Catholic Church is also the single largest faith in the United States and proportions matter In the discussion of those who leave their faith the Pew study did not highlight some important results in their Summary of Key Findings regarding the varying likelihoods by denomination that one will leave the faith they were raised in As bad as the Catholic

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