Pew report: 'Faith Among Black Catholics'

Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

WASHINGTON (CNS) — When a 176-page report is issued on a subject that hasn’t been addressed comprehensively in more than a generation, it’s tough to compress its findings into a few short paragraphs.
The Pew Research Center’s “Faith Among Black Americans,” released Feb. 16, is one such report.
The center conducted online and mail interviews of 8,660 Black Americans from fall 2019 into the early part of last summer to learn how Blacks in the United States manifest their faith. 
“Millennials and members of Generation Z” – those born after 1996 – are less likely to rely on prayer, less likely to have grown up in Black churches and less likely to say religion is an important part of their lives,” Pew said in the report. “Fewer attend religious services, and those who do attend are less likely to go to a predominantly Black congregation.”
But 9 percent of Generation Z reported being Catholic, a higher percentage than the 6 percent across all other age groups.
Among Black Catholics, 17 percent said they attend a mostly Black parish, 42 percent said they worship at a mostly white parish, and 40 percent said they go to a multiracial church.
Majorities of over 60 percent said that historically Black congregations should diversify, and that if they’re looking for a new church home, its racial makeup should be either not too – or not at all – important.
Of Blacks attending a Catholic church, 41 percent said they had heard a homily on racism; 39 percent said they had heard a sermon on abortion – 11 percentage points more than any Protestant subset interviewed by Pew; 31 percent said they had heard one on voting or political engagement; and 25 percent said they had heard a priest speak on criminal justice reform.
If the United States is a nation of immigrants, then the Catholic Church in the United States is likewise a denomination of immigrants. Compared to 6 percent of all U.S. Blacks, 15 percent of Caribbean-born Blacks identify as Catholic, as do 20 percent of African-born U.S. Blacks.
The Pew report said, “African immigrants also are more likely than other Black Americans to say religion is very important in their lives, to report that they attend religious services regularly, and to believe that people of faith have a religious duty to convert nonbelievers.”
Music is pretty much a given across Black Christianity. Among Black Catholics surveyed, 82 percent said their Masses have music, compared to 86 percent of Black Christians overall. 
Brevity also has its place, as 62 percent of Black Catholics report Mass is about an hour long, well more than double the length reported by 23 percent of all survey respondents. Another 25 percent of Black Catholics said Mass lasted about 90 minutes, 8 percent reported two hours and 3 percent said it lasted longer than two hours – all numbers much lower than the other survey respondents.
Despite the U.S. Church’s reputation for large parishes, 24 percent of Black Catholics said their Masses have fewer than 50 in attendance. A majority of 57 percent said their Mass had between 51 and 250 worshippers, while 14 percent said their Masses’ attendance numbered between 251-1,000 in size. Only 3 percent said their Mass attendance was bigger than 1,000. By comparison, about a third of Black Protestants said their congregation numbered 50 or less.
Asked what is essential to their faith, Black Catholics said, in descending order of importance, opposing racism, 77 percent; opposing sexism, 75 percent; believing in God, 73 percent; attending religious services, 26 percent; opposing abortion, 22 percent; and avoiding sex before marriage, 16 percent. Belief in God was the top essential among Black Protestants, at 84 percent, and 30 percent said avoiding sex before marriage was essential; otherwise, their answers closely paralleled those of Black Catholics.
Black Catholics rarely play a leadership role in their own parish, with just 10 percent saying they participate in leadership, compared to 24 percent of all congregants. Older members are more likely to participate in leadership, evidenced by the 39 percent of “Silent Generation” Black Catholics who preceded the baby boom cohort.

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