Facing the Catholic “Man Crisis”

Facing the Catholic “Man Crisis”

The Catholic “Man Crisis” by Matthew Christoff

Unchecked, the exodus of Catholic men from the faith is likely to continue as men become increasingly casual about Catholicism. About 11 million adult men in the U.S. were raised Catholic but left the faith[1] and men are under-represented in the Church versus their share of the total population (46% of parishioners are male versus 49% of the population).[2] During the last 20 years, men have become less certain about the Church: in 1987, 50.1% men said they would “never leave the Church”[3]; in 2005 the number had fallen to 42.3%.[4] This means that almost 60% of Catholic men would consider leaving the Church; these men have become “Casual Catholics”, Catholics who are casual about the faith.

Casual Catholic men lack passion for the faith and their ambivalence about Catholicism results in low involvement. Only about 1/3 of Catholic men (36%) say they attend Mass on a weekly basis.[5] One third of Catholic men (32%) are not formally members of a parish.[6] A large portion (42%) of Catholic men attend Mass “a few times per year” or “seldom or never.”[7] Almost half of Catholic men do not engage in a routine of prayer; praying only “occasionally or sometimes” or “seldom or never.”[8] Casual Catholic men have lost the passion about being Catholic, with 8 out of 10 agreeing that “how one lives is more important than being a Catholic”[9] and 4 in 10 believing that Catholicism does not have a “greater share of truths than other religions.”[10] For comparison, Catholic men are less passionate about faith than other Christian men. Less than half of Catholic men (48%) feel that “religion is very important in their lives; this compares to 74% for Evangelical men.”[11] Only about 4 in 10 Catholic men (43%) have an absolutely certain belief in a personal God; this compares to 73% of evangelical men.[12] Less than half of Catholic men (48%) pray outside of worship services, which compares to 71% of Evangelical men.[13] Clearly, there is a “passion problem” among Catholic men.

The prevalence of so many Casual Catholic men matters, for it will further weaken the Church in future years. Catholic parents are doing a poor job at passing along the faith to their children,[14] especially fathers.[15] Indeed, less than 50% of men (47.5%) strongly agree that it is important for their children to be Catholic.[16] This is troubling since younger people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to leaving the Catholic Church, particularly young men. In 1987, 41.6% of 18-29 year olds agreed with the statement “I would never leave the Church”;[17] by 2005, only 17.8% of those 18-30 years said they’d “never leave the Church.”[18] This means that an astounding 82.2% of young people would consider leaving the Church. Males are particularly vulnerable to leaving the Church; 15% of the U.S. population have left religion and are now “unaffiliated”; the largest portion of this growing group are males who were formerly Catholic.[19]

The loss of Catholic men and the growing numbers of Casual Catholic men have other negative effects on parishes and the Church. Fewer men reduce the pool for priestly and religious male vocations. Lower levels of active adult men also influences young men to become disengaged from the Church. The “face” of the Church is feminine; men are underrepresented in the pews (only 37% of regular mass attendees are men).[20] Further, a Notre Dame study shows that 70-90% of catechesis, service, bible study activities are led by women, causing the authors to suggest that “young males…assume that serious religious studies are a women’s business,” resulting in greater numbers of younger men being disengaged.[21] Men are needed for healthy and growing parishes; research shows that congregations with greater portions of men are more likely to be growing.[22] The Church has a significant “Man Crisis” and needs to face the reality of the crisis; unchecked, the loss of men will have a long-term catastrophic impact on the Church.


[1] Luis Lugo et al., “Faith in Flux,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (April 2009): 1. Estimate based on: a) Pew notes that 9% of U.S. Adults have left Catholicism, b) U.S. Census data that shows there are 250 million U.S. adults and that men represent 49% of adults.

[2] Luis Lugo et al., “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (June 2008):a 63.

[3] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (1987),” Question 48, http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Descriptions/GALLUP87.asp (accessed June 24, 2013).

[4] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (2005),” Question 75, http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/GALLUP05_CB.asp (accessed June 24, 2013).

[5] Luis Lugo et al., “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (June 2008): 38.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (2005)”, Question 94.

[8] Ibid., Question 60.

[9] Ibid., Question 18.

[10] Ibid., Question 19.

[11] “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (2008),” 24.

[12] Ibid., 29.

[13] Ibid., 46.

[14] Christopher Smith and Patricia Snell, Souls in Transition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 114.

[15] Ibid., p. 129.

[16] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (2005),” Question 22.

[17] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (1987),” Question 48.

[18] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (2005),” Question 75.

[19] Barry A. Kosmin, et al., “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” American Religious Identification Survey (2008): 5,7.

[20] “Gallup Poll of Catholics (2005),” Question 75.

[21] David C. Leege and Thomas A. Trozzolo, “Participation in Catholic Parish Life: Religious Rites and Parish Activities in the 1980s,” Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, Issue 3 (1985): 14.

[22] C. Kirk Hadaway, “Facts on Growth,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research (2006): 4.

[23] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Go and Make Disciples,” http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/evangelization/go-and-make-disciples/go-and-make-disciples-a-national-plan-and-strategy-for-catholic-evangelization-in-the-united-states.cfm (accessed June 28, 2013).

[24] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Women’s Concerns,” http://old.usccb.org/laity/women/index.shtml (accessed June 28, 2013).

[25] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “A Perspective on the Promise Keepers (1996),” http://old.usccb.org/laity/marriage/promise.shtml (accessed June 28, 2013).

[26] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “An Introductory Report (1999),” http://old.usccb.org/laity/marriage/menministry.shtml (accessed June 28, 2013).

[27] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, “The CARA Report – subject index for the CARA Report,” http://cara.georgetown.edu/Publications/tcrsubindex.html (accessed June 25, 2013).

[28] Promise Keepers, http://www.promisekeepers.org (accessed June 25, 2013).

[29] “Faith in Flux,” 21.

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