March 12, 2003



Decline and Fall?

Conference Examines Trends in the Catholic Church in the U.S., Ireland and Quebec


In 1950, the Catholic Church in the United States, the Republic of Ireland and the Canadian province of Quebec was thriving, with high rates of Mass attendance, reception of the sacraments and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.


Since 1950, Catholic communities in those three places, though dissimilar in many respects, experienced a similar decline in the Church’s institutional vigor, according to scholars.


Decline and Fall? Roman Catholicism since 1950 in the United States, the Republic of Ireland and the Province of Quebec” — a multidisciplinary conference March 21 and 22 at The Catholic University of America — will explore Church trends in these places from 1950 to the present to understand the forces leading to changes in Catholicism since the second Vatican Council in Europe, the United States and other parts of the Western world.


At the conference, sponsored by Catholic University’s Center for American Catholic Studies, faculty experts in anthropology, history, religious studies and sociology from CUA and other universities in the United States, Ireland and Canada will explore the “Catholic trajectory” over the last 50 years in each locale to compare the timing of changes in the Church, says CUA Professor of history Leslie Tentler, who organized the two-day conference.


“We know a fair amount about what’s happened in the Church in the United States in recent decades,” says Tentler, whose research focuses on the history of American Catholicism since 1945. “But we don’t have much of a sense of how that compares to the situation in other countries, even in Canada, which is our neighbor.”


Tentler says that she selected the three areas because "all are places where Catholics have historically paid attention to the Church with regard to moral and social teachings.”


Conference panelists will look at trends in Mass attendance and devotions; reception of the sacraments, especially Penance; vocations to the priesthood and religious life; attendance at Catholic schools and colleges; support for Church teaching on social, political and sexual issues; and financial support of the Church. 


Tentler says she expects that conference panelists also will discuss some of the recent “new strengths” in the Church that have emerged in the three locales, for instance, the rise in lay ministry, which, among other things, permits congregants to be Eucharistic ministers who

distribute Communion at Mass and to patients at home and in the hospital.


The conference is free and open to the public.


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MEDIA: To arrange for coverage of the conference or schedule an advance interview with

Tentler, contact Chris Harrison or Victor Nakas in the Office of Public Affairs, at 202-319-5600.