A new study shows that infant baptisms in the Catholic Church have been declining year by year along with the birth rate in the U.S.
The numbers are “are generally moving in step with the overall fertility rate, which has also been falling, more so since the recession in 2008,” said researchers from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate on Aug. 24.
Results show that although the numbers of those entering the Catholic Church are almost high enough to keep up with the number of Catholics who pass away each year, this may not always be the case if current trends continue.
The survey noted that in each of the past three years the number of people entering the faith of any age has dropped below 1 million. Since 1947, the annual number of new U.S. Catholics has only come in at less than 1 million at one other time, and that was during the period from 1973 to 1979.
But infant baptisms are not the only area showing lower numbers. Less children, teens, and adults are becoming Catholic as well.
Despite baptisms steadily increasing from 1997 to 2000, when they reached a peak of over 170,000, researchers said that “something happened” that they can’t pinpoint.
In just one year, from 2000 to 2001, the number of non-infant entries into the Church fell by more than 20,000 or down 12.6 percent.
“This drop predates the emergence of news of clergy sex abuse cases,” they noted. “In fact the number of entries into the Church increased from 2001 to 2002 when these stories emerged in the media.”
From 2002 the number of new non-infant entries into the Church stabilized until 2006 and 2007 where another steep decline occurred. In 2007, there were 28,000 fewer non-infant entries into the Church than in 2005, which is a decrease of over 19 percent.
“Since then, the decline has flattened out a bit but still continues through to the numbers for 2010,” researchers added.
According to the center, as of 2011, there are over 77 million self-identified Catholics in the U.S.