Not too bad for a church that has been called 'irrelevant' or even 'dying' by the media, huh?
And the Catholic Church is growing, by the way, at about 10% per decade. While this may seem like small growth, in actuality it means that in 2010 there will be about 110 million more Catholics than there were 2 years ago. Compare this with, say, the Pentecostal churches which have about 1 million congregants world-wide. And a large number of 'new' Catholics are converts, always dynamic members that are usually very active (in any religion).
In America about 25% of all citizens are Catholic, or about 70 million people - easily the largest single denomination in America.
Yes, I'm getting to my point now.
Traditionally, American Catholics have voted Democrat for about 120+ years. Rain or shine, as the party changed it usually changed to match the opinion of Catholics. This all began to change in the late 1920's and accelerated in the '70's, especially post-. Since the 1980 elections more and more Catholics are voting Republican until it is clear that soon Catholics may become majority Republicans. So what has the Democratic party done to win back this massive voting block?
That's right, nothing. While the changes are many, the main sticking point for most Catholics is the abortion issue. After that are other 'socially conservative' issues, like homosexual marriage, sex education, etc. In the main, though, surveys reveal that many Catholics that vote Republican prefer the Democratics position on issues like fiscal policy, legislation, welfare, medicaid, etc. In other words, Catholics are largely socially conservative but fiscally liberal (the opposite of Jesse Ventura); they are pro-welfare, anti-war, and don't want tax cuts for the wealthy.
As more turn to the Republicans on social issues, though, this is changing and Catholics are sloooowly becoming more fiscally conservative, too, in response to what they see as a total failure of the Democratic positions.
So it seems that it should be fairly easy to reach out towards Catholics, doesn't it? Indeed, a survey done in 1996 by Father Andrew Greely (Catholic Priest and sociologist) indicated that a fair number of American Catholics would vote Democrat (either instead of voting Republican or not voting at all) if the Democrats would simply talk about differing viewpoints on abortion, etc., being acceptable within the party. A staunch Democrat himself, Greely published the information and sent a copy to the Democratic National Commitee. When nothing happened Fr. Greely confirmed his first survey with another, again learning that many Catholics indicated that they would vote Democrat if the party leadership would simply let their dissenting voices be heard.
Nothing like that happened. And some estimate the Democrats effectively abandoned maybe as many as 2 million votes in the last presidential election - an election where the Republican candidate visited Bob Jones University, a notorious center of anti-Catholic hate. Even is the actual numbers were 1/4th the large estimate it would have made a huge difference in places like, say, very Catholic Florida.
In one of his books Fr. greely spoke of when he entered the headquarters of a Democratic candidate in Chicago. In street clothes, Fr. greely eventually spoke to the campaign manager and asked,
Why aren't you working on the Catholic vote?"
The reply? "We have been working on the blue-collar vote."
Greely left, angry and dismayed at the ignorance. He then lists the statistics for Catholics in America. Of all gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) religious groups in America, Catholics; are the most likely to have a PhD; have the highest average salary; are the most likely to have a management or administrative position; and have the highest average IQs. The days of Irish Catholics driving railroad spikes with hammers are over 100 years behind us, yet many think of Catholics as being just like they are portrayed in the films of 1930's and '40's Hollywood.
So why have Democrats abandoned Catholics? I'm not sure, but I suspect it may be because many leaders within the Democratic party disregard all religious people. Oh, they'd never admit it, but many people who see themselves as intellectual completely reject all religions and believe people who embrace religion are deluded at best and fools in general.
What are Catholics to do? I suspect we either have to do one of three things; 1) get very involved in local politics AND be very vocal about our religious beliefs so that people finally realize how many of us their are; 2) promote our social and justice concerns in secular terms and hope for the best (although this seems to be failing as we speak); or 3) start our own political party.
I bet you can guess which one I suspect is most likely to succeed.