SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Catholic priests in the United States has decreased over the past decade, while the average number of people attending a typical weekend Mass is increasing, according to a study released July 18 by the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a joint effort by the National Association for Lay Ministry, the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and the National Federal of Priest Councils.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City mirrors some of the changes noted in the study, which surveyed 846 randomly selected U.S. parishes in 2010. However, the local church is atypical in one very noticeable way: While the number of parishes in the U.S. has declined by 7.1 percent in the past 10 years, the Diocese of Salt Lake City has grown. There are now 48 parishes and 19 missions in Utah, compared to 47 parishes and 15 missions in 2001.
And, although the study shows that 29 percent of parishes nationwide celebrate Mass at least once a month in a language other than English – up from 22 percent in 2000 – 33 percent of parishes in the Diocese of Salt Lake City offer at least one weekend Spanish Mass. This is in addition to the regular Masses offered in Vietnamese and Korean, as well as native-language Masses for Filipinos, Tongans and Africans.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Hispanic Ministry has grown tremendously, said Maria-Cruz Gray, who heads the department. Ten years ago they offered one Spanish-language class for catechists, now there are four, she said. In addition, "We have now probably four more missions, and they have their needs," she said.
Established parishes also have seen an increase in Hispanic parishioners, she said. "The ones who used to be 200 people now are 1,000 people in the Mass, like the Cathedral," which last year added a Saturday Vigil Mass in Spanish.
In other ways, the Diocese of Salt Lake City more closely follows many of the trends mentioned in the study. For example, the number of weekend Masses offered at each parish nationally has increased from 3.5 in 2000 to 3.8 in 2010. In Utah, while many of the missions have only one weekend service, even the small parishes offer numerous weekend Masses. For example, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Sandy offers the Saturday Vigil and three Sunday Masses. Larger parishes offer even more. The diocese’s largest parish, Saint Joseph in Ogden, celebrates six weekend Masses, three in English and three in Spanish.
Utah’s Catholics may see another national trend in their church: more people at Sunday Mass. According to the study, "The average number of people attending Mass on a typical weekend at Catholic parishes is 1,110, up from an average of 966 in 2000."
Although Utah’s Catholic population is fairly small, with 53,699 registered families statewide, parishes are growing. Many parishes have built new churches or added onto their existing structures in the past 10 years. At the diocese’s second-largest parish, Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Orem, "we’re full up," said Father David Bittmenn, who is in the process of building a new church to accommodate the growth. His parish also reflects the study’s finding that "40 percent of the increase in registered parishioners from 2005 to 2010 was among Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholics." In Orem, about 70 percent of current parishioners are Hispanic, Fr. Bittmenn said.
Perhaps the change with the most significant impact for U.S. Catholics is the decreasing number of clergy and vowed religious. The study reports that in the past 20 years the total number of religious priests, religious brothers and religious sisters has declined 41 percent, from 197,172 in 1980 to 117,080. In Utah, the number dropped from a total of 203 (92 priests, 16 brothers and 95 sisters) to 127 (77 priests, 10 brothers and 40 sisters.)
"If Mass attendance remains steady and the Catholic population grows as expected, the results of this study suggest demands will increase on parishes and parish staffs as the real number of Catholics attending and needing sacraments increases," the study concludes.
The study may be found online at www.emergingmodels.org.