The Canary in the Baptistery? Decline in Child Baptisms Raises Concern for Future of Roman Catholic Church
The numbers of child baptisms are down in the Archdiocese of Louisville from 3,065 to 2,329 from 1998 to 2011. The trend line looks very similar with the enrollment decline, from 16,732 in 2002-03 to 12,469 in 2011-12.
And the same thing is happening nationally: Catholic school enrollment is down, and so are Catholic baptisms (and marriages and burials, for that matter).
Georgetown University researcher Mark Gray often tries to correct false impressions about the Catholic Church’s health, saying membership and Mass attendance are more robust than some claim. But he says the decline in baptisms is real and serious:
“Polling has a big blind spot. We generally only survey people ages 18 and older. We often don’t notice changes occurring among youth.
The rate of Catholic baptisms to overall live births in the United States has dropped from one-quarter in the late 1990s and early 2000s to one-fifth in recent years, wrote Gray, of Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Some parents might be choosing to baptize their kids later, but more than “nine in ten children entering the Church do so within the first year of their birth,” Gray wrote.
To be sure, Catholics aren’t the only ones worried about such spiritual vital signs. Southern Baptists, while having a different style and criteria for baptism (immersing only those old enough to make a profession of faith), have sounded alarms about their own declining baptismal numbers.