In February 2008, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University surveyed 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics in the United States from Knowledge Networks' large national panel of households, which is assembled by regular random telephone survey methods (probability sampling). The primary focus of the survey is participation in the sacramental life of the Church as well as beliefs about the sacraments. The poll also addresses many other issues of importance to the Church, including other forms of participation in Church life and other teachings of Catholicism. A survey with this number of respondents has a margin of sampling error of ±3.1 percentage points.  As a rule of thumb, every 1 percentage point of the total adult Catholic population is equivalent to approximately 500,000 persons. This survey is one of CARA's most recent 20 national surveys of self-identified adult Catholics, including more than 21,000 respondents, conducted since 2000. Comparisons, where possible, are made to these earlier surveys in the report. The Department of Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned CARA to conduct this survey. The following are the primary topic areas of the survey: 
  • How Catholics have entered the Church
  • The general sacramental lives of Catholics
  • The Mass and Eucharist
  • Reconciliation
  • Anointing of the Sick
  • Ordinations and vocations
  • Religious devotions and practices in daily life
  • General Catholic beliefs and attitudes
  • Parish life in a time of fewer priests
  • Satisfaction with Church leaders
Links to the full report and some of its individual sections are provided below (Adobe PDF files). 

The Full Report (1.4 MB)
Executive Summary
-Demographic and Background Characteristics
-Entry into the Church and Sacramental Participation and Practice
-The Mass and Eucharist
-The Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick
-Ordinations and Vocations
-Religious Devotions and Practices
-Catholic Beliefs and Attitudes

Selected Findings
Some of the key findings Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among US. Catholics are noted below (click images to see larger versions). For the complete ste of major findings please download the Executive Summary or Full Report.

Entry into the Church
Eighty-four percent of adult Catholics entered the Church as infants. Eight percent were baptized as children, 1 percent as teens, and 7 percent were received into the Church as adults (75 percent of these adults went through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults or RCIA). Nearly half of the adult Catholics who entered the Church as adults (48 percent) did so between the ages of 18 and 29.


Celebration of First Communion, First Reconciliation, and Confirmation
About nine in ten adult Catholics have celebrated their First Communion/Eucharist or their First Reconciliation. Slightly fewer, 84 percent, have been confirmed. Younger Catholics are less likely than older Catholics to have celebrated First Communion, First Reconciliation, or Confirmation.


Marital Status and Marriage in the Church (From CARA's Oct. 2007 study)
Overall, 53 percent of adult Catholics are married. Two-thirds of married Catholics were married in the Church.

Meaningfulness of Sacraments
Catholics attending Mass at least once a weekly are more likely than all Catholics in general to find all seven sacraments “somewhat” or “very” meaningful to them.

Frequency of Mass Attendance
Twenty-three percent of adult Catholics say they attend Mass every week. Older Catholics are more likely than younger Catholics to attend every week.

Important Aspects of Mass
Catholics attending Mass at least once a month find many aspects of the Mass more important than those attending Mass less often.

Reasons for Missing Mass
Among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, distinct differences in the reasons cited for missing Mass are related to their frequency of Mass attendance. For some it is an issue of schedules, health, or other responsibilities, while for others the reason is related to their attitudes about their faith.  

Eucharist and Belief in the Real Presence
Nine in ten weekly Mass attendees (91 percent) say they believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist, compared to two-thirds of those who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month (65 percent), and four in ten of those attending Mass a few times a year or less (40 percent).  Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a month, the youngest generation of Catholics (born after 1981) has similar beliefs about the Eucharist as Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics (born before 1943).


Frequency of Confession
More than six in ten weekly Mass attenders (62 percent) say they participate in Reconciliation at least once a year, compared to 37 percent of those attending Mass less than weekly but at least once a month and only 6 percent of those attending less often. 

Consideration of Vocations
About one in six Catholic men (17 percent) have ever considered becoming a priest or religious brother. Very few Catholic men, 5 percent, have ever given any consideration to becoming a permanent deacon. Fifteen percent of Catholic women have ever considered becoming a nun or religious sister.

Wearing or Carrying Religious Objects
Respondents attending Mass weekly are more likely to carry a rosary (45 percent) or religious medal (42 percent) than a cross (39 percent). Catholics attending Mass less often are less likely to wear or carry any of these items.

Attitudes about Faith
More than eight in ten Catholics attending Mass weekly agree that they are proud to be Catholic, believe sacraments are essential to their faith, and think of themselves as practicing Catholics. Less frequent Mass attenders are less likely to agree with these statements. Those who have attended Catholic educational institutions are among the most likely to say that “living my life consistent with Church teaching” is “very” important to their sense of what it means to be Catholic.


Confidence in Church Leadership
More than eight in ten Catholics (82 percent) describe themselves as “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. More than seven in ten (72 percent) are at least “somewhat” satisfied with the leadership of the Bishops of the United States.

In the News

Photo by Neal J. Conway

© 2008 CARA