Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 21, 1963
NUMBER 41, PAGE 4,12c

Catholicism's "Paper" Army


Several of the national magazines, both religious and secular, have commented lately on the relative decline in church membership in America within the last year. The 1963 Yearbook of American Churches published by the National Council of Churches showed that for the first time in almost a century the percentage of the American population belonging to a church or synagogue declined. True, the decline was only two-tenths of one percent; but it is the reversal of the trend rather than the size of it that gives concern to religious leaders in the various denominations.

It seems not unlikely, however, that a more realistic method of counting by the Roman Catholic church may be responsible for the apparent waning of enthusiasm for church membership. It has long been suspected by reliable statisticians that many Roman Catholic diocesan leaders, like so many Soviet collective farms, may be guilty of "manufacturing" phenomenal growth figures just to please headquarters, and without too much regard to the facts. Also, it is widely known that the normal Catholic thinking is "once a Catholic, always a Catholic," so that Catholic authorities continue to list as members thousands of people who have renounced the hierarchy; some of whom, indeed, are well known Protestant preachers!

Writing on this subject in Action, official publication of the United Evangelical Association, Gaylord Briley, member of the staff of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, declared:

"Protestants endure a yearly parade of U, S. Roman Catholic growth statistics marshalled to suggest the never-ending hordes of marching Chinese in Ripley's first 'Believe It Or Not" cartoon. In the van of this paper army of 43 million Roman Catholics march each year's hundred thousand or so converts and a million or more squeaky baby carriages which are never out of use long enough to be oiled.

This landscape-filling show of power is obviously intended to reduce opponents to stammering malleability."

One puzzling feature in this whole matter is the staggering decline in claimed Catholic increases since the 1960 census. For instance the alleged growth in 1961 was only 55 per cent of what it was only three years before this. This has led some to wonder if perhaps the hierarchy did not tremendously inflate her membership claims in order to help elect a Catholic president and make an all-out try for support of parochial schools. Legislators are bound to be impressed by any group, religious or otherwise, which seems to be taking the country by storm!

The "Official Catholic Directory" for 1962 reports that in 1961 there were 1,480,801 newly baptized names added to the Catholic rolls. The same book reports that in 1961 there were 358,878 names dropped from Catholic rolls by reason of death. This same official publication declares there was a total "increase" of Catholic membership in the United States during that year of 771,765 souls.

What happened to the other 349,158 souls? A bit of simple arithmetic will show that there were 1,480,801 added to their roster, and only 356,878 dropped from the rolls, the net increase should have been 1,121,923 instead of 771,765. It has long been known that there is a terrific "leakage" from the Roman Church. Are these figures to be taken as a tacit admission that while Catholicism claimed to have added 128,430 adults to her number by conversion, she was actually losing nearly three times that number by defection? We can see no other explanation of her figures. There is an old saying that, "All roads lead to Rome." If that be so, it must be pretty clear that a lot of these roads are carrying two-way traffic — with those hurrying away from Rome outnumbering nearly three to one those adults who are hastening in the direction of Rome.

This gyrating instability of Catholicism's figures will cause many brethren to take a long second look at some of "our" figures which are paraded year by year before the public, and which seem as flexible and capricious as anything Rome ever invented. Remember how we are periodically treated to some sensational story about there being "50,000 Christians found behind the Iron Curtain," or "30,000 Christians found in India"; or "20,000 congregations and 2,000,000 members in the U. S.?" All of these figures most likely come out of the same trash barrel whence the Roman prelates pull their figures — the desire to impress by numbers, to overwhelm by an apparent show of irresistible growth and progress, to create a "get on the band-wagon" psychology. We can see it among our own brethren by the huge claims of "go, GO, GOOOO!!!" by which the uninformed and unthinking would be given the impression that the Church of Christ is taking the nation, and the world, by an overpowering blitzkrieg. Why should anyone try to resist the irresistible? Why hold back when the whole world is going this way? Why not get on the band-wagon? Why not join the march?

Now that Catholicism has taken a more realistic view of the matter, and is seeking to bring her published figures down to earth, perhaps is would be good for all of us to try to get away from "the psychology of numbers" and seek a more acceptable basis for our appeal to non-Christians. How about the simple gospel of Christ, for example? Is it not far better to persuade a man to become obedient to the gospel by an appeal to the facts of that gospel than to overwhelm him by our "go, go, Go!" hysteria?

When have sincere Christians ever been overly impressed by numbers? Has it not always been their motto that "God and one make a majority?" The voice of the people is not always the voice of God; in fact, it is the verdict of history that rarely indeed is such the case. The Majority is usually wrong when it comes to spiritual and ethical matters.

And we are still wondering what happened to those 349,158 people who "disappeared" from the Catholic Church?

— F. Y. T.