There are many Catholics in the city area, but they have felt that the church has not addressed their concerns over the sex abuse scandals and the church and school closings and kept a cultural distance from the newer immigrants and younger generations. However, there are many signs that the church is returning to a more effective public outreach.
According to new survey data available in The American Values Atlas, 36% of adults in the NYC metro area in 2014 identified themselves as Catholic.
[Update: On September 22, 2015 the American Values Atlas released figures for NYC proper. According to their survey of 1,468 adults, 30% of NYC residents identify Catholic, half are Hispanic, and at 38% the proportion of Catholics in the Bronx is highest. See comments on the 2014 Atlas survey below.]
Other surveys and the Catholic church figures say that between 40-45% of the people in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn and Long Island are Catholic. Perhaps, the lower figure in The American Values Atlas is partly due to its inclusion of northern New Jersey in its metropolitan survey area. The western and central areas on northern New Jersey are significantly less Catholic than on the New York side of the Hudson River. The figures for NYC proper may underestimate the number of new immigrant Catholics.
Of course, affirming an identity as Catholic doesn’t tell us who goes to mass each week or lives consistently with Catholic values. Cardinal Dolan once quipped about the number of Catholics purported to be in the Archdiocese of New York, “Where are they? I don’t see them attending mass.”
The telephone survey in English and Spanish of 3,383 adults of 18 years of age or older covers the 20.1 million people in the U.S. Census’ definition of the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area. The census determines the boundary, which range from parts of northern New Jersey to parts of Connecticut, according a formula that indicates a high degree of economic integration with New York City proper.
Saint Patrick's Cathedral Click the photos at the bottom to do 3D tour of exterior and interior.
Who are the Metro NYC Catholics?
About two-thirds (63%) of the NYC metropolitan area Christians identify as Catholic.
A majority of Catholics are Non-Hispanic Whites.
However, European Catholics are immigrating to the metro area in much smaller numbers than in previous decades. Some arrive to take construction or clerical jobs; others are professionals coming to learn their tradecraft from the top of their professions. For example, about 5000 Italians, many professionals, moved to New York City proper between 2000-2011, according to the U.S. Census.
* In most surveys about 40% of Hispanics identify as “White.”
A third of the NYC metropolitan area Catholics are Hispanics. They make up a majority of the Catholics In the Archdiocese of New York, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, and several counties north of the city. The Archdiocese strategic plan, “Making All Things New,” calls for greater outreach to Hispanic Catholics, particularly to the newest wave moving into the areas just north of the city. Mexican Catholics are rapidly increasing their presence in the NYC metropolitan area.
At the last Christmas mass in Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church in Greenwich Village, the number of worshipers hit 400-600, an all-time high for recent decades.. The ups and downs of this church says a lot about NYC Catholics.
Two years ago, only about thirty elderly Italian-Americans, mainly women, attended Italian worship services regularly. The number of Brazilians, Filipinos and Hispanics was increasing, but their worship was often on the way to and from work, which meant that for some Our Lady of Pompeii might not be their home parish for long.
When Father Walter Tonelotto arrived, he was dismayed by the low attendance by Manhattanites. He foresaw that some of the worshipers would eventually center their worship nearer to their homes in northern Manhattan, the outer boroughs and New Jersey, particularly after they married and started raising kids.
On the other hand, the priest noticed that there were quite a few Manhattanites who were Italian immigrants working temporarily in the city’s financial, art and media industries. Talking to these professionals, he found out that many of them were interested in attending mass in a church that was hospitable to young professionals.
Father Walter encouraged an interesting program of exhibits, drawing classes, music, dance and theater centered around Italian culture. Events centered around the great Italian painter Giotto drew crowds of younger Italian professionals. He threw the church into social media to let the younger set know about what was happening at Our Lady of Pompeii. Thousands responded via social media and came to the exhibit. That led to the large attendance at the Christmas mass.
Today, the Italian mass regularly attracts about 230 people, mainly younger Italians. At Easter he expects over 400. The younger set is leading the social media effort and redoing the website of the church.
The Brazilian mass has grown to 120-150. After a hiatus without a priest, the Filipinos now have a priest leading masses for 80-100 congregants. The Hispanic mass attracts around 20-25 people.
On Friday the priest will lead a very traditional and artistically beautiful Good Friday service that moves the worshipers through the stations of the cross set-up inside of the church.
This summer the church will host a painting school and a theatrical group. Father Walter says that the goal is to make the church an intrinsic part of modern culture. “They come for the arts, and then they probably will visit the church, but sometimes they won’t. At least the younger generation sees the church as part of their lives.”
Will the church be able to overcome the disaffection? The example of Our Lady of Pompeii says, Maybe.
The Catholic church has become a lot more evangelical. It has revived its long history of street evangelism. (Did you know that the Catholic church used to have a school for street evangelism that was so well-regarded that Protestants attended it?). Even a seemingly conservative church like Old Saint Patrick’s has been decked out with street evangelists around its walls at times. See our Journey feature on an effort which started at a low point in 2012:
Groups like Opus Dei, Catholic intellectuals, journalists, and actors like Stephen Colbert are reaching out to other professionals. An initiative to engaged LGBT Catholics is well underway at some churches.
And there are signs that it is working.
February saw the publication of the story of local public intellectual Richard J. Neuhaus’ path from liberal Protestantism to conservative Protestantism to Roman Catholic convert. Neuhaus, whose The Naked Public Square was a touchstone for building a coalition to bring faith back into the public conversation marked by tolerance and empathy, was drawn to the Catholic church because of its preeminent size, history and global reach for effecting a religious presence in contemporary culture and politics. (See Randy Boyagoda’s Richard John Neuhaus. A Life in the Public Square.)
In his The Catholic Moment he admired the ability of the Catholic church to be “a center of sanity in a world of madness” while Protestantism “by pathetic contrast” as being “in perpetual heat, ever sniffing about for chances to link up with modernity, to innovate, to accommodate, to make itself agreeable to whomever dictates the manners of the time.” Although Neuhaus passed away in 2009, his disciples are legion, his biography clearly lays out a legacy, which his magazine First Things is extending under the able editorship of Rusty Reno.
Neuhaus was the pastor of a Filipino congregation on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, but some feel that he was too conservative and too friendly with the elites in and out of the church. For them Pope Francis is an alternative vision of the church: humble; serving the poor and downtrodden; and winsomely open. At present he is the most esteemed religious figure in the world. His arrival in New York City next Fall may set off a new wave of goodwill toward the church, revived Catholics, and conversions.
What kind of church will Pope Francis meet when he arrives on September 24th?
In the Metro NYC area there are more Hispanic Catholics age 18-49 than there are non-Hispanic White Catholics whose largest age cohort is fifty years and older.
Age, generations in the United States and education are likely reasons that White non-Hispanic Catholics are significantly more likely to be wealthier than Catholics of other ethnicities. While the non-Hispanic White Catholics make up 21% of the New York City metro area population, they comprise 34% of the households earning an annual income between $100,000 - !99,000 and 29% of those earning over $200,000.
Age plus income also seems to equal conservative political ideology among non-Hispanic White Catholics. 27% of them identify themselves as conservatives.
However, Hispanic Catholics who have lower incomes on the average also trend conservative, though a little bit less than for the non-Hispanic White Catholics.
Upcoming: Metro NYC Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims
Also read the introduction to the series: Metro NYC Religions