Now, some websites have attributed this failure to "FrancisChurch" and the "erroneous" doctrine promoted by John Paul II's New Evangelization. But, there is another way to look at this data.
After all, Summorum Pontificum, the letter which made clear that priests were free to use the Roman Missal to celebrate Mass, was released in July, 2007 and became effective on the Triumph of the Cross, September 14, 2007. So, the Pew numbers are actually tailor-made to take a quick look at how well the Traditional Latin Mass has helped bring people into the Church.
This is especially true given that not every area of the country lost Catholics. Two states, Indiana and North Carolina, experienced no net change in Catholic population (highlighted in yellow in the chart below). Five states, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, New Mexico and Washington, actually had net gains in Catholic population percentages since 2007 (highlighted in green in the chart below).
So, if the TLM was changing hearts and minds, if it was bringing people to the Faith or to deeper Faith, we would expect to see states with high numbers of TLM parishes experiencing a renewal of Faith, while those states with few or no TLM parishes experiencing net losses in Catholic population percentages.
Sadly, the Pew data doesn't break down the Catholic population changes on a diocesan level, but merely on a state level. Still, that should be granular enough to show at least some effect. I used a popular TLM website to determine how many TLM parishes were in each state. The site indicated that some of the parishes listed no longer offered the TLM, but did not indicate in what year the TLM ended.
As a result, I used the most conservative measure I could to favor the TLM parishes - even if a parish discontinued the use of the TLM (and many did), I counted it as being active during the full seven-year period of this study.
Why? Well, due to the inherently attractive nature of the TLM, I assumed no TLM parish would have shut down due to lack of interest. Undoubtedly, the bishops who shut down the TLM Mass offerings in these parishes did so only because they couldn't stand the tremendous competition the TLM parishes offered to the spiritually inferior Novus Ordo Mass. Besides, the TLM is so powerful that even a little of that marvelous Tridentine grace should go a long way, right? Thus, we can safely assume that if the TLM was offered in the diocese for even a short time, that glow would continue to reverberate through the diocese for a while after (whether SSPX parishes have this effect would constitute a separate study).
So, that having been said, let's look at the numbers. The 2007, 2014 and Change columns are expressed in percentages, the # of TLM Parishes/State is the raw number of parishes offering the Latin Mass in each state.
The correlation coefficient at the end of each section is a number between 0 and 1 (or -1) that expresses the effect the TLM has on the state.
A positive number indicates the presence of the TLM correlates with more people being attracted to the Catholic Faith in the region, a negative number indicates the presence of the TLM correlates with people being driven away from the Faith in that region. The bigger the number, the bigger the effect. Negative numbers are given in red.
|# of TLM Ended||% TLM ended|
|Midwest Correlation coefficient (r): 0.16469292081087|
|TLM Close Correlation coefficient (r): 0.76024687859368|
|Northeast Correlation coefficient (r): -0.12370036292696|
|TLM Close Correlation coefficient (r): -0.23331413131435|
|Southern Correlation coefficient (r): -0.033749189489198|
|TLM Close Correlation coefficient (r): -0.23177400592773|
|Western Correlation coefficient (r): -0.014625385914181|
|TLM Close Correlation coefficient (r): 0.6335175425702|
|TOTAL US||TOTAL US||24||21||-3|
|Total Correlation coefficient (r): -0.20800323012833|
Correlation coefficient (r): 0.064769205954515
ResultsWell, that's rather disappointing, isn't it? Only the Midwest region showed the TLM having a positive impact. In every other region, the TLM actually seems to correlate to a negative impact on the Catholic Faith. For the nation as a whole, the use of the TLM is associated with the loss of Catholic Faith.
The correspondence is actually worse than the numbers indicate because New Mexico has an outlier condition which is not reflected in the chart. New Mexico is home to the Las Cruces diocese, which had absolutely no TLM recorded as being offered in the diocese at all. That's right - one-third of the state was apparently completely lacking in Latin Masses during the survey period. Yet that same state experienced an 8 percentage point increase in Catholic population, the largest increase in the nation.
Similarly, North Dakota's Bismarck diocese had nothing in it, and Mississippi's only diocese closed down the only Traditional Latin Mass it had. We don't have a 2007 for North Dakota, so we don't know how that closure affected the state's Catholics, but Mississippi experienced a 5% loss in that seven year interval. Was Mississippi's loss due to the opening or the closing of the TLM Mass?
Well, again, look at the correlation coefficients.
In the Midwest, closing a TLM parish actually increased the probability that the percentage of Catholics would increase, and by quite a large margin. 0.76 is a great correlation.
In the Northeast, opening TLM parishes dropped the Faith, but closing the TLM parish dropped it twice as much. This is the only area that shows withdrawing the TLM as having a worse effect than making it available.
In the South, the opening a TLM parish was bad, but closing it was seven times worse.
In the West, opening a TLM parish dropped the percentage of Catholics, while closing the TLM parishes actually increased the probability that Catholics would retain their Faith.
For the nation as a whole, there is very little positive or negative effect created by closing a TLM parish.
So, can we conclude that the use of the TLM is a net positive for American Catholics?
Well, further, more granular study could certainly be done. But given the numbers in this first pass through the Pew data, it's hard to see how that conclusion could be drawn.
I did a similar analysis of SSPX parishes which tends to confirm the effects found with the TLM parishes. Interestingly, from a national perspective, the existence or absence of an SSPX parish has essentially no effect on overall Catholic identity - an absence that would be expected, given that the dioceses are likely to at least report somewhat favorably on a TLM in communion with the local bishop, but would remain totally silent about TLMs not offered in communion with the bishop.
For those who wish to argue that the TLM is producing vocations, don't forget this article or this one. And why might the TLM be destroying the Faith? How dare you ask?