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Historia Ecclesiastica

Current Reality Report Findings and Insight

On restructuring the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.


I grew up Catholic in a suburb of Cincinnati. From first grade through twelfth, I was surrounded by the culture of the archdiocese, as were my parents and four siblings. Mass every weekend, schlepping back and forth in our giant minivan, the only kind of car that could fit all of us (until some of us began to leave the nest). We always made sure to look presentable, especially on Easter and Christmas. Somehow, all seven of us managed to arrive on time despite constant logistical challenges involving bathroom use and curling irons possibly left plugged in. Lenten fish fries on Friday. Dressing up in our uniforms every school day, learning math, science, and religion (our own) in classrooms with crucifixes hanging over the doors. Traveling across the city to watch and compete in basketball and volleyball games at other parishes. At night, praying the Rosary together as a family. It all formed me in ways that I didn’t even realize at the time, perhaps because it seemed, above all, so—normal.

And so it was, for Cincinnati, a city covered in Catholic traditions and Catholic buildings and populated by Catholic people since the city’s founding, and especially since the establishment of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1850. A century later about a third of the city’s population was Catholic. Catholicism’s presence in the city is powerful, and long has been. It’s present in the layout of the city itself, where church (Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral) and state (City Hall) are separated by only a single street. It shows up even in the food. Legend has it that McDonald’s tested the very first Lententide Filet-O-Fish at a location in Cincinnati. And it definitely showed up in the Cincinnati suburb in which I grew up, full of friends from both my own and other parochial schools who shared much of our spiritual and social lives together. I couldn’t imagine living any other way, because I didn’t. If the people I knew lived differently, well: I didn’t talk to them about it. (The existence of “Protestants” was introduced to me delicately; I didn’t encounter any theologically serious ones until college.)

But even as I was a Catholic fish unaware I was wet, the sea of faith was receding considerably in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. A recent document, “Current Reality Report Findings and Insight,” makes this clear. Between 2010 and 2020, the total number of registered Catholic households in the Archdiocese declined six percent. Since 2010, the percentage of Catholics in the overall population of the archdiocese declined from fourteen to less than twelve percent. Weekly Mass attendance declined by nearly a quarter between 2010 and 2019 (the following year being an outlier for obvious reasons); the average Sunday Mass fills about a third of its pews. Overall participation in the Sacraments declined by twenty percent during the same period. (Not even the schools, of which I am a proud product and which serve many non-Catholics, have been immune; enrollment declined fourteen percent between the 2010—2011 school year and 2020.) The remaining faithful are spread over two hundred parishes in the vast territory of the archdiocese, encompassing nineteen counties from Ohio’s southwest border with Kentucky well into the northwestern reaches of the Buckeye State. And they are served by some one-hundred sixty priests, many of whom are soon to retire. A twenty percent decline in available priests is expected during the next decade.

To see the numbers laid out in this quasi-technocratic, McKinsey-esque fashion is almost offensive to me. More than merely an essential part of my youth, the Church—even in Cincinnati—is supposed to be a spiritual entity, immune to such calculation. But the Body of Christ consists of Her members, and the former certainly loses something along with the dwindling of the latter.

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Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.