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Survey of U.S. Bishops Reveals How Pandemic Has Shaken Diocesan & Parish Life
Note: to view larger versions of the charts included below, click on the images directly.
Summary of Key Findings
According to a survey of U.S. bishops by our partners at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Spring and Summer 2020, many dioceses, eparchies, and parishes have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the areas of sacramental celebrations, rites, and preparation, as well as financially. 116 bishops of U.S. arch/dioceses and eparchies responded, for an overall response rate of 59%.

To address these challenges, dioceses and eparchies have enacted/issued and/or are considering a wide variety of remedies including: pastoral guidance from bishops about how to provide for sacramental needs while adhering to local and state guidelines and ordinances, helping parishes apply for governmental aid, encouraging parishioners to consider giving to their parishes electronically, helping parishes host online Masses, adapting the assessments parishes pay to their dioceses, eliminating or curbing diocesan programs, and closing some Catholic schools or parishes.
Impact on Sacramental Celebrations and Rites
Bishops were asked how significantly their dioceses and eparchies were affected in a number of areas. At least half indicated that they were “very affected” by the pandemic in the following areas:

  • Celebrations of Confirmations (81%)
  • Celebrations of First Communions (78%)
  • Sacramental Preparation (64%)
  • Celebrations of Marriage (59%)
  • Celebrations of Baptism (57%)
  • Celebrations of Funerals (54%)
Impact on Clergy and Lay Leader Morale
A lesser but still substantial proportion of dioceses reported being greatly affected in the areas of the morale of parish and diocesan/eparchial personnel and in their Catholic Charities organizations’ abilities to serve those in need. Among those who indicated a drop in morale of various chancery and parish personnel, the following stood out as "very affected":

  • Morale of lay ecclesial ministers (51%)
  • Morale of chancery staff (49%)
  • Morale of the bishop himself (40%)

While not as drastically impacted, the following still registered as "somewhat affected":
  • Morale of deacons (48%)
  • Morale of priests (47%)
Responses to Sacramental Difficulties
Concerning the sacramental issues facing parishes, bishops were most likely to mention issuing guidelines for pastors and parishes and having granted dispensations to parishioners from their obligation to attend weekly Mass. Most bishops also report having instructed their parishes to follow the ordinances of and guidance from federal, state and local officials in terms of gatherings.
Responses to Financial Challenges
Concerning the financial health of both the diocese/eparchy and its parishes, bishops indicated that they are most worried about parishes not having their regular offertory collections, the financial health of parishioner households, paying parish and chancery staff members in the short- and long-run, and whether to cut back or eliminate existing parish and diocesan programs.

Two major ways that dioceses and eparchies have been helping their parishes counter these financial difficulties are by helping parishes apply to federal and state programs (such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program) and encouraging parishioners to consider electronic giving for their parishes’ offertory collections. In addition, in a separate open-ended question, a majority of dioceses wrote in that they have either adjusted the percentages that parishes pay to their dioceses in annual assessment fees or are in the process of figuring out what kinds of adjustments should be made.

What dioceses and eparchies have been relatively less likely to consider is also of consequence: closing some Catholic elementary schools, high schools, or parishes (45%, 26%, and 26%, respectively, have either done so or are considering doing so).
Virtual Adaptations
Bishops were asked how much they have helped parishes with the technological difficulties they have encountered during the pandemic. More than eight in ten have “somewhat” (22%) or “very much” (62%) helped their parishes provide online Masses for their parishioners.
Forthcoming Data
A survey of parishes is also currently in the process of being conducted. CARA is also surveying Catholic young adults nationally about how they have been practicing their faith during the pandemic and how they see themselves practicing in the future once the pandemic is over. FACT will share these results as they become available.
Please direct questions to:
Jonathan L. Wiggins, PhD, Research Associate, CARA at Georgetown University
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