Data Tracker

The modern rise of the Catholic Church in California (in eight charts)

By Phillip Reese - preese@sacbee.com

Children of parents who work at the Lithuanian Embassy take selfies with Pope Francis as he departs the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Pope Francis will visit the White House where President Barack Obama will host a state arrival ceremony.
Children of parents who work at the Lithuanian Embassy take selfies with Pope Francis as he departs the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Pope Francis will visit the White House where President Barack Obama will host a state arrival ceremony. AP

Pope Francis will declare Junipero Serra, the father of California's iconic missions, a saint during this week's visit to America, adding another chapter to the storied history of Catholicism in the state.

Nearly 250 years after Serra's death, more than 10 million California adults - or almost 30 percent of the state's population -- identify as Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. Only five other states - Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York --  have a greater proportion of adults who are Catholic.

1) The percentage of Californians who identify as Catholic has jumped sharply since the 1980s.

2) The large majority of Catholics in California are Hispanic. No other religious group in the state has such a large proportion of Hispanics.

3) Like the Hispanic population at large, Catholics are most concentrated in southern California.

4) Until the last decade, the growth in California's Catholic church tracked the growth in the state's Hispanic population.

5) But lately, a growing number of millennials have left the Catholic church as they enter adulthood - a problem afflicting nearly all religious groups in the state. The state has also seen a sharp decline in the number of non-Hispanic, white Californians who identify as Catholic and a shift from Catholicism to Protestantism.

 

6) As a result, the Catholic church's laity has gotten older ...

7) ... and financially poorer ...

 

8) ... but it remains the largest religious family in the state.

Sources: Graphics #1 and #3: Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies | Other graphics: Pew Research Center | All graphics show data specific to California except graphic titled "Religious Change from Childhood to Today," which is drawn from nationwide data. | Note fixed first graphic and corresponding text to show it referred to all Californians, not just adults.

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