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A Profile of Former Catholics in the U.S.
Daniel Cox, Ph.D., Joanna Piacenza,
09.03.2015

New analysis of the PRRI/RNS Survey, in the field August 5-11, 2015, allows us to take a closer look at American Catholics–including former Catholics. Roughly one-third (35 percent) of Americans were raised in a Catholic household and while most Catholics have remained within the religious fold, a significant number have left the Catholic faith: 15 percent of the U.S. population says they were raised Catholic but no longer identify as such.

So how are former Catholics different from current Catholics?

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Nearly half of former Catholics have left institutional religion altogether. Roughly half (49 percent) of former Catholics now identify as religiously unaffiliated, while 14 percent identify as white evangelical Protestant and nine percent identify as mainline Protestant.

Former Catholics are more likely to young, male, and liberal or independent. Most (55 percent) of former Catholics are men, while a majority (56 percent) of current Catholics are women. Former Catholics are also twice as likely as Catholics to be under the age of 30 (33 percent vs. 16 percent, respectively) and are more likely than current Catholics to identify as politically liberal (37 percent vs. 27 percent, respectively) and as political independents (50 percent vs. 36 percent, respectively).

Former Catholics are substantially less likely to say their views about the Catholic Church have changed since the arrival of Pope Francis. Fewer than half (44 percent) of former Catholics compared to 56 percent of current Catholics report that their views toward the Church have changed over the last couple of years.

PRRI_Chart_7_Needs_American_Catholics_Pope_BishopsCatholics and former Catholics have similar outlooks on noteworthy issues, including immigration reform, same-sex marriage, and climate change. The only issue with some disagreement is abortion’s legality: 51 percent of Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 58 percent of former Catholics say the same.

Former Catholics are much less likely to say in U.S. bishops understand the needs of American Catholics. Only about one-third (35 percent) of former Catholics say the bishops in the U.S. understand the needs and views of American Catholics, compared to 60 percent of current Catholics.

Read the entire report, “The Francis Effect? U.S. Catholic Attitudes on Pope Francis, the Catholic Church, and American Politics,” here.