This is a Catholic birdcage dropping in that it addresses Catholic issues: as Fred Clark points out at his Slacktivist site today, yesterday at his Spiritual Polticis site, Mark Silk looked at the story of religious decline in the northeastern U.S. Mark notes that Rod Dreher recently asked for help in understanding why there's such precipitous decline in religious affiliation of late in that region of the country.
Here's Mark's sharp analysis: noting that the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 report and PRRI's American Religion Atlas show a decline in religious affiliation from 84 percent to 64 percent in the Northeast in the period 1990-2013, Mark observes,
The answer has everything to do with Roman Catholicism, the region’s largest religious tradition. From 1990 to 2013, the proportion of self-identified Catholics in the Northeast shrank dramatically, from 43 percent to 31 percent. By contrast, the Catholic proportion of the population in the rest of the country has declined by only four points, from 26 percent to 22 percent.
Much of the regional disparity has to do with the church’s Latinization. Latino immigration has been disproportionately into the West and the South, increasing the percentage of Catholics in each region. But this does not explain the difference between the Northeast and the Midwest, where the Catholic proportion of the population has declined by just six points (27 percent to 21 percent), despite having fewer Latino immigrants.
To be sure, shrinking Northeastern Catholicism does not account for the entire decline in Northeastern Christianity. The proportion of non-Catholic Christians in the Northeast shrank by 17 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 41 percent to 34 percent. That, however, is equivalent to the shrinkage of non-Catholics in the Midwest (16 percent) and well below the West (26 percent) and the South (29 percent). In other words, to the extent that the Northeast has de-christianized relative to the rest of the country, it has to do with Catholics — and specifically, with white Catholics.
The key event was the sexual abuse scandal that exploded in Boston in 2002. In Massachusetts, the epicenter of the crisis, the proportion of Catholics has shrunk by fully one-third, from 54 percent of the population to 36 percent. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, the shrinkage was 27 percent and 22 percent respectively. Although the scandal rippled across the country, nowhere has the disaffiliation of Catholics been greater than in southern New England, which has historically been the most Catholic part of the country.
Mark concludes that the figures suggest that disaffection of Catholics from the church in the Northeast has been much more noticeable among middle-class white Catholics than among immigrant Catholics including Hispanics. And then he notes,
So it’s been in the Northeast, led by New England (where the proportion of immigrant Catholics was smaller and the scandal hit hardest) that Catholicism, and thus Christianity, has declined more than anywhere else.
As Fred Clark pithily points out, "I’m not a statistician or a sociologist, but I’ll venture a guess that, yeah, shielding child-rapists probably hasn’t been a net positive for church growth in the region." Pith that seems to me very well-warranted.