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Catholic numbers steady despite rising unbelief in USA

A survey in the United States has found that Protestant Churches have been losing numbers at an alarming rate due to an upsurge in those identifying themselves as having no specific religion, while the effect on the Catholic Church has been cushioned by the large number of Catholics among immigrants.

While still outnumbering Catholics roughly two to one, Protestant numbers fell from 63% in 1993 to 52% in 2002, and will drop below half in the next year or two.

The survey found those who said they were Catholic in 2002 remained fairly steady at about 25% of the population.

The information came from a survey that has been tracking societal trends for 32 years. Tom Smith, general director of the National Opinion Research Centre, said the Protestant decline is another example of how the United States is on it way to being a nation of minorities.

"Many scholars have noted that the numbers of people who say they have 'no religion' is increasing, but they haven't noted what faith group these people have been leaving. It is clear that many of these people are former Protestants," he said.

People who said they belonged to other religions, including Eastern faiths and Islam, Orthodox Christians, interdenominational Christians and native-American faiths, increased from 3% to 7% between 1993 and 2002, it said, while the number of people who said they were Jewish remained stable at slightly under 2%.

Those who said they identified with no religion totaled nearly 14% in 2002 compared to 9% in 1993.

Protestants are in decline, the survey found, because younger adherents are dropping out. Immigration will likely further dilute the Protestant numbers but will keep Catholic rates stable, Smith said.

The study defined Protestants as those belonging to all post-Reformation Christian churches such as Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian, including Mormons and New Age Spirituality adherents. The survey included 2765 people 18 and older and there was a margin of error of plus or minus two% for the 2002 statistics.

Survey Finds Protestants Losing Membership (Reuters 20/7/04)

Survey: USA's Protestant majority might soon be no more (USA Today 21/7/04)
U.S. Protestant population seen losing majority status (Washington Times 21/7/04)
Study finds number of Protestants is falling (Houston Chronicle 21/7/04)
Protestant Majority Fading in U.S. (Zenit 20/7/04)
National Opinion Research Centre
Protestant Majority Disappearing in U.S. (The Guardian/Associated Press 20/7/04)

22 Jul 2004