• Source: Hippopx.

    Aside from using online technology to extend their reach, congregations’ spiritual and religious leadership also cultivated more locally based practices during the pandemic that lessened their reliance on maintaining an online presence. In contrast to the predominant narrative focusing on congregations’ innovative use of online technology, Steve Taylor and Dustin D. Benac write in the Review of Religious Research (online in December) that what sustained religious leaders and changed the field of religious practice during the pandemic were more localized practices that met people where they were. In a study of 19 faith leaders in “post-Christian” contexts in the Pacific Northwest and Aotearoa (New Zealand), the researchers found that the most popular localized practices included: giving blessings in the form of gifts and good deeds to congregants and neighbors; walking through neighborhoods as a form of contemplation and prayer; place-making that allowed leaders and congregations to re-root themselves in the neighborhood; “connecting,” which could mean starting a socially-distanced book club or happy hour; and, finally, localized care, which equipped lay people to minister and offer pastoral care to fellow members and neighbors. The authors conclude that while denominational bodies may provide resources to encourage such practices, such innovations more often emerge from local and prior relationship networks.

    (Review of Religious Research,


  • The Catholic Church in the U.S. is undergoing a distinctive kind of internal secularization, according to researchers who found American Catholic priests becoming more conservative and disenchanted with the hierarchy, especially with the pope, even as their flocks are becoming more liberal (with increasing numbers departing from the faith). Writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in December), sociologists Brad Vermurlen, Stephen Cranney, and Mark Regnerus report on survey research indicating that the conservative orientation of U.S. Catholic bishops (see our annual review for more on this) reflects the wider trend of an American clergy with values at odds with those of an increasingly liberal laity as well as the Vatican. Their study found that younger Catholic priests and priests ordained in more recent years in particular tended to be noticeably more conservative than older priests on issues of politics, theology and moral teaching. The survey found that since the 1980s, successive cohorts of clergy have grown more conservative. Clergy are also increasingly pessimistic about the church since 2002, often related to their views of Pope Francis and his governance of the church and how well bishops have dealt with sex abuse cases. The authors argue that while most cases of internal secularization have involved liberal clergy and more conservative laity contesting church authority, in the case of Catholicism in the U.S. the situation is reversed, with the seat of authority in the Catholic Church being questioned by conservative clergy.

    (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,


  • Source: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive.

    Catholic schools in the U.S. either held the line on educational scores or lost significantly less ground than their public and charter-school counterparts, the latest federal educational assessment found. America magazine (December) reports on the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated report card on academic achievement. Years of progress in math and reading were reversed during the Covid-19 pandemic, as math scores saw their largest decreases ever and reading scores dropped to 1992 levels. In addition to their pattern of stability, Catholic schools managed to score a one-point improvement on math scores, while charter and public schools lost three points. Catholic schools did show a five-point decline in math scores between 2019 and 2022, but it was better than the eight- to nine-point drop in public and charter schools. The National Catholic Educational Association found that Catholic school students’ average scores remained 15 points higher than the average scores of their eighth-grade public school peers in the assessment. Analysts say that Catholic schools were quicker to reopen and to modify in-class learning when they were permitted to reopen. In the 2020–21 school year, 92 percent of Catholic schools reopened, compared to 43 percent of public schools and 34 percent of charter schools. Catholic school advocates see an opportunity for Catholic schools to stand out for their learning edge and their flexibility and creativity to families looking for an alternative to public schools.