What Statistics Do Not Tell
The accuracy of religious statistics is a subject of perennial ill-natured discussion in the United States. Because of this the Roman Catholic national weekly, Our Sunday Visitor, April 11, 1954, regretted the fact that the head of the United States Commerce Department overruled the president at the time of the taking of the 1950 census, as the president was willing to go along with the religious groups by having questions regarding religious affiliation on the census. However, one thing those statistics could not have told would have been the quality of the members.
For example: The Catholic magazine America, July 30, 1955, told of two Catholic seminary students taking a poll among Catholics in Washington, D.C., in an article entitled “Lights and Shadows of the Parish Census.” They interviewed a late middle-aged man who invited them into his room, and after they had ascertained that he had been christened, confirmed and married in the Catholic church he was asked:
“‘Mass regular?’ ‘No.’ ‘How long has it been?’ A pause, the man was hesitant, then: ‘Oh, about twenty-five years.’ ‘Any particular reason why you do not get to the sacraments?’ ‘No, nothing in particular,’ the man offered. . . . ‘What about getting back to the Mass?’ ‘Look, I’ll be honest with you men, I don’t want to.’ ‘Well, would you mind if one of the priests from the parish came over? No harm in that.’ ‘No, don’t send him over,’ the man objected. ‘I won’t let him in.’” Yet by statistics this man is a Roman Catholic, for according to the Roman Catholic Canon Code all christened Catholics remain Catholics unless debarred from their church by proper ecclesiastical authorities. Yes, statistics do not tell the whole story.