Catholic Church in the United States
TypeNational polity
OrientationMainly Latin, with minority Eastern
TheologyCatholic theology
GovernanceUnited States Conference of Catholic Bishops
USCCB PresidentTimothy Broglio
Prerogative of PlaceWilliam E. Lori
Apostolic NuncioChristophe Pierre
RegionUnited States and other territories of the United States, excluding Puerto Rico.
LanguageEnglish, Spanish, French, Latin
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Congregations16,429 (2022)[1]
Members72,000,000+ (2020)[2]

With 23 percent of the United States' population as of 2018, the Catholic Church is the country's second-largest religious grouping after Protestantism, and the country's largest single church or Christian denomination where Protestantism is divided into separate denominations.[3] In a 2020 Gallup poll, 25% of Americans said they were Catholic.[4] The United States has the fourth-largest Catholic population in the world, after Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.[5]

Catholicism has had a significant cultural, social, and political impact on the United States, with the religion being long associated with the Democratic Party and left-wing political movements.[6] Anti-Catholicism was the policy for the English who first settled the New England colonies, and it persisted in the face of warfare with the French in New France. The American Revolution and classical liberalism restored religious freedom for Catholics. The 1840s saw Catholics began to identify with the Democrats against the conservative and evangelical-influenced Whigs.[7] This continued into the 20th century, where Catholics formed a core part of the New Deal Coalition. Since the 1970s, these ties have weakened, with Catholics often being regarded as swing voters. Two Catholics have been President of the United States: Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) and Joe Biden (2021–present). While contradicting certain teachings of the church, surveys have repeatedly indicated that laity are more culturally liberal than the median voter,[8] including on abortion rights[9] and same-sex marriage.[9]

Catholics are also the most likely of Christians in the United States to support the morality of casual sex.[10] Institutional leadership tends to lean more traditionalist.[9][11]


Main article: History of the Catholic Church in the United States

Catholicism has had a significant cultural, social, and political impact on the United States.[6]

Early colonial period

Main articles: Catholic Church in the Thirteen Colonies and Spanish missions in California

St. Francis Xavier Church in Compton, Maryland, the oldest Catholic church in continuous operation from the Thirteen Colonies[12]
Apotheosis of St. Louis in St. Louis[13]

One of the colonies of British America, the Province of Maryland, "a Catholic Proprietary,"[14] was founded with an explicitly English Catholic identity in the 17th century, contrasting itself with the neighbouring Protestant-dominated Massachusetts Bay Colony and Colony of Virginia.[12] It was named after the Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I of England. Politically, it was under the influence of Catholic colonial families of Maryland such as the Calvert Baron Baltimore and the Carroll family, the latter of Irish origin.[15] Much of the religious situation in the Thirteen Colonies reflected the sectarian divisions of the English Civil War and in a larger sense the aftermath of the English Reformation.[16] Radical Puritans, who were viewed as outsiders in England for their opposition to the establishment Laudian-leaning Anglican Church, saw settlement in the American Colonies, particularly with the Plymouth Colony, as a way to escape religious restrictions against them in "the motherland" and were often theologically even more hostile to Catholics than the situation in England itself.[16]

The Province of Pennsylvania, which was given to the Quaker William Penn by the last Catholic King of England, James II, advocated religious toleration as a principle and thus some Catholics lived there.[13][17] There were also some Catholics in the Province of New York (named after the aforementioned James II). In 1785, the estimated number of Catholics was at 25,000; 15,800 in Maryland, 7,000 in Pennsylvania and 1,500 in New York.[18] There were only 25 priests serving the faithful. This was less than 2% of the total population in the Thirteen Colonies.[18]

Once the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted and issued the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States came to incorporate into itself territories with a pre-existing Catholic history under their previous governance by New France and New Spain; the two premier European Catholic powers active in North America.[13] The territorial evolution of the United States since 1776 has meant that today more areas that are now part of the United States were Catholic in colonial times before they were Protestant. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase saw vast territories in French Louisiana transferred over from the First French Republic, areas that would become the following states; Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Louisiana, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, half of Colorado and North Dakota, parts of New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota.[19] The French named a number of their settlements after Catholic saints, such as St. Louis, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, St. Charles and others.[20] The Catholic, culturally French population of Americans, descended from this colony are today known as the Louisiana Creole and Cajun people.[21][22]

During the 19th century, territories previously belonging to the Catholic Spanish Empire became part of the United States, starting with Florida in the 1820s.[23] Most of the Spanish American territories with a Catholic heritage became independent during the early 19th century, this included Mexico on the border of the United States. The United States subsequently annexed parts of Mexico, starting with Texas in the 1840s and after the end of the Mexican–American War an area known as the Mexican Cession, including what would become the states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, the rest of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.[24] To an even greater extent than the French, the Spanish had named many settlements in the colonial period after Catholic saints or in reference to Catholic religious symbolism, names that they would retain after becoming part of the United States, especially in California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Santa Clarita, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Obispo and numerous others), as well as Texas (San Antonio, San Juan, San Marcos and San Angelo), New Mexico (Santa Fe) and Florida (St. Augustine).[20][25] As late as 1898, following the Spanish–American War, the United States took control of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as Cuba for a time, all of which had several centuries of Spanish Catholic colonial history (though they were not made into states).[26]

Towards the founding of the United States

Main article: History of the Catholic Church in the United States

John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore, the first Catholic bishop in the United States. His cousin, Charles Carroll, was a Founding Father and one of 56 founders to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Anti-Catholicism was the policy for the English who first settled the New England colonies, and it persisted in the face of warfare with the French in New France (now part of Canada).[27] Maryland was founded by a Catholic, Lord Baltimore, as the first 'non-denominational' colony and was the first to accommodate Catholics. A charter was issued to him in 1632.[28] In 1650, the Puritans in the colony rebelled and repealed the Act of Toleration. Catholicism was outlawed and Catholic priests were hunted and exiled. By 1658, the Act of Toleration was reinstated and Maryland became the center of Catholicism into the mid-19th century. In 1689 Puritans rebelled and again repealed the Maryland Toleration Act. These rebels cooperated with the colonial assembly "dominated by Anglicans to endow the Church of England with tax support and to bar Catholics (and Quakers) from holding public office."[29] New York, interestingly enough, proved more tolerant with its Catholic governor, Thomas Dongan, and other Catholic officials.[30] Freedom of religion returned with the American Revolution. In 1756, a Maryland Catholic official estimated seven thousand practicing Catholics in Maryland and three thousand in Pennsylvania.[31] The Williamsburg Foundation estimates in 1765 Maryland Catholics at 20,000 and 6,000 in Pennsylvania. The population of these colonies at the time was approximately 180,000 and 200,000, respectively. By the time the American War for Independence started in 1776, Catholics formed 1.6%, or 40,000 persons of the 2.5 million population of the 13 colonies.[32][33] Another estimate is 35,000 in 1789, 60% in Maryland with not many more than 30 priests.[34] John Carroll, first Catholic Bishop, in 1785, two years after the Treaty of Paris (1783), reported 24,000 registered communicants in the new country, of whom 90% were in Maryland and Pennsylvania.[35]

After the Revolution, Rome made entirely new arrangements for the creation of an American diocese under American bishops.[36][37] Numerous Catholics served in the American army and the new nation had very close ties with Catholic France.[38] General George Washington insisted on toleration; for example, he issued strict orders in 1775 that "Pope's Day," the colonial equivalent of Guy Fawkes Night, was not to be celebrated. European Catholics played major military roles, especially Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing, Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kościuszko.[39] Irish-born Commodore John Barry from Co Wexford, Ireland, often credited as "the Father of the American Navy," also played an important military role.[40] In a letter to Bishop Carroll, Washington acknowledged this unique contribution of French Catholics as well as the patriotic contribution of Carroll himself: "And I promise that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishments of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; nor the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic religion is professed."[41]

Beginning in approximately 1780 there was a struggle between lay trustees and bishops over the ownership of church property, with the trustees losing control following the 1852 Plenary Councils of Baltimore.[42]

Of the colonial era, historian Jay Dolan says:

They had lived as second-class citizens, discriminated against politically, professionally, and socially. The revolution changed all this. New laws and new constitutions gave them religious freedom.... [leading] John Carroll to observe in 1779 that Roman Catholics are members of Congress, assemblies, and hold civil and military posts.[43]
18th century New Spanish Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

President Washington promoted religious tolerance by proclamations and by publicly attending services in various Protestant and Catholic churches.[44] The old colonial laws imposing restrictions on Catholics were gradually abolished by the states, and were prohibited in the new federal constitution.[45]

In 1787, two Catholics, Daniel Carroll of the Irish O'Carrolls and Irish born Thomas Fitzsimons, helped draft the new United States Constitution.[46] John Carroll was appointed by the Vatican as Prefect Apostolic, making him superior of the missionary church in the thirteen states. He formulated the first plans for Georgetown University and became the first American bishop in 1789.[47]

19th century (1800–1900)

Main article: 19th century history of the Catholic Church in the United States

The nave of the St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, completed in 1878

The number of Catholics surged starting in the 1840s as German, Irish, and other European Catholics came in large numbers. After 1890, Italians and Poles formed the largest numbers of new Catholics, but many countries in Europe contributed, as did Quebec. By 1850, Catholics had become the country's largest single denomination. Between 1860 and 1890, their population tripled to seven million.

Catholic revival

The Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago

Historian John McGreevy identifies a major Catholic revival that swept across Europe, North America, and South America in the early 19th century. It was nurtured in the world of Catholic urban neighborhoods, parishes, schools, and associations, whose members understood themselves as arrayed against, and morally superior to the wider American society. The Catholic Revival is called "Ultramontanism." It included a new emphasis on Thomistic theology for intellectuals. For parishioners it meant a much deeper piety that emphasized miracles, saints, and new devotions such as, compulsory Sunday attendance, regular confession and communion, praying the rosary, a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and meatless Fridays. There was a deeper respect for bishops, and especially the Pope, with more direct control by the Vatican over selecting bishops and less autonomy for local parishes. There was a sharp increase in Mass attendance, religious vocations soared, especially among women. Catholics set up a parochial school system using the newly available nuns, and funding from the more religious parents. Intermarriage with Protestants was strongly discouraged. It was tolerated only if the children were brought up Catholics. The parochial schools effectively promoted marriage inside the faith. By the late 19th century dioceses were building foreign language elementary schools in parishes that catered to Germans and other non-English speaking groups. They raised large sums to build English-only diocesan high schools, which had the effect of increasing ethnic intermarriage and diluting ethnic nationalism.[48] Leadership was increasingly in the hands of the Irish. The Irish bishops worked closely with the Vatican and promoted Vatican supremacy that culminated in Papal infallibility proclaimed in 1870.[49]

The bishops began standardizing discipline in the American Church with the convocation of the Plenary Councils of Baltimore in 1852, 1866 and 1884. These councils resulted in the promulgation of the Baltimore Catechism and the establishment of The Catholic University of America.

Jesuit priests who had been expelled from Europe found a new base in the U.S. They founded numerous secondary schools and 28 colleges and universities, such as Georgetown University (1789), St. Louis University (1818), Boston College, the College of Holy Cross, the University of Santa Clara, and several Loyola Colleges.[50] Many other religious communities like the Dominicans, Congregation of Holy Cross, and Franciscans followed suit.

In the 1890s, the Americanism controversy roiled senior officials. The Vatican suspected there was too much liberalism in the American Church, and the result was a turn to conservative theology as the Irish bishops increasingly demonstrated their total loyalty to the Pope, and traces of liberal thought in the Catholic colleges were suppressed.[51][52] As part of this controversy, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Isaac Hecker, was accused by the French cleric Charles Maignen [fr] (in French) of subjectivism and crypto-Protestantism.[53] Additionally some who sympathized with Hecker in France were accused of Americanism.

Nuns and sisters

Main article: Catholic sisters and nuns in the United States

James Gibbons (1834–1921), cardinal archbishop of Baltimore, a widely respected American Catholics leader

Nuns and sisters played a major role in American religion, education, nursing and social work since the early 19th century. In Catholic Europe, convents were heavily endowed over the centuries, and were sponsored by the aristocracy. But there were very few rich American Catholics, and no aristocrats. Religious orders were founded by entrepreneurial women who saw a need and an opportunity, and were staffed by devout women from poor families. The numbers grew rapidly, from 900 sisters in 15 communities in 1840, 50,000 in 170 congregations in 1900, and 135,000 in 300 different congregations by 1930. Starting in 1820, the sisters always outnumbered the priests and brothers.[54] Their numbers peaked in 1965 at 180,000 then plunged to 56,000 in 2010. Many women left their orders, and few new members were added.[55]

On April 8, 2008, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Benedict XVI, met with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious leaders in Rome and communicated that the CDF would conduct a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR, expressing concern that the nuns were expressing radical feminist views. According to Laurie Goodstein, the investigation, which was viewed by many U.S. Catholics as a "vexing and unjust inquisition of the sisters who ran the church's schools, hospitals and charities", was ultimately closed in 2015 by Pope Francis.[56]


Some anti-Catholic political movements appeared: the Know Nothings in the 1840s. American Protective Association in the 1890s, and the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, were active in the United States. But even as early as 1884, in the face of outbreaks of anti-Catholicism, Catholic leaders like James Cardinal Gibbons were filled with admiration for their country: "The oftener I go to Europe," Gibbons said, "the longer I remain there, and the more I study the political condition of its people, I return home filled with greater admiration for our own country and [am] more profoundly grateful that I am an American citizen."[57] Animosity by Protestants waned as Catholics demonstrated their patriotism in World War I, their commitment to charity, and their dedication to democratic values.[58]

20th–21st centuries

Main article: 20th-century history of the Catholic Church in the United States

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen became a media personality with his own television show Life Is Worth Living, which aired during the 1950, as the church attempted to convey its message to a wider audience with the emergence of mass media

In the era of intense emigration from the 1840s to 1914, bishops often set up separate parishes for major ethnic groups, from Ireland, Germany, Poland, French Canada and Italy. In Iowa, the development of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, the work of Bishop Loras and the building of St. Raphael's Cathedral, to meet the needs of Germans and Irish, is illustrative. Noteworthy, too, was the contribution of 400 Italian Jesuit expatriates who, between 1848 and 1919, planted dozens of institutions to serve the diverse population out West. By century's end, they had founded colleges (later to become universities) in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Denver, Seattle and Spokane to meet the cultural and religious needs of people of that region. They also ministered to miners in Colorado, to Native Peoples in several states, and to Hispanics in New Mexico, "building churches [in the latter state], publishing books and newspapers, and running schools in both the public and private sectors."[59]

By the beginning of the 20th century, approximately one-sixth of the population of the United States was Catholic. Modern Catholic immigrants come to the United States from the Philippines, Poland and Latin America, especially Mexico and Central America. This multiculturalism and diversity has influenced the conduct of Catholicism in the United States. For example, most dioceses offer Mass in a number of languages, and an increasing number of parishes offer Masses in the official language of the church, Latin, due to its universal nature.

Sociologist Andrew Greeley, an ordained Catholic priest at the University of Chicago, undertook a series of national surveys of Catholics in the late 20th century. He published hundreds of books and articles, both technical and popular. His biographer summarizes his interpretation:

He argued for the continued salience of ethnicity in American life and the distinctiveness of the Catholic religious imagination. Catholics differed from other Americans, he explained in a variety of publications, by their tendency to think in "sacramental" terms, imagining God as present in a world that was revelatory rather than bleak. The poetic elements in the Catholic tradition—its stories, imagery, and rituals—kept most Catholics in the fold, according to Greeley, whatever their disagreements with particular aspects of church discipline or doctrine. Despite the unchanging nature of church doctrine, Greeley insisted that Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical upholding the Catholic ban on contraception is solely responsible for the sharp decline in weekly Mass attendance between 1968 and 1975.[60]

In 1965, 71% of Catholics attended Mass regularly.[61]

In the later 20th century "[...] the Catholic Church in the United States became the subject of controversy due to allegations of clerical child abuse of children and adolescents, of episcopal negligence in arresting these crimes, and of numerous civil suits that cost Catholic dioceses hundreds of millions of dollars in damages."[62] Because of this, higher scrutiny and governance as well as protective policies and diocesan investigation into seminaries have been enacted to correct these former abuses of power, and safeguard parishioners and the church from further abuses and scandals.

One initiative is the "National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management" (NLRCM), a lay-led group born in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal and dedicated to bringing better administrative practices to 194 dioceses that include 19,000 parishes nationwide with some 35,000 lay ecclesial ministers who log 20 hours or more a week in these parishes.[63][when?]According to a 2015 study by Pew Researchers, 39% of Catholics attend church at least once a week and 40%, once or twice a month.[64]

Although the issue of trusteeism was mostly settled in the 19th century, there have been some related issues. In 2005, an interdict was issued to board members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church (St. Louis, Missouri) in an attempt to get them to turn over the church property to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 2006, a priest was accused of stealing $1.4 million from his parish, prompting a debate over Connecticut Raised Bill 1098 as a means of forcing the Catholic church to manage money differently. Related to issues of asset ownership, some parishes have been liquidated and the assets taken by the diocese instead of being distributed to nearby parishes, which in violation of church financial rules.

In 2009, John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist and co-author of God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World, said that American Catholicism, which he describes in his book as "arguably the most striking Evangelical success story of the second half of the nineteenth century," has competed quite happily "without losing any of its basic characteristics." It has thrived in America's "pluralism."[65]

In 2011, an estimated 26 million American Catholics were "fallen-away", that is, not practicing their faith. Some religious commentators commonly refer to them as "the second largest religious denomination in the United States."[66] Recent Pew Research survey results in 2014 show about 31.7% of American adults were raised Catholic, while 41% from among that group no longer identify as Catholic.[67]

In a 2015 survey by researchers at Georgetown University, Americans who self identify as Catholic, including those who do not attend Mass regularly, numbered 81.6 million or 25% of the population, and 68.1 million or 20% of the American population are Catholics tied to a specific parish. About 25% of US Catholics say they attend Masses once a week or more, and about 38% went at least once a month. The study found that the number of US Catholics has increased by 3 to 6% each decade since 1965, and that the Catholic Church is "the most diverse in terms of race and ethnicity in the US," with Hispanics accounting for 38% of Catholics and blacks and Asians 3% each.[68] The Catholic Church in the US "represents perhaps the most multi-ethnic organization of any kind, and so is a major laboratory for cross-cultural cooperation and cross-cultural communication completely within the nation's borders."[69] It is as if it wishes to forge a broader ecclesial identity to give newcomers a more inclusive welcome, similar to the aspirations of 19th century church leaders like Archbishops John Ireland and James Gibbons who "wanted Catholic immigrants to become fully American, rather than 'strangers in a strange land.' "[70] Only 2 percent of American Catholics go to confession on a regular basis, while three-quarters of them go to confession once a year or less often; a valid confession is required by the Church after committing mortal sin to return to the State of Grace, necessary to receive Holy Communion.[71] As one of the precepts of the church, it is also required that every Catholic makes a valid confession at least once a year.[72]

According to Matthew Bunsen's analysis of a Real Clear poll of American Catholics in late 2019:

Catholicism has been battered by the winds of secularism, materialism, and relativism. Failures in catechesis and formation have created wide gaps in practice and belief that stretch now into every aspect of Catholic life.[73]

Since 1970, weekly church attendance among Catholics has dropped from 55% to 20%, the number of priests declined from 59,000 to 35,000 and the number of people who have left Catholicism has increased from under 2 million in 1975 to over 30 million today.[74] In 2022, there were fewer than 42,000 nuns left in the United States, a 76% decline over 50 years, with fewer than 1% of nuns under age 40.[75]

The RealClear poll data indicates that the Latino element has now reached 37 percent of the Catholic population, and growing. It is 60 percent Democratic, while the non-Latinos are split about 50-50 politically. Although many Americans still identify as Catholics, their religious participation rates are declining. Today only 39% of all Catholics go to Mass at least weekly. Nearly two-thirds of Catholics say that their trust in the church leadership has been undermined by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Nevertheless, 86% of all Catholics still consider religion important in their own lives.[76]


Provinces and dioceses of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Each color represents one of the 32 Latin Church provinces.
Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, the mother church of one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the United States
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the head church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and second-largest Catholic church in the United States[77]

See also: List of Catholic dioceses in the United States

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina, the fifth- largest cathedral in the United States[78]

Catholics gather as local communities called parishes, headed by a priest, and typically meet at a permanent church building for liturgies every Sunday, weekdays and on holy days. Within the 196 geographical dioceses and archdioceses (excluding the Archdiocese for the Military Services), there were 17,007 local Catholic parishes in the United States in 2018.[79] The Catholic Church has the third highest total number of local congregations in the US behind Southern Baptists and United Methodists. However, the average Catholic parish is significantly larger than the average Baptist or Methodist congregation; there are more than four times as many Catholics as Southern Baptists and more than eight times as many Catholics as United Methodists.[80]

In the United States, there are 197 ecclesiastical jurisdictions:

Eastern Catholic Churches are churches with origins in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa that have their own distinctive liturgical, legal and organizational systems and are identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. Each is considered fully equal to the Latin tradition within the Catholic Church. In the United States, there are 15 Eastern Church dioceses (called eparchies) and two Eastern Church archdioceses (or archeparchies), the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

The apostolic exarchate for the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in the United States is headed by a bishop who is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. An apostolic exarchate is the Eastern Catholic Church equivalent of an apostolic vicariate. It is not a full-fledged diocese/eparchy, but is established by the Holy See for the pastoral care of Eastern Catholics in an area outside the territory of the Eastern Catholic Church to which they belong. It is headed by a bishop or a priest with the title of exarch.

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter was established January 1, 2012, to serve former Anglican groups and clergy in the United States who sought to become Catholic. Similar to a diocese though national in scope, the ordinariate is based in Houston, Texas, and includes parishes and communities across the United States that are fully Catholic, while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions.

As of 2024, 8 dioceses out of 196 are vacant (sede vacante).

The central leadership body of the Catholic Church in the United States is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made up of the hierarchy of bishops (including archbishops) of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands, although each bishop is independent in his own diocese, answerable only to the Holy See. The USCCB elects a president to serve as their administrative head, but he is in no way the "head" of the church or of Catholics in the United States. In addition to the 195 dioceses and one exarchate[81] represented in the USCCB, there are several dioceses in the nation's other four overseas dependencies. In the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the bishops in the six dioceses (one metropolitan archdiocese and five suffragan dioceses) form their own episcopal conference, the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference (Conferencia Episcopal Puertorriqueña).[82] The bishops in US insular areas in the Pacific Ocean—the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Territory of American Samoa, and the Territory of Guam—are members of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific.

No primate exists for Catholics in the United States. In the 1850s, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was acknowledged a Prerogative of Place, which confers to its archbishop some of the leadership responsibilities granted to primates in other countries. The Archdiocese of Baltimore was the first diocese established in the United States, in 1789, with John Carroll (1735–1815) as its first bishop. It was, for many years, the most influential diocese in the fledgling nation. Now, however, the United States has several large archdioceses and a number of cardinal-archbishops.

By far, most Catholics in the United States belong to the Latin Church of the Catholic Church. Rite generally refers to the form of worship ("liturgical rite") in a church community owing to cultural and historical differences as well as differences in practice. However, the Vatican II document, Orientalium Ecclesiarum ("Of the Eastern Churches"), acknowledges that these Eastern Catholic communities are "true Churches" and not just rites within the Catholic Church.[83] There are 14 other churches in the United States (23 within the global Catholic Church) which are in communion with Rome, fully recognized and valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. They have their own bishops and eparchies. The largest of these communities in the U.S. is the Chaldean Catholic Church.[84] Most of these churches are of Eastern European and Middle Eastern origin. Eastern Catholic Churches are distinguished from Eastern Orthodox, identifiable by their usage of the term Catholic.[85]

In recent years, particularly following the issuing of the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, the United States has emerged as a stronghold for the small but growing Traditionalist Catholic movement, along with France, England and a few other Anglophone countries.[86][87] There are over 600 locations throughout the country where the Traditional Latin Mass is offered.[88][may be outdated]


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The church employs people in a variety of leadership and service roles. Its ministers include ordained clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) and non-ordained lay ecclesial ministers, theologians, and catechists.

Some Catholics, both lay and clergy, live in a form of consecrated life, rather than in marriage. This includes a wide range of relationships, from monastic (monks and nuns), to mendicant (friars and sisters), apostolic (priests, brothers, and sisters), and secular and lay institutes. While many of these also serve in some form of ministry, above, others are in secular careers, within or without the church. Consecrated life – in and of itself – does not make a person a part of the clergy or a minister of the church.

Additionally, many lay people are employed in "secular" careers in support of church institutions, including educators, health care professionals, finance and human resources experts, lawyers, and others.


Leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States is provided by the bishops, individually for their own dioceses and collectively through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. There are some mid-level groupings of bishops, such as ecclesiastical provinces (often covering a state) and the fourteen geographic regions of the USCCB, but these have little significance for most purposes.

The ordinary office for a bishop is to be the bishop of a particular diocese, its chief pastor and minister, usually geographically defined and incorporating, on average, about 350,000 Catholic Christians. In canon law, the bishop leading a particular diocese, or similar office, is called an "ordinary" (i.e., he has complete jurisdiction in this territory or grouping of Christians).

There are two non-geographic dioceses, called "ordinariates", one for military personnel and one for former Anglicans who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Dioceses are grouped together geographically into provinces, usually within a state, part of a state, or multiple states together (see map below). A province comprises several dioceses which look to one ordinary bishop (usually of the most populous or historically influential diocese/city) for guidance and leadership. This lead bishop is their archbishop and his diocese is the archdiocese. The archbishop is called the "metropolitan" bishop who strives to achieve some unanimity of practice with his brother "suffragan" bishops.

Some larger dioceses have additional bishops assisting the diocesan bishop, and these are called "auxiliary" bishops or, if a "coadjutor" bishop, with right of succession.

Additionally, some bishops are called to advise and assist the bishop of Rome, the pope, in a particular way, either as an additional responsibility on top of their diocesan office or sometimes as a full-time position in the Roman Curia or related institution serving the universal church. These are called cardinals, because they are "incardinated" onto a second diocese (Rome). All cardinals under the age of 80 participate in the election of a new pope when the office of the papacy becomes vacant.

There are 428 active and retired Catholic bishops in the United States:

Cardinals and bishops processing through St. Peter's Basilica in November 2014[89]

255 active bishops:

173 retired bishops:


There are 17 U.S. cardinals.[90]

Six archdioceses are currently led by archbishops who have been created cardinals:

One cardinal serves as bishop of a diocese:

Three cardinals are in service to the pope, in the Roman Curia or related offices:

Seven cardinals are retired:

Clergy and ministers

In 2018,[79] there were approximately 100,000 clergy and ministers employed by the church in the United States, including:

There are also approximately 30,000 seminarians/students in formation for ministry:

Lay employees

The 630 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. have a combined budget of $101.7 billion, and employ 641,030 full-time equivalent staff.[92]

The 6,525 Catholic primary and secondary schools in the U.S. employ 151,101 full-time equivalent staff, 97.2% of whom are lay and 2.3% are consecrated, and 0.5% are ordained.[93]

The 261 Catholic institutions of higher (tertiary) education in the U.S. employ approximately 250,000 full-time equivalent staff, including faculty, administrators, and support staff.[94]

Overall, the Catholic Church employs more than one million employees with an operating budget of nearly $100 billion to run parishes, diocesan primary and secondary schools, nursing homes, retreat centers, hospitals, and other charitable institutions.[95]


Parochial schools

Main articles: Catholic schools in the United States and History of Catholic education in the United States

By the middle of the 19th century, the Catholics in larger cities started building their own parochial school system. The main impetus was fear that exposure to Protestant teachers in the public schools, and Protestant fellow students, would lead to a loss of faith. Protestants reacted by strong opposition to any public funding of parochial schools.[96] The Catholics nevertheless built their elementary schools, parish by parish, using very low-paid sisters as teachers.[97]

In the classrooms, the highest priorities were piety, orthodoxy, and strict discipline. Knowledge of the subject matter was a minor concern, and in the late 19th century few of the teachers in parochial (or secular) schools had gone beyond the 8th grade themselves. The sisters came from numerous denominations, and there was no effort to provide joint teachers training programs. The bishops were indifferent. Finally around 1911, led by the Catholic University of America in Washington, Catholic colleges began summer institutes to train the sisters in pedagogical techniques. Long past World War II, the Catholic schools were noted for inferior plants compared to the public schools, and less well-trained teachers. The teachers were selected for religiosity, not teaching skills; the outcome was pious children and a reduced risk of marriage to Protestants.[98] However, by the later half the 20th century Catholic schools began to perform significantly better than their public counterparts.[99]

Universities and colleges

Main article: List of Catholic universities and colleges in the United States

According to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in 2011, there are approximately 230 Catholic universities and colleges in the United States with nearly 1 million students and some 65,000 professors.[100] In 2016, the number of tertiary schools fell to 227, while the number of students also fell to 798,006.[101] The national university of the church, founded by the nation's bishops in 1887, is The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The first Catholic college/university of higher learning established in the United States is Georgetown University, founded in 1789.[102] The richest U.S. Catholic university is the University of Notre Dame (founded in 1842) with an endowment of over 20 billion in 2022.[103] In the 2021 edition of U.S. News & World Report rankings, 10 of the top 100 national universities in the US were Catholic.[104]


Main article: List of Catholic seminaries § United States

According to the 2016 Official Catholic Directory, as of 2016 there were 243 seminaries with 4,785 students in the United States; 3,629 diocesan seminarians and 1,456 religious seminarians. By the official 2017 statistics, there are 5,050 seminarians (3,694 diocesan and 1,356 religious) in the United States. In addition, the American Catholic bishops oversee the Pontifical North American College for American seminarians and priests studying at one of the Pontifical Universities in Rome.

Healthcare system

Further information: Catholic Health Association of the United States

In 2002, Catholic health care system, overseeing 625 hospitals with a combined revenue of 30 billion dollars, was the nation's largest group of nonprofit systems.[105] In 2008, the cost of running these hospitals had risen to $84.6 billion, including the $5.7 billion they donate.[106] According to the Catholic Health Association of the United States, 60 health care systems, on average, admit one in six patients nationwide each year.[107] According to Merger Watch (2018), Catholic facilities make up about 10% of all "sole community providers" in the US (49 out of 514). In some states, the percentage is much greater: in Wisconsin and South Dakota, for example, "Catholic hospitals account for at least 50% of sole community providers."[108]

Catholic Charities

Further information: Catholic Charities USA

Catholic Charities is active as the largest voluntary social service networks in the United States. In 2009, it welcomed in New Jersey the 50,000th refugee to come to the United States from Burma. Likewise, the US Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services has resettled 14,846 refugees from Burma since 2006.[109] In 2010 Catholic Charities USA was one of only four charities among the top 400 charitable organizations to witness an increase in donations in 2009, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.[110]


A map showing plurality religious denominations by state as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Catholics made up a plurality of the population in four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
  70 – 79%
  60 – 69%
  50 – 59%
  40 – 49%
  30 – 39%
  40 – 49%
  30 – 39%
  50 – 59%
  30 – 39%

The number of Catholics grew rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries through high fertility and immigration, especially from Ireland and Germany,[111] and after 1880, Eastern Europe, Italy, and Quebec. Large scale Catholic immigration from Mexico began after 1910, and in 2019 Latinos comprised 37 percent of American Catholics.

Since 1960, the percentage of Americans who are Catholic has fallen from about 25% to 22%.[112] In a 2021 Pew Research study, "21% of US adults described themselves as Catholic, identical to the Catholic share of the population in 2014."[113] In absolute numbers, Catholics have increased from 45 million to 72 million. As of April 9, 2018, 39% of American Catholics attend church weekly, compared to 45% of American Protestants.[114]

About 10% of the United States' population as of 2010 are former Catholics or non-practicing, almost 30 million people.[115] People have left for a number of reasons, factors which have also affected other denominations: loss of belief, disenchantment, indifference, or disaffiliation for another religious group or for none. Though Catholic adherents are present throughout the country, Catholics are generally more concentrated in the Northeast and urban Midwest. Currently, however, they are also clustered in the southwest. This is because of the continuing growth of the American Hispanic community as a share of the U.S. population is gradually shifting the geographic center of U.S. Catholicism from the Northeast and urban Midwest to the South and the West.[116] Regional distribution of U.S. Catholics (as a percentage of the total U.S. Catholic population) is as follows: Northeast, 24%; Midwest, 19%; South, 32% (a percentage that has increased in recent years due to a growing number of Catholics mainly in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, with the rest of the Southern states remaining overwhelmingly Protestant); and West, 25%.[117] While the wealthiest and most educated Americans tend to belong to some Protestant American groupings as well as to Jewish and Hindu constituencies as a whole, more Catholics (13.3 million ),[118] owing to their sheer numbers, reside in households with a yearly income of $100,000-or-more than any other individual religious group,[119] and more Catholics hold college degrees (over 19 million) than do members of any other faith community in the United States when divided according to their respective denominations or religious designations.[118]

There were 70,412,000 registered Catholics in the United States (22% of the US population) in 2017, according to the American bishops' count in their Official Catholic Directory 2016.[101] This count primarily rests on the parish assessment tax which priests evaluate yearly according to the number of registered members and contributors. In July 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute issued its own report based on a new census of 500,000 people. It also noted that 22% of 330 million Americans identified as Catholic: 12%, white; 8%, Latino; and 2%, other (Black, Asian, etc.).[120] Estimates of the overall American Catholic population from recent years generally range around 20% to 28%. According to Albert J. Menedez, research director of "Americans for Religious Liberty," many Americans continue to call themselves Catholic but "do not register at local parishes for a variety of reasons."[121] According to a survey of 35,556 American residents (released in 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), 23.9% of Americans identify themselves as Catholic (approximately 72 million of a national population of 306 million residents).[122] The study notes that 10% of those people who identify themselves as Protestant in the interview are former Catholics and 8% of those who identity themselves as Catholic are former Protestants.[123] In recent years, more parishes have opened than closed[citation needed].

The northeastern quadrant of the US (i.e., New England, Mid-Atlantic, East North Central, and West North Central) has seen a decline in the number of parishes since 1970, but parish numbers are up in the other five regions (i.e., South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central, Pacific, and Mountain regions) and are growing steadily.[124][125] Catholics in the US are about 6% of the church's total worldwide 1.3 billion membership.

See also: Black Catholicism

A poll by The Barna Group in 2004 found Catholic ethnicity to be 60% non-Hispanic white (includes Americans with historically Catholic ethnicities such as Irish, Italian, German, Polish, or French), 31% Hispanic of any nationality (mostly Mexicans but also many Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, Colombians, Guatemalans and Hondurans among others), 4% Black (including Africans, Haitians, black Latino and Caribbean), and 5% other ethnicity (mostly Filipinos, Vietnamese and other Asian Americans, Americans who are multiracial and have mixed ethnicities, and American Indians).[126] Among the non-Hispanic whites, about 16 million Catholics identify as being of Irish descent, about 13 million as German, about 12 million as Italian, about 7 million as Polish, and about 5 million as French (note that many identify with more than one ethnicity). The roughly 7.8 million Catholics who are converts (mainly from Protestantism, with a smaller number from irreligion or other religions) are also mostly non-Hispanic white, including many people of British, Dutch, and Scandinavian ancestry.[127]

Between 1990 and 2008, there were 11 million additional Catholics. The growth in the Latino population accounted for 9 million of these. They accounted for 32% of all American Catholics in 2008 as opposed to 20% in 1990.[128] The percentage of Hispanics who identified as Catholic dropped from 67% in 2010 to 55% in 2013.[129]

According to a more recent Pew Forum report which examined American religiosity in 2014 and compared it to 2007,[67] there were 50.9 million adult Catholics as of 2014 (excluding children under 18), forming about 20.8% of the U.S. population, down from 54.3 million and 23.9% in 2007. Pew also found that the Catholic population is aging, forming a higher percentage of the elderly population than the young, and retention rates are also worse among the young. About 41% of those "young" raised Catholic have left the faith (as opposed to 32% overall), about half of these to the unaffiliated population and the rest to evangelical, other Protestant faith communities, and non-Christian faith. Conversions to Catholicism are rare, with 89% of current Catholics being raised in the religion; 8% of current Catholics are ex-Protestants,[130] 2% were raised unaffiliated, and 1% in other religions (Orthodox Christian, Mormon or other nontrinitarian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.), with Jews and Hindus least likely to become Catholic of all the religious groups surveyed. Overall, Catholicism has by far the worst net conversion balance of any major religious group, with a high conversion rate out of the faith and a low rate into it; by contrast, most other religions have in- and out-conversion rates that roughly balance, whether high or low. This is credited to the more liberal stance of the church since Vatican II, where conversion to Catholicism is no longer encouraged, and the de-emphasizing of basic Catholic religious beliefs in Catholic education. Still, according to the 2015 Pew Research Center, "the Catholic share of the population has been relatively stable over the long term, according to a variety of other surveys.[131] By race, 59% of Catholics are non-Hispanic white, 34% Hispanic, 3% black, 3% Asian, and 2% mixed or Native American. Conversely, 19% of non-Hispanic whites were Catholic in 2014 (down from 22% in 2007), whereas 55% of Hispanics were (versus 58% in 2007). In 2015, Hispanics were 38%, while blacks and Asians were at 3% each.[68][132] Because conversion away from Catholicism as well as dropping out of religion completely is presently occurring much more quickly among Hispanics than among Euro-American whites, Black (2.9% of US Catholic population)[133] and Asian-American Catholics, it is doubtful they will outnumber the latter three categories of Catholics in the foreseeable future. Pew Research Center predicts that by 2050 (when the Hispanic population will be 128 million),[134] only 40% of "third generation Latinos" will be Catholic, with 22% becoming Protestant, 24% becoming unaffiliated, and the remainder, other.[135] This corresponds to a sharp decline in the Catholic percentage among self-identified Democrats, who are more likely to be nonwhite than Republicans.[136] In one study, three authors found that around 10% of US Catholics are "Secularists," "meaning that their religious identification is purely nominal."[137]

By state

Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables, Florida
State % Catholic[138] Largest Christian denomination
Massachusetts 34 Catholic Church
Rhode Island 42
New Jersey 34
California 28
New York 31
New Hampshire 26
Connecticut 33
Texas 23
Arizona 21
Illinois 28
Louisiana 26
North Dakota 26 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Wisconsin 25 Catholic Church
Pennsylvania 24
Nebraska 23
Florida 21
New Mexico 34
Vermont 22
Maine 21
Minnesota 22
South Dakota 22 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Colorado 16 Catholic Church
Hawaii 20
Montana 17
Nevada 25
Ohio 18
Iowa 18
Maryland 15
Michigan 18
Washington 17
Indiana 18
Kansas 18
Missouri 16
Wyoming 14
Idaho 10 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Oregon 12 Catholic Church
Kentucky 10 Southern Baptist Convention
Virginia 12
Georgia 9
Oklahoma 8
Delaware 22 United Methodist Church
North Carolina 9 Southern Baptist Convention
Alaska 16
Arkansas 8
South Carolina 10
Tennessee 6
Utah 5 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
West Virginia 6 Southern Baptist Convention
Mississippi 4
Alabama 7

Cultural, social, and political views

Main articles: Catholic Church and politics in the United States and Catholic social activism in the United States


Catholicism has had a significant political impact on the United States, and the religion has historically been associated with left-wing politics and the Democratic Party. Since the 1970s, Catholics are often being regarded as swing voters.[6]

The 1840s saw Catholics began to identify with the Democrats against the conservative and evangelical-influenced Whigs.[7] In the 1890s, Catholics favored the Democratic Party over the Republicans.[139] This continued into the 20th century, where Catholics formed a core part of the New Deal Coalition. Two Catholics have been President of the United States: Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) and Joe Biden (2021–present). In 2016, Pope Francis said of Donald Trump: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."[140] According to the Pew Research Center, Catholics are the most likely of any major Christian group in the United States to support the morality of casual sex.[10] Surveys have repeatedly indicated that laity are more culturally liberal than the median voter,[8] including on abortion rights[9] and same-sex marriage.[9] However, the Catholic Church officially opposes both.[141] Church leadership tends to lean more traditionalist.[9][11]

Criticism by Pope Francis

In 2023 Pope Francis criticized the Catholic Church in the United States as reactionary, saying that ideology had replaced faith in some parts of it.[142][143][144] In November 2023 the Pope removed a conservative Texas bishop, Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas .[145]

Some notable American Catholics

For living US bishops, see List of Catholic bishops in the United States.

Further information: Category:American Roman Catholics




Servants of God and those declared venerable, beatified, and canonized saints

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For a full list of Servants of God and other open causes, see List of American saints and beatified people.

The following are some notable Americans declared as Servants of God, venerables, beatified, and canonized saints:

Servants of God




Top pilgrimage destinations in the United States

See also


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Further reading


Bishops, priests, nuns

Demography, ethnicity and race

Specialized studies


Primary sources