Mark Gray of CARA recommends that parents wanting good Catholic offspring should raise their children Protestant but make sure they marry a Catholic spouse.
True, his advice is admittedly tongue in cheek, but it is based on good social science data. In a fascinating blog posting, Gray, the Nate Silver of Catholicism, analyzes the data on converts to the Catholic Church.
What he found is that converts are more likely than cradle Catholics to attend Mass, go to confession, be registered in a parish, contribute to the collection, be involved in their parish, be proud to be Catholic, and say that their faith is among the most important thing in their daily life. Oh yes, publishers note: they are more likely to read religious publications.
"Why would adult converts be more knowledgeable and believing than other Catholics?" asks Gray. "Perhaps it was the eight months to a year they spent studying intensively in an RCIA program?" Gray notes that about 100,000 converts will enter the church this Easter through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Most (72%) converts were brought into the church by their spouses. Interestingly, not many ex-Catholics (13%) cite marrying outside their faith as a reason for leaving, so don't blame your in-laws.
About 7 percent of Catholics entered the church as adults, but they typically make up about 12 percent of the congregation on Sunday. Seven percent may not sound like a lot of people, but as Gray points out that, if all the converts to Catholicism formed their own church, they would almost equal the total number of Presbyterians.
However, before you celebrate these numbers, remember that for every one person joining the church, four leave. Gray says that the church could increase the number of converts if it lowered its requirements for entry, but would they stay, he asks. He also believes that without the RCIA process, the quality of the converts would suffer.
If you decide to raise your child Protestant, remember you also have to find him or her a good Catholic spouse. Good luck.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]