The Church in the West

June 8-15, 2015 Issue
Jim McDermott
America Magazine

It’s rare to hear much about the church in the western United States. Given that the national media and the bishops’ conference lie in the East, that’s no surprise.

Still, it warps our sense of the American church. In 1950, the Northeast was home to 46 percent of the nation’s Catholics. Today, it has just 28 percent. Los Angeles surpasses New York in Catholic population by more than 1.7 million. L.A.’s Our Lady of the Angels pastoral region alone has more Catholics than over 90 percent of dioceses in the country.

The church in the West is different than in the East. It’s booming; indeed, the Fresno, Orange and San Bernardino dioceses are among the fastest-growing in the nation. It is also young. Fifty-six percent of Catholics in the West are under the age of 50, according to the Pew Religious Landscape Study. And only 31 percent are white, compared with 75 percent in the Northeast.

Ask the bishops of the western United States to name the important issues of their dioceses, and they don’t start with the divisive topics bandied about by the East Coast press. They talk about poverty and the blessing that is Catholic Extension (an organization that supports mission dioceses), about their prison populations; and about the needs of immigrants and issues related to agriculture.

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