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National survey reveals surprising results about Catholic media usage

The following story appeared in the August 25 Idaho Catholic Register.

Bishop Peter Christensen holding an issue of the Idaho Catholic Register ( Idaho Catholic Register Photo)


I love it when the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) releases a study. CARA is the group that provides all the facts and figures about the number of Catholics who go to Mass on Sunday, how many believe Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist, and even how many Catholics read their bulletin or diocesan newspaper. Fair warning, an article about a CARA study will involve some statistics. Think of CARA as a Catholic “stat attack.”

Their latest research, “Catholic Media Usage 2023,” describes Catholic media usage in the United States, paying particular attention to changes since the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are surprising.

You might expect that Catholics in the United States would use online resources more with each passing decade, and you’d be right. CARA reports that Catholic usage of websites and social media has risen steeply since 2005. You might also guess that usage of the internet grew during the pandemic when most of us were more isolated, and you’d be right again. CARA’s research shows that Catholics engaged with online Bible studies, podcasts and blogs more since 2020.

That is why I was stunned to discover the usage of diocesan newspapers and magazines also rose precipitously since CARA’s last Catholic media usage study.

CARA now says 41 percent of adult Catholics in the United States would prefer a print publication from their diocese. As our nation and world continue to embrace digital forms of communication, CARA’s findings may come as a shock to some, but a relief to this editor of the Idaho Catholic Register, our diocesan, full-color, print newspaper.

In the three months prior to being surveyed, nearly half of respondents, 49 percent, indicated they had read their diocesan newspaper or magazine. I would not have guessed the number was so high.

However, the 49 percent who read their diocesan publication in the last three months did not always do so in print form. Seventeen percent read the diocesan publication in print, 21 percent online and 10 percent in print and online. That’s why the Idaho Catholic Register also offers digital versions of its stories --even this one about CARA’s latest study! If you’ve never visited the ICR online, now is the time: catholicidaho.org/icr.

Furthermore, CARA found respondents tend to trust their local diocesan sources to provide “accurate and unbiased Catholic Church content,” with 31 percent citing their diocesan website as a trusted source and 21 percent citing their diocesan publication. Those surveyed also trust the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website (21 percent). But just 11 percent of respondents say they trust secular sources for accurate and unbiased Catholic Church content.


Though 49 percent of adult Catholics have read their diocesan publication in the last three months, and 41 percent want a print version, only 32 percent of adult Catholics subscribe to a newspaper or magazine in their local area. Subscription rates have declined over the years from 44 percent in 2005. Queue the subscription drive . . .

How did the parish bulletin fare in this national survey? Sixty-one percent of respondents had read their parish bulletin in the three months prior to being interviewed. Of that group, 25 percent read the bulletin in print only. The same share viewed it online only. Eleven percent read both print and online versions. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed did not read the bulletin at all.

The CARA study notes, “Thus, by far the best way to reach Catholics in the pews or outside of them is the parish bulletin.” I did not see that coming. But notice the online version of the bulletin is a big part of the statistic. It behooves parishes to have both a print version and an online version, which means parishes need to have websites.

What did CARA report about parish websites? A substantial increase in the share of Catholics using their parish website was reported: 44 percent compared to 5 percent in 2005. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major driver of parish website usage, but Catholics have become more comfortable with all online resources since CARA’s 2005 study.

What about the effect of the pandemic on Catholic media usage? CARA says 61 percent of adult Catholics found ways to practice their faith online during the pandemic and 58 percent of those say they continue to use those online resources.

As you might have guessed, CARA reports that “During the pandemic, adult Catholics were most likely to use videos of the Mass, their parish website, and their parish bulletin (in print and/or online) to remain connected to their parish, the Church, and their faith in general. Also utilized were parish social media, Zoom sessions with other Catholics, and their diocesan newspaper or magazine in print and online.”

Surprisingly, the continued usage of online faith resources does not equate with a decline in Mass attendance. According to the CARA study, 21 percent of adult Catholics in the United States attend Mass at least once a week, and this is similar to the share attending Mass prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Only 3% of respondents who are still “watching Mass at home” ascribe their continued absence from church to the pandemic.

What about Catholic social media usage? Respondents were asked about sites on which they maintain a profile and many had profiles on more than one social media site. The study found most Catholics were likely to have profiles on Facebook (77 percent) followed by Instagram (44 percent), Twitter (32 percent), TikTok (27 percent), Pinterest (23 percent), LinkedIn (21 percent), and Snapchat (20 percent). I was not surprised by the percentage of Catholics using Facebook but was surprised by the high percentages using TikTok and Snapchat. I realize, in saying this, I woefully consign myself to being middle-aged.

The study found that 46 percent of Catholics with social media profiles reveal they are Catholic on those platforms and a third say they share things about Catholicism. It can no longer be said Catholics mostly prefer to keep their faith private when in public.

What about Catholic usage of apps? About three in ten, 31 percent, have an app related to the Catholic Church or Catholicism on their electronic devices.

YouTube is heavily used by Catholics. Nearly nine in ten respondents, 88%, have visited YouTube and a third of those surveyed visit YouTube multiple times a day. The study finds, “The most common type of content regularly watched by adult Catholics on YouTube is music videos (51 percent), followed by comedy content (36 percent), educational content (34 percent), and religious content (30 percent).” Twenty percent of Catholics have posted a video on YouTube.

I hope you found this Catholic “stat attack” interesting and informative. You can find more CARA studies on their website: cara.georgetown.edu.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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