Even more significant is that one-third of those, about 11 million people, are Irish Americans.
The survey by professors at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, does not explain why Irish Catholics are by far the highest number of people who are losing their religion every year in America.
We can only surmise the reasons for this, but I have some definite ideas. Think church sex scandals. Let's look at the timeline first.
The number of non-religious or "Nones" has nearly doubled between 1990 and now.
- In 1990, Nones accounted for 8.2 percent of the population
- In 2001 they accounted for 14.2 percent
- As of 2009, they account for 15 percent
The report estimates that the figure will grow to 25 percent in 10 years time — making non-religion the largest "religion" in America.
Why are so many Irish Catholics leaving the faith? The obvious reason to me is the church sex scandals. They disproportionately affected Irish Catholics and most of the abusers we read about were Irish Catholic priests.
Certainly, based on evidence from Ireland where hundreds of thousands have fled the church and vocations have plummeted after the church scandals there, America with a similar experience is unlikely to be any different.
There has been such incredible scrutiny of the church from every angle and the church has responded so poorly since the scandals began that it is hardly surprising that people are leaving.
For instance, the Boston archdiocese, a hub of Irish Catholicism in America, has been riven by deep scandals that surely have turned many parishioners off
It is only my opinion but Irish Catholics had a deep and almost mystical attachment to the church and followed her rules more devoutly than other groups.
"Rome dictates and Ireland takes" was the old saw about how devoutly the Irish followed the signals from the Vatican.
Once that trust was broken — indeed shattered — it was always likely that many would turn away.
We are told that the leavers are "young, male and independent" and that almost all of them were identified as Catholic at age 12.
The loss of faith by Irish Americans has been profound and will require an incredible effort to win the faithful departed back.
The church has a massive struggle on its hands.
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