It's the largest Christian church in the world and by far the largest church in Vermont-- 118,000 Vermonters today call themselves Catholic. But the numbers are shrinking. Vermont had 149,000 members just 10 years ago; 157,000 in 1980. That's a drop of nearly 25-percent over the last 30 years.
"It's not a Catholic issue," said Monsignor John McDermott of the Burlington Catholic Diocese. "I think it's an issue of the state of Vermont."
Why are the pews emptier than they once were? Church leaders blame it on an aging population and a low birth rate.
"In our own diocese over the last five years we've had 2,000 more funerals than baptisms. Well that's going to affect the number of people in the pews," McDermott said.
Vermont's Catholic Church has also been plagued by bad publicity in recent years due to several priest sex abuse cases.
"Has it affected us? Yes," McDermott said. "But is it the reason why the numbers look the way they are? No."
McDermott also says the decline in membership isn't as drastic as it appears. Attendance today is calculated differently than it was just five years ago and he says previous numbers were overinflated.
The Catholic Church isn't alone when it comes to declining numbers; most mainstream Protestant churches have also seen a sharp decline in membership, especially here in New England. And most have seen declines on a similar scale. Recent studies indicate changing demographics may not be entirely to blame. A 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life ranks Vermont 45th for overall worship attendance and dead last in the country for belief in God.
"I think that with everything going on in the world people have a hard time turning to faith. They want a definite answer and sometimes you can't always find that in the church," said Kyle Marlow, a Catholic.
The Catholic Church is especially seeing a decline in 20 to 40-year-olds. Some say it and most other mainstream churches are simply too boring, lacking the energy of newer, less traditional churches.
"It's very drawn out. The same thing every day," said Jim Hughes, a Catholic.
But not all is bad for the Catholic Church. Students say the faith is still alive and well on campuses like St. Michael's College in Colchester.
"This campus wouldn't be here without the college students who believe in it and in the Catholic faith," said Darren Cheung, a Catholic.
And nationwide, church membership is actually on the rise, especially in parts of the south and southwest where the church is growing by leaps and bounds.
Thursday, March 6 2014 11:41 PM EST2014-03-07 04:41:04 GMT
The Randolph man who admitted to murdering his niece in 2008 will be sentenced this spring. In August Michael Jacques struck a deal with federal prosecutors. He gave up his right to an appeal and pleadedMore >>
The Randolph man who admitted to murdering his niece in 2008 will be sentenced this spring.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 11:40 PM EST2014-03-07 04:40:13 GMT
It's a real estate deal between UVM and the Queen City that could end up kicking some non-profits to the curb. The Burlington School District voted Thursday night on half of the multi-million dollar deal.More >>
It's a real estate deal between UVM and the Queen City that could end up kicking some non-profits to the curb.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 7:53 PM EST2014-03-07 00:53:09 GMT
'Tis the season-- as winter winds down frost heaves and potholes arrive. The ups and downs of the 2014 winter can be seen and felt. No route or road is spared. And just adding to the frustration-- theMore >>
The deep freeze is making for some rough roads across our region and it's also contributing to a fuel shortage. Shelby Cashman has more.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 7:56 PM EST2014-03-07 00:56:36 GMT
The pothole problem knows no boundaries. Our neighbors to the north are also dealing with rough roads. The Quebec Transportation Ministry budgeted $260 million for winter road maintenance. But crews haveMore >>
Our neighbors to the north are also dealing with rough roads.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 4:23 PM EST2014-03-06 21:23:33 GMT
Investigators now say a fire that damaged a student housing complex at St. Michael's College was not caused by the building's heating system. The fire last month damaged a row of townhouses. All of theMore >>
Investigators now say a fire that damaged a student housing complex at St. Michael's College was not caused by the building's heating system.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 4:50 PM EST2014-03-06 21:50:24 GMT
Vermont police say a New Hampshire woman was driving drunk with two kids in her car. The incident happened Wednesday at the Intersection of 1-91 and Route 302 in Newbury, Vt. Vermont state police sayMore >>
Vermont police say a New Hampshire woman was driving drunk with two kids in her car.More >>