Crisis editor Eric Sammons calls attention to a frightening statistic. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate finds that in American Catholic churches, the number of infant baptisms—which has been dropping steadily for 20 years—went into a nosedive in 2020. “I know many 2020 Baptisms didn’t happen because of Covid restrictions, but do we really think they were later baptized?” Sammons asks.
For many thousands of “cultural Catholics,” Baptism is a social event. The family gathers to welcome a newborn baby. The baby born in 2020 is now two years old; does that party still seem appropriate? By now the new parents have settled into a new household routine; do they even remember that their child is unbaptized?
Bear in mind that when that baby was born, the parish priest was probably telling people to stay away. The sacrament was not available. Have the parents (assuming that they come to church now and then) ever been reminded of their obligation to have the child baptized?
Fifty years ago there were more than 1 million babies baptized each year in American Catholic churches. The number stayed close to that figure until 2000, when it began to decline. Younger parents were obviously less diligent about baptizing their children. Then came the unmitigated pastoral disaster of the Covid-shutdown era, and those lackadaisical parents were told, in effect, not to worry about it.
The question that Sammons raises is unsettling. But the answer, I’m afraid, is obvious. Young Catholic adults are dropping away from the church, and their children aren’t even being baptized. If you don’t recognize that our Church is in crisis—or if you think the most pressing challenge is the success of the Bishop’s Annual Appeal—you’re part of the problem.