From the National Catholic Reporter:
Catholic baptism rates fell ...from just more than 1 million baptisms in 1970 down to 793,103 baptisms in 2011.....
Gray said the rising number of out-of-wedlock births may contribute to the decline in baptisms. "Single parents may be less apt to bring a child for baptism because of a misapprehension that they won't be welcome." But as the pope's call to the Italian woman shows, "The church is not going to turn you away," Gray said.Of course they may shun you or fire you, but you can have your child baptised.
Church marriages too are on the decline. Remember, "formerly Catholic" is now one of the biggest identifiers in the US.
In 1970, there were 426,000 marriages in U.S. Catholic churches -- a full 20 percent of all U.S. marriages that year. By contrast, in 2011, there were 164,000 such weddings, only 8 percent of all marriages. But in both years, Catholics were 23 percent of the national population.And of course if you don't marry in church, you probably won't baptise your children.
Really, though, how can Catholics be surprised? They don't allow people who are divorced to marry. No gays, obviously. Interfaith couples, which are about 25% of marriages now, are more likely to find that whole pre-Cana Catholic thing off-putting. The Catholic Church "brand" is not enticing.
But of course, it's not limited to Catholics. Structured religion in general is a turn-off to many if not most young people. Even kids raised with church generally drift away as they grow up, tempted by the narcissitic nihilism of modern secular life, our consumerist, greed-is-good culture. This is true whether they are Baptist or Catholic or Episcopalian. I bet if you asked our kids (raised and confirmed RC, now in their early 20s), they would still identify as Catholic and say that they believed in God, but they just don't find "Church" relevant. Their mom has tried to share her Episcopal enthusiasm with them, and brought them to church with us, but while they are polite they are just not that "in" to it. They have jobs and school and friends that seem to be enough for them.
In fact, I find the young people who stay connected to be pretty remarkable. I'm thinking of some young church members, seminarians, and recent ordinands that I know, and their commitment to justice and people generally, and not to the materialist culture. Similarly, kids who join Teach for America or the Peace Corps, rather than jump on the track to the high income and consumerism. How do we develop such awareness of something beyond our own selves in the young?