After steady gains for five years, the number of Roman Catholics in the United States dropped slightly in 1984 with fewer marriages, fewer baptisms and fewer converts than in the previous year, according to figures released Wednesday in the 1985 "Official Catholic Directory."
The new directory shows that there were 52,286,043 Catholics in the United States last year--a decline of 106,891 from 1983. There were 27,349 fewer infant baptisms and 3,596 fewer converts recorded in 1984 than in 1983.
A spokesman for the annual publication said the declines were probably caused by reporting methods of two new Florida dioceses and the fact that Catholic couples are having fewer babies. "They now have average family sizes slightly smaller than those of Protestant couples," said Thomas Walsh, compiler of the 1985 directory.
The directory confirms findings of an extensive sociological study conducted recently by the University of Notre Dame. The report, "Profile of American Catholic Parishes and Parishioners," found that when Latino Catholics are excluded, "the average ever-married Catholic has 2.40 children and the average ever-married Protestant has 2.44 children."
"We found that . . . young Catholics are staying in college longer (and) waiting longer to get married and take on family responsibilities," said David Leege, research director for the Notre Dame project.
The new directory lists 18,244 U.S. Catholic parishes, a drop of 874, representing the closure of most parishes with no resident clergy. The report also charts the continuing decline in the number of priests, nuns and brothers, as well as full-time students attending Catholic schools.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, registered the largest gain--187,581 members--in 1984. With a Roman Catholic population of 2,561,602, Los Angeles remains the largest archdiocese in the nation, followed by Chicago with 2,362,162. Boston, with 1,764,178, lost 171,968 members, and New York, with 1,763,040, lost 75,690 during 1984.
"It generally takes a year or so for the reporting to get adjusted," Walsh said in commenting on the statistics submitted by two Florida dioceses established late last year from three former dioceses. "The new dioceses often report a lower population than the older dioceses out of which they were formed."
Totals compiled in the directory are based on estimates turned in by parish priests. Roman Catholics comprise the nation's largest religious body, with a 22% share of the population. Southern Baptists are next with 15 million, about 6% of the total.