Mass. now most Catholic state

BOSTON -- Massachusetts replaced Rhode Island last week as the most heavily Catholic state in the Union.

The Providence Journal reported Wednesday that a national survey of religious participation found that the number of Catholics belonging to parishes in Rhode Island dropped by 14 percent since the 2000 survey.

The 2010 Religion Census found that Massachusetts now has the greatest percentage of Catholics.

Massachusetts slid into the number-one spot with a slightly smaller drop, putting the Catholic percentage of the state population at 44.9 over Rhode Island's 44.3 percent.

By region, the Northeast maintained the highest number of Catholics at 18.3 million. Elsewhere, 13 million Catholics lived in the North Central region, 12.6 million in the South and 14.9 million in the West.

Sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, the study is conducted every 10 years and coincides with the once-a-decade U.S. census. It also collected data from Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious congregations.

Catholic churches, missions or communities are located in 2,960 of the nation's 3,143 counties, more than any religious body except the United Methodist Church, which claims a presence in 2,991 counties; the United Methodist population totaled 9.9 million people.

By state, the Catholic population ranged from 3.5 percent in Tennessee to 44.9 percent in Massachusetts

Catholic News Service and Associated Press materials contributed to this report.