Some time ago I found myself in an energetic discussion among priests about their parishioners. No, not about personalities, merely about numbers. Just as election officials in Florida sometimes have difficulty in adding up votes in an election, you’d be amazed at how hard it is for a pastor to determine how many parishioners he has!
Most parish offices have a pretty good count of registered parishioners: when a family has filled out a registration-card, the pastor knows how many people there are in the household. This is the best situation: planning and organizing go smoothly when you know how many folks you’re dealing with. And the pastor knows other things about registered parishioners, no matter where they live: ages, marital status, special needs, unique talents, etc. Registered parishioners are always expected to be contributing parishioners. Again, it makes planning that much easier.
But many a Catholic never registers in a Church parish. Canonically all Catholics, even unregistered ones, are still automatically parishioners of the parish of residence. But since public census records in the USA can’t identify people by “religion,” it’s very, very difficult for Church authorities to know how many such persons are “out there.” So a pastor usually has to make an educated guess, based upon the likely percentage of Catholics residing in the parish’s neighborhoods. We all suspect that such estimates can be really inaccurate, but there’s really no way to be absolutely sure. (And you sure can’t go by church attendance, for on any given Sunday far too many people disregard God’s Commandment to “Keep Holy the Lord’s Day.”)
True, there’s no Church law requiring registration in a parish, but it sure is rude to remain invisible. People who avoid being identified as parishioners tend to be irresponsible in other ways, too, I think. Worst of all, an “unknown parishioner” is always a surprising parishioner. You can’t depend on him, for you don’t know he’s there. You can’t plan very much with her in mind, for she’s been non-cooperative before and probably will be again.
Here at the Cathedral we have lots of “friends,” but not so many identified, registered parishioners. Does my complaint about unregistered persons apply to you or your relatives and neighbors? Such “wild sheep” would really help the shepherds by registering as members of “the flock”!