The CARA Story


CARA is a non-profit research organization that conducts social scientific studies for the Catholic Church. It is listed in The Official Catholic Directory and is affiliated with Georgetown University. CARA’s goal is to deliver high-quality applied research or consulting services on Church issues. Members of CARA’s research team have graduate degrees in their academic specialties and are Georgetown university faculty members. Their objective is to deliver practical answers to real pastoral questions and provide Church policymakers with the factual basis for informed decisions. CARA conducts major studies of Church-wide significance, but much of its work is custom designed for individual clients. A brief overview of the history of CARA is provided below.

The impetus for CARA was an article in 1961 by Richard Cardinal Cushing, on “The Modern Challenge of the Missions,” in the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. Subsequently the major superiors of mission-sending orders voted about $5,000 to evaluate the need for “A Catholic Center for Coordinated Research and Cooperation.” A study group chaired by Rev. Frederick McGuire, CM, executive secretary of The Mission Secretariat and later both a founding CARA board member and director of development, as well as Rev. Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, CARA’s future first executive director delivered a favorable report in late 1963.

CARA was officially incorporated in the District of Columbia on August 5, 1964. Its founding board of directors included Archbishop (later Cardinal) John P. Cody as head, four other members of the hierarchy including Bishop (later Archbishop) Fulton J. Sheen of the Propagation of the Faith, the presidents of the Catholic Church Extension Society, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes in the USA, and the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Women’s Institutes in the USA, two women religious superiors, the director of the Latin American Bureau of what is now the U.S. Catholic Conference, the executive secretary of the Mission Secretariat, and the executive directors of the National Council of Catholic Men, the National Council of Catholic Women, and Serra International.

In his introduction of CARA Archbishop Cody noted that “up to the present, there has been in this country no mechanism capable of aiding an integrated apostolic effort supported by careful study, evaluation and scientific research. CARA will represent a serious attempt to fill this need in a thoroughly professional and scientific manner.” CARA’s founding documents established the principles that have guided the organization ever since. In summary form, these are to gather new information and to store, retrieve, and disseminate it for practical use by Church decision makers. Two additional themes soon became CARA hallmarks: absolute independence and objectivity. As one commentator put it, CARA’s goal is “to search dispassionately for truth.” CARA’s early efforts were noted in a Review of Religious Research article from 1967 by
Francis X. Gannon entitled, “Bridging the Research Gap: CARA, Response to Vatican II” and into the U.S. Congressional Record in November 1970.

Originally, CARA was located in a townhouse at 3620 12th Street, in Northeast Washington, near The Catholic University of America. The new center soon settled into more appropriate quarters at 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., the building of the then-Georgetown University Research Center. This is an area called “research row” next door to the Brookings Institution and other leading think tanks. It was also close to offices of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, predecessor to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference before its new headquarters was built in 1989.

CARA’s Early Years
From the beginning CARA involved itself with the principal religious issues of the time, with both in-house and affiliated contract researchers producing a succession of important studies affecting almost every aspect of modern Church life. Early CARA projects tended to focus on the broad questions facing the Church at large, rather than on helping specific organizations within the Church. The emerging research emphasis sometimes required the services of more than 30 researchers from as many as 20 different religious orders, as well as a number of laity-organized into departments of church personnel, town and country, social theology, overseas, campus ministries, urban affairs, and diocesan pastoral planning.

In the early years CARA was led by its founding executive director, Rev. Louis Luzbetak, who personified much of CARA’s original work. Fr. Luzbetak was succeeded by Fr. John V. O’Connor, SJ, in 1973. He remained in the position until 1980. A major change in CARA’s life occurred in 1977 with the acquisition of the former Viatorian seminary at 3700 Oakwood Terrace, N.E., not far from the campus of The Catholic University of America. CARA then operated a major conference center, with facilities for sleeping and dining, and conducted an ambitious program of seminars and workshops at home in Washington, throughout the country, and even internationally. These covered such matters as planning in religious institutes, religious community leadership and administration, and religious formation, as well as diocesan and parish management, Catholic education and health care, and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

In 1980 Rev. Cassian J. Yuhaus, CP, moved from coordinator of CARA’s religious life program to become executive director. In 1982 he oversaw the organization of CARA (Canada), Ltd., which led to CARA’s doing considerable work with Canadian religious communities for several years. At that time CARA also had a West Coast Office in Los Angeles and a Rome Office established in connection with a study of the central governments of religious orders. Among the other major projects were an assessment of the Church’s health care ministry and participation in an international study of human values, in association with European research bodies. The latter was initiated with the establishment of The European Values Systems Study Group in 1978 in Amsterdam. This project was a collaboration between social scientists and theologians concerned with social, political, moral, and religious value changes in Western Europe. The group developed a survey to measure the attitudes, values, and behavior of national random samples of the population in selected countries. Many of these original researchers were Catholic and were concerned about how traditional religious values had changed in Europe. This early work included a focus on applied research. For example, one of the original aims of the European Values Study (EVS) was “to inform educational, social, corporate, and pastoral policy.”

Although the study was initially focused on Western Europe, the European Values Systems Study Group sought out a more globally comparative framework and invited CARA in 1981 to create the Value Systems Study Group of the Americas (VSSGA). CARA’s role in the project was to coordinate the project in the Americas, seek funding for the project, and complete an analysis of the survey data for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The Gallup Organization conducted the interviews for these nations. A significant portion of the funding for the surveys in the Americas was provided by several U.S. dioceses, more than 20 religious orders and congregations, and several Catholic foundations. Globally, between 1981 and 1984, Values System polls were conducted in 24 countries. This first set of surveys is the initial wave of what became The World Values Survey (WVS). These original studies have been followed by four additional waves of the WVS in 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. The most recent wave has expanded to 62 countries. It is one of the most widely used comparative surveys in existence.

The Move to Georgetown
In the mid 1980s, first under the leadership of Ambassador Thomas Byrne, and then of Rev. William P. Clark, OMI, who became executive director in 1985, CARA’s research and administrative staffs were trimmed and financial stability improved. In 1987 Rev. Francis J. Gillespie, SJ, moved from being CARA’s director of research to executive director, where he continued until 1991. During this period the CARA building was sold, and since 1989 CARA has been affiliated with Georgetown University, the nation’s oldest Catholic institution of higher education.

Under Fr. Gillespie and his successor, Msgr. Edward C. Foster, CARA was first housed in Loyola Hall at Georgetown University, until its refurbishing and eventual conversion to student residences required relocation in 1992 to the nearby Car Barn building. Under retired Army Col. Gerald H. Early, CARA’s executive director from 1993 to 1998, CARA moved to its present offices on Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., about a mile from the main campus and near many other university offices. During this period CARA operated with a small in-house research staff, primarily doing contract projects for dioceses and religious communities, annually producing the CARA Seminary Directory (now CARA Catholic Ministry Formation Directory). Other major projects included a study of alcoholism among men and women religious and a survey of Church-sponsored housing for Catholic Charities USA.

In 1994 CARA introduced its individually-tailored Pastoral Assistance Surveys and Services (PASS). The project was initially funded by a grant from Our Sunday Visitor Institute and has now been used by more than 800 parishes. In 1995 CARA introduced The CARA Report, a quarterly publication regarding research on U.S. Catholics and the Catholic Church. CARA also began its priest projection program at this time on the basis of actual demographic information on priests in the United States. Projections have been completed for a majority of U.S. dioceses and many religious communities. In 1998 CARA began the first computerized database of Catholic parishes in the United States, the National Parish Inventory (NPI). This database includes information about more than 18,000 parishes in the United States. In 2000, CARA conducted its first CARA Catholic Poll (CCP), a national random-sample survey of adult self-identified Catholics in the United States. CARA has conducted 18 other CCPs to date. Also in 2000, Orbis Books published the first of a two-volume series of books written by CARA on Church data. The first volume, Catholicism USA, shows how the Church in the United States has developed over the twentieth century in terms of people, parishes, and pastoral ministers among other aspects. The second volume, Global Catholicism, discusses trends in the Church around the world.

Since 2000, CARA has partnered with others to conduct a number of notable studies. CARA has conducted survey research and trends analyses research for national organizations such as Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), Catholic relief Services (CRS). Other projects have focused on Catholic education including national studies for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) as well as for networks of Catholic schools such as the Cristo Rey Network and the Nativity Miguel Network of schools. Since 2004, CARA has conducted the Annual Survey of Allegations and Costs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Beginning in 2003, CARA has conducted research for the Emerging Models Project. Funded by the Lilly Endowment and led by the National Association of Lay Ministry (NALM), this project has sought to identify emerging pastoral leadership models which nurture and sustain vibrant and empowered Catholic parish communities in the United States in a time of fewer priests and a growing Catholic population. CARA continues to work with the National Organization for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERCC) in its Cultivating Unity pastoral initiative that seeks to foster the unity of priests and bishops.

In 2009, CARA completed a landmark project with the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) that studied the demographic composition and preferred lifestyle of religious communities in the United States. The study sought to determine best practices for religious institutes in attracting and retaining new members. Today CARA has four full-time and four part-time professional staff. CARA employs Georgetown University students who work as research interns during the academic year. Staying true to its original mission, many of CARA’s present research themes are similar to those that guided its first years of existence.

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