By Stephanie PappasCNNMoney – Catholic leaders have long been the most progressive, open and progressive religious groups in America.
But their numbers have slipped to an all-time low of just 8 percent of the church’s membership in the latest annual Pew Research Center survey.
In 2016, they were at 31 percent.
That’s the lowest since 2008.
The trend reflects the ongoing crisis in the church, with a growing number of women leaving their religious congregations.
The percentage of women in American churches has fallen from 64 percent in 2006 to 31 percent in 2016, according to the Pew Research survey.
The Pew survey also found that women in the United States continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions at the highest levels of the clergy.
Among clergy in the American Baptist Convention (ABC), there are now only 14 women serving as pastors or other senior leaders.
That’s an increase of just three in the past four years, according, according the American Catholic Association (ACA), a conservative religious organization.
The percentage of female members in the Catholic hierarchy has risen by seven in that same time period.
The bishops of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston all saw their female representation increase, according APA.
That trend has continued in the Episcopal Church, with women holding about 25 percent of bishopships.
It was just 15 percent in 2005.
And it dropped to 16 percent in 2012.
But the Catholic church’s female leadership is now catching up with its male counterparts, with the number of female leaders in the Protestant denominations rising to 18 percent from 12 percent in 2004.
In fact, women comprise about 20 percent of all bishops in the Lutheran Church, the largest Protestant denomination.
The numbers are even more impressive in the Orthodox churches, which have more than 50 percent of their priests women.
The Catholic Church is far behind the Lutheran and Orthodox denominations.
Women make up almost half of the roughly 300,000 church members in all faiths, according Pew.
That number has remained steady since the 1960s, with church membership declining slightly from 567,000 in 1950 to 476,000 last year.
The current trend is a reflection of the economic challenges facing American churches, said Dr. William VanderWyngaarden, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
He said the church has a long history of focusing on social justice, but there’s a new emphasis on gender equality and on issues of inclusion and diversity.
“The church has had to confront issues of exclusion, of exclusion of women, of the lack of a diverse congregation, of being out of step with changing demographics,” VanderWydelon said.
In the meantime, he said, “it’s a time for people to come together, and to look at how we can support each other and work together.”