The Pope's Visit: To be Catholic on Long Island

On a Sunday in Long Beach you expect people at the beach or the boardwalk, but you might not expect a Catholic Mass on the sand!

Fr. Brian Barr, the pastor of St. Mary of the Isle, started the celebration last summer with about 300 people sitting on beach chairs. This summer, the crowds more than doubled to anywhere from 700 to more than 1,000.

Overall, church attendance is down sharply. 

Georgetown University researchers say 55 percent of Catholics went to weekly Mass back in the 1960s. That number is less than 25 percent today.

Dr. Phyllis Zagano, a researcher and religion professor at Hofstra University, says that people today are busier - with many going shopping or to soccer practice on Sunday mornings.

Many also say that they don't go to Mass because they're still angry with the church over priest sex abuse scandals. Some say their parishes have priests from other countries that they have trouble understanding, and others say they just don't agree with some of the rules.

When it comes to church doctrine, a Newsday/News 12/Sienna poll found that 76 percent of Long Islanders think priests should be allowed to marry. Another 79 percent think women should be allowed to be priests. And 89 percent think Catholics should be allowed to use birth control.

According to Fr. Chris Heller, churches are being encouraged by the pope to try new things to get parishioners to return.

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