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Monday, August 15, 2011

Did The ACC Pad Their Attendance Numbers?

Back in June, during the Feast of Pentecost, the American Catholic Council convened in Detroit. It was their big shindig, featuring the cat's meow of the Catholyc crowd, their shout-out to the progressives in the Church that their version and vision of Vatican II was the One True Path to Church reform and renewal. That having a Bill of Rights for its members signified the epitome of having a full and active faith.

But maybe their Constipational...I mean, Constitutional Congress wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

Reports during and after the ACC event touted attendance numbers in the 1,800-2,000 range. But an analysis of some of the ACC's published documents from that weekend reveals that the attendance may have been 15-25% below that. Or perhaps even lower.

Bear in mind that AoftheA hasn't seen any registration forms, or any sign-in sheets, and if there are any, ACC has not made them public. Also, the estimated number of attendees came from the ACC itself. Furthermore, AoftheA did not attend the conference. Still, the claim I'm making - that the ACC padded their attendance number - comes from applying simple math and basic logic.

According to the ACC program, there were two breakout sessions scheduled for Saturday - one in the morning from 10:45 AM to 12:15 PM, and the second from 3:00-4:45 PM. A total of 18 topics plus a "theatrical production" were split between the two breakout sessions.

Recently, the ACC published notes and minutes from all the breakout sessions (which can be read here), which included how many people participated in each breakout session.

When you total the number of breakout session participants (as I did), you come up with 1,481 people (two breakout sessions did not report the number of participants).

I think everyone would agree that 1,481 isn't quite the same as 1,800, and even more disparate than 2,000 (and before you tell me that perhaps not all the attendees participated in the breakout sessions, keep reading).

So is the ACC playing fast and loose with the attendance, as freely and wantonly as they do with Catholic teaching? Wouldn't surprise me one bit - but let's dig a little deeper into the numbers with a bit more analysis.

1) Each breakout report indicated whether the session was morning or afternoon - with the exception of two, that failed to note when they were scheduled. The morning sessions reported 726 participants, while the afternoon sessions had 590 participants. The two remaining sessions that were not labeled as either morning or afternoon reported 165 participants.

2) There were 19 breakout sessions, several of which had been divided into two parts, resulting in a total of 23 sessions. Average number of participants per session (excluding the two that didn't report the number of participants) comes to 71; the highest-attended session listed 140 participants; the least was 28. One session gave a range of 30-35, and for the purpose of this analysis, I used the upper number.

3) It's more than likely that some of those who attended morning sessions also attended afternoon sessions, resulting in a duplication of counted attendees. It's probable, and extremely likely, that even fewer individual people attended the breakout sessions than the total 1,481.

3) There were two sessions - "Follow The Money" (afternoon session) and "Mama's Mansion" (a theatrical production) - that didn't report the number of participants. It's possible those two sessions could have made up the difference, but highly unlikely. If you were to presume the average session attendance (71 participants), that only accounts for 142 more people. And again, there's the morning-to-afternoon duplication factor to consider.

4) It's possible that not all the Council attendees participated in the breakout sessions. However, even if we were to presume that all 1,481 participants were unique - meaning, no one who attended a morning session also attended an afternoon session - that still means more than 300-500+ attendees didn't attend ANY breakout session. If that were true, it means that 15-25% (give or take) of the attendees did not appear to be all that committed to the ACC's cause, and lacked interest in making any sort of meaningful contribution. That's surprising, because the trip wasn't inexpensive, and a lot of planning and effort went into pulling this Council off.

5) It's possible that the attendance at the breakout sessions was underestimated by those keeping track of the records. However, some of the numbers seemed accurate - such as 37, 112, and 73, as some reports indicated - while others could have been estimates - such as those listed as having had 30, 60, or 110 participants. Estimates tend to get rounded to the closest 10, but very few people, if anyone, estimates "precise" numbers. Still - the estimates would have to have been seriously underestimated to make up such a disparate amount of participants.

5) However, when you consider that only 726 attendees participated in the morning breakout sessions, then what did the other 1,100-1,300 attendees do? Same with the afternoon breakout sessions - only 590 participated. So what did the other 1,200-1,400 attendees do? Is it reasonable to presume that most of the attendees didn't attend the breakout sessions? I don't believe that for a second - the breakout sessions were the main thrust of the event - a chance for their voice to be heard, to be able to speak out and make a difference, to show how the Church could be made more democratic. I have to believe that most of the attendees did sit in on the breakout sessions.

6) The ACC program doesn't indicate that there were any other events scheduled during the times the breakout sessions were scheduled, so it's possible that other activities and such were happening concurrently. So - what could the non-participating attendees have been doing? There was no Eucharistic Adoration; the Sacrament of Reconciliation wasn't being offered; there were no spiritual adviser sessions. Now, reiki might have been offered, or labyrinths might have been set-up to wander through, or transcendental meditation rooms might have been available or other silly unCatholic functions that weren't publicized. Regardless - would 300-500+ attendees (or more, when you consider point #5) do nothing while these breakout sessions were going on? I doubt it.

7) Would the ACC have anything to gain by overstating the attendance? Well, mainly it would create the illusion amongst supporters who didn't attend that the ACC has some semblance of relevance. 2,000 attendees is twice as impressive as 1,000, or 1,200, or 750. It would also give the impression to the hierarchy that the ACC is a force to be reckoned with. In their own minds, of course - the hierarchy is more concerned for the state of their souls and the damage they can do to other Catholics, than whether or not the ACC is going to make significant headway within the Church.

Which it won't. Ever.

Now - should my analysis be accurate, that the ACC had far fewer attendees than they reported, what difference does it make to me? Makes no difference at all, really - except the satisfaction in knowing that this Catholyc group - and others like it - is even less influential than I originally suspected. And that's a pretty darn good feeling.

And if I'm wrong? Well, if the ACC can prove that they had 1,800-2,000 people in attendance, then I'll issue a retraction. But I don't believe my analysis is off the mark.

In conclusion, based on their own data collected by their own people, I highly doubt the ACC's attendance was anything close to what was reported. I won't hazard a guess as to how many people were actually there, as I didn't go. And I'm sure the ACC would never admit that their event - nearly three years in the planning - ended up being a big bust.