Further Adrift

The American Church’s Crisis of Attrition

It is not often that someone at a New York dinner party calls for a count of religious affiliations, and I cannot recall exactly what led to it. But one guest suddenly said he had the impression that many of those present were Catholics. “Can we have a show of hands?” he asked.

Two of us raised our hands. A third person, who once wrote frequently in the Catholic press, said “no longer,” though as a conservative he continued to sympathize with the church. A fourth person, with whom my wife and I have sometimes worshiped on Easter, Christmas, and other occasions, chose not to make any declaration at all. Finally, the man who asked the question avowed that he had been raised Catholic, “and I hate everything about it.”

Bottom line? Two-and-a-half out of five, perhaps. Par, you might say, for a bunch of overeducated writer-types. Not at all. That’s roughly the proportion you would find at working-class family gatherings or suburban cookouts. In February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, based on interviews with a representative sample of thirty-five thousand adult Americans, reported that one out of every three adult Americans who were raised Catholic have left the church. If these ex-Catholics were to form a single church, they would constitute the second largest church in the nation.

One in three. Think about it. This record makes the percentage of bad loans and mortgages leading to the financial meltdown look absolutely stellar. It dwarfs the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. Thomas Reese, SJ, the former editor of America, recently described this loss of one-third of those raised Catholic as “a disaster.” He added, “You wonder if the bishops have noticed.”

I wonder too. As far as I know, there has never been any systematic discussion of these findings at the meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They will meet again in mid-November, with an agenda that will deal with many things—but not with these devastating losses.

Of course, bishops are not the only ones who avoid confronting these findings. There are reasons all of us have difficulty doing so, and special reasons that the hierarchy does. After all, among nearly 70 million American Catholics, you can find incredible centers of apostolic energy. You can find saints, charismatic public ones and invisible everyday ones. You can find hypocrites and authoritarians and neurotics and plain old mediocrities. You can find vital parishes and moribund ones. In short, you can find evidence of whatever you’re looking for.

Most of us base our impressions on our networks of family, friends, fellow worshipers, students, and colleagues—or on news sources that rely, at best, on a few experts and church officials, who in turn have their own networks and may or may not be finding what they want to find. The problem with our personal experience and networks—and this goes for the media too—is of course what the sociologists call “sampling error.” Last summer, for example, conservative Catholic New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the Atlantic that “for millions in Europe and America,” Catholicism is “finished”—“permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The word “finished” evidently struck a nerve. Many commentators on blogs, apart from the predictably querulous or bitter, poignantly described how for themselves or family members a once-strong Catholic faith was reaching some point of no return.

What resonated for me personally was the overall note of grieving. Having written a book about the future of the whole Catholic Church in the United States (A People Adrift), I have increasingly come to narrow my sights. These days I think about that future in terms of my two grandsons, ages ten and seven, the children of Ivy League–educated parents, one Catholic and the other a thoughtful nonbeliever. Sociologically, the track record for successfully passing on the faith in these circumstances is not the best, to say nothing of my own shortcomings as a parent or grandparent. But month after month, year after year, I also see decisions (but mostly nondecisions) by Catholic leaders steadily reducing even further the chances that the faith will be the central reality and priceless blessing in my grandsons’ lives that it was in mine and my wife’s. I realize that I am grieving.

For some Catholics, this grieving has clearly passed beyond anger. It seems to border now on resignation to either a death of faith or withdrawal from the church. For others, it means the impossibility of being in any way a “public Catholic,” whether in their fields of work, their communities, their parishes, or their circles of family and friends. Pray, receive the sacraments, button one’s lips, shrug off the latest self-destructive actions by church officials, and devote one’s talents and resources elsewhere. [See Cathleen Kaveny, "Long Goodbye."]

Such grieving is a very real and painful phenomenon. But I know better than to assume that it and its causes are operating in the lives of most of the Latino Catholics who constitute the majority of my fellow parishioners at the Church of the Ascension on 107th Street in Manhattan. They don’t read the Atlantic. They don’t know or follow many of the concerns that upset Catholics like me. They have other problems. And they are likely the typical Catholics of the future.

Five years ago in the New York Times, I wrote about another, more dramatic example of “sampling error.” When John Paul II died, perhaps only his role in the collapse of the Soviet empire was mentioned more often than his rapport with young people. Having covered the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver and seen firsthand John Paul II’s interaction with youth on other occasions, I can testify personally on this point. But at the very time that this connection was being demonstrated by the young people gathered in Rome for the pope’s funeral, I was reading disquieting data in the book Soul Searching, based on the massive National Study of Youth and Religion. The authors, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, devoted a whole chapter to puzzling over their unanticipated discovery that Catholic teenagers scored lower than every other Christian group, and sometimes even below often secular Jewish teenagers and the self-identified “not religious,” on a variety of measures of religious faith, belief, experience, practice, and involvement. Compared with Mormon and Protestant counterparts, whether black, Evangelical, or mainline, Catholics were less likely to say that their religious faith was “extremely important,” to affirm belief in a personal God, or to report ever having had a powerful experience of spiritual worship.

This all happened on the long watch of the pope who undeniably stirred fervor in many young people. Those who hailed a new day with the advent of a “John Paul II generation” were suffering, I suggest, from “sampling error.” Buoyed by the hundreds of thousands who gathered at World Youth Days, they did not look closely at the millions who were absent. So while our own firsthand impressions and diligent perusal of news sources are irreplaceable, we badly need surveys based on representative samples. Yes, they always suffer from the simplifications necessary to gather and organize large amounts of data, but their findings are checks against our own anecdotal impressions and those from the media sources we favor.

According to the Pew survey, about half of that one-third leaving the church enter the ranks of the fastest-growing religious group in the nation, the “nones,” people who tell pollsters they have no particular religious affiliation, although many hew to surprisingly familiar religious beliefs and practices. The other half of Catholics leaving the church join Protestant denominations (and, more often than not, Evangelical). Catholics becoming unaffiliated stressed disagreement with church teachings, both general teachings and church positions on specific issues like abortion, homosexuality, and treatment of women, and to a lesser extent clerical celibacy. In open-ended questioning, they also stressed hypocrisy and other moral and spiritual failures of church leaders and fellow Catholics.

Catholics becoming Protestants were less apt to stress unhappiness about specific teachings and more likely to pinpoint failures to meet their spiritual needs, frequently stating a general appreciation of their new affiliation and its manner of worship. These former Catholics were also more likely to have been affected by a change in life circumstances, like marrying someone of another faith or moving to a new place. Pew found that the vast majority of Catholics leaving the faith of their childhoods do so before age twenty-four. Those becoming unaffiliated reported having had a weaker faith in their childhood and significantly lower Mass attendance as teens. Most of the former Catholics, especially among those now unaffiliated, reported having just “drifted away” rather than undergoing a sudden change of mind or heart. Relatively few rated the sexual-abuse scandal high among reasons for leaving. That may reflect the calm-between-the-storms moment when the survey was taken. I suspect it also suggests that the scandal often functions less as a trigger to leave than as a confirmation of the dissatisfaction, distrust, or doubt people have already come to feel about the church. Very few, whether now unaffiliated or now Protestant, complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices.

Why have I spent so much time on those of Catholic upbringing who have left the church? First, because the numbers are not trivial, to put it mildly. “Catholicism,” the Pew study found, “has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.” In American Grace, their new study of religious polarization and pluralism, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell quote a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton, Massachusetts, where it is estimated that former Catholics make up nearly half the congregation. “If it weren’t for people leaving the Catholic Church,” he said, “the Episcopal Church would have died a long time ago in America.” [See William A. Galston, "Getting Along."]

Second, these numbers are not only not trivial—they are not just numbers. They are our siblings, our cousins, nieces and nephews, our friends, neighbors, classmates, and students, our children and grandchildren, even in some cases our parents.

Third, this pattern of loss may well be the wave of the future. Faltering Catholic religious education, declining Mass attendance rates among adolescents, drops in what younger people report about the importance of religion in their lives are the advance signs of generational loss. Unlike the familiar drift from faith of individuals, which may correct itself over the course of a life, the shift of a generation will be felt for decades. And from preboomers to millennials, each generation of young Americans has taken greater distance from organized religion.

In American Grace, Putnam and Campbell describe the late 1960s and early ’70s as a seismic shock, particularly in terms of sexual morality, followed by two aftershocks. The seismic shock we identify with the label of “the sixties.” Between 1969 and 1973, for example, the percentage of Americans believing that premarital sex was “not wrong” doubled from just 24 percent to 47 percent—an astonishing change in four years—and then continued rising to 62 percent in 1982. Putnam and Campbell argue that nothing else is such a strong predictor of religious attitudes as attitudes toward premarital sex.

The first aftershock was the reaction that spurred Evangelical growth, which Putnam and Campbell find actually leveled off in the mid-1980s and early ’90s. That was followed by a second, even greater aftershock, in which young Americans increasingly declared themselves “nones,” largely in reaction to their perceptions of conservative Christians’ denunciations and political interventions.

The divisive factors driving people from Catholic ranks are only magnified versions of those within Catholic ranks. There one sees at work all the hot-button issues that now unaffiliated former Catholics point to, as well as the sharp reaction, especially to teachings on homosexuality and identification with high-octane conservative politics, that Putnam and Campbell conclude are currently driving young people from religion altogether. Within the church, one also sees the longing for effective worship, meeting spiritual needs, and pastoral creativity that many now-Protestant former Catholics, especially Evangelicals, underlined.

Liturgical language, decorum, and participation. Quality of homilies. The shortage of priests. Celibacy. The role of women and their ordination. Transparency and consultation in church governance at every level, from the parish to the Vatican. Anti-Catholicism in the media. Religious identity and the role of the hierarchy in Catholic higher education and health care. Monitoring of Catholic theology. Abortion and same-sex relations, and the even more combustible demand that Catholic citizens and civic leaders be answerable to episcopal judgments about laws regarding these matters.

I list these familiar sources of conflict in no particular order except for the last because I think the growing tendency of prominent bishops to claim authority not only in moral principles but even in rather fine-grained judgments about translating those principles into public policy has tremendous potential for divisiveness. It appears to overturn a stance the hierarchy has long followed and spelled out explicitly in their pastoral letters on nuclear defense and on the U.S. economy. Are these bishops repeating the behavior of Religious Right leaders who have now faded from prominence—but only after provoking, if Putnam and Campbell are right, a strong antireligious backlash among the young?

There are several ways of missing this reality. It is true that the one-third exit rate of Catholics is actually lower than the rate of loss suffered by many other groups. Americans live in a constant religious churn. Almost half change their religious affiliation in the course of their lives. This is even true of the “nones.” One can also point out that Catholicism enjoys numerous converts. A number of people are baptized or enter into full communion at my parish’s bilingual Easter Vigil every year. But most of the losses among Protestant denominations are simply to other Protestant denominations. As for converts, the experience of parishes like mine illustrates “sampling error” once again. We celebrate those coming in the door; we don’t note publicly those going out; perhaps no one notices at all except saddened family members. In reality, three Catholics leave the church for each one who enters.

Then there is the good news about Latino Catholics, whose growing numbers both from immigration and higher birthrates have largely compensated for the losses and maintained the church’s proportion of the population at a more or less steady level. Latinos are much more likely than non-Latinos to say that their ethnicity is a very important part of who they are, and strong ethnic identity is associated with retaining religious identity and lower rates of intermarriage: 78 percent of Latinos raised Catholic remain in the church, compared to 57 percent of non-Latinos. Latino Catholics also express relatively greater agreement than non-Latinos with church teachings on divorce, premarital sex, abortion, gay marriage, ordination of women, opposition to the death penalty, and papal authority. I say relatively greater agreement because, in fact, far less than majorities of either Latinos or non-Latinos actually agree with any of those church teachings even while high percentages express confidence in the hierarchy. What the future will hold depends on variables like whether the nation’s capacity for assimilation is greater than its current hostility to Latino immigrants—and whether cultural differences in styles of worship and pastoral needs will exacerbate the Catholic “white flight” already underway. Finally, Latino Catholics appear increasingly Democratic at a time when the hierarchy appears to increasingly signal an obligation to vote Republican.

The constant religious churn in America, the public recognition of conversions but not departures, and the compensating numbers of Latino Catholics may all disguise the magnitude of the church’s recent losses. Yet for the bishops, something else, perhaps more fundamental, may be at work.

My impression is that bishops are constantly called upon to boost morale and lift up spirits in the face of often daunting problems. Appearances at parishes, reunions, conferences, or conventions are hardly occasions for dwelling on ominous trends, let alone encountering former Catholics. Many bishops bounce from event to event and from crisis to crisis. Except for financial matters, they may have little opportunity to contemplate the Big Picture, even on the diocesan level, let alone the national one. Their diocesan newspapers are rife with boosterism. In addition, bishops generally shun polemics. There are notable exceptions, even a few who may see the one-out-of-three who depart not as lost sheep but as good riddance, dead wood that should be cast into the fire, or even wolves preying upon the remaining flock. Most bishops, however, for good or ill, have reached their present positions by avoiding conflict, and they try to be what they should be, a point of unity for the local church. Findings like Pew’s can certainly unleash polemics. After their release, ultras and even moderates all along the ecclesiastical and theological spectrum flooded the blogosphere with accusations. Everyone else was to blame for the losses; one’s own viewpoint was the sure recipe for stanching them.

These partisan reactions cannot survive the most cursory look at the data, in which issues transcending camps like spiritually compelling worship, congregational leadership, and the need for effective adolescent catechesis rank alongside hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, treatment of women, sexual abuse, and episcopal forays into politics.

Having raised the question of the bishops’ awareness of American Catholicism’s crumbling condition, am I in turn blaming it on them? (Blaming the bishops is the one thing truly uniting the Right and Left in the American church.) Well, the bishops have their share of the blame, as do many others of us at every level and on every wing of the church. But it would be inane to hold the bishops or any other specific group in the church responsible for the social and economic forces that dissolved the Catholic subculture, or for “the sixties,” or for the inevitable succession of generations. We can only be responsible for the ways we have responded, or not responded, to such huge shifts—with energy, sensitivity, and creativity, or with timidity, inertia, and stock formulas.

I doubt whether any diocese is without some energetic, sensitive, and creative initiatives to improve pastoral practice, liturgy, catechetics, preaching, faith formation, financial support, social witness, and all the other things that could reverse the current decline. I continue to hear of successful programs, learn of valuable research, meet inspiring individuals, and see ads for attractive guides and educational materials for clergy and lay leaders alike. Yet somehow all these initiatives seem too scattered, too underfunded, too dependent on an always limited number of exceptional talents to coalesce into a force equal to the forces of dissolution.

The bishops are not the only ones who should be galvanizing and multiplying these initiatives; but they are, as they often remind us, the church’s authoritative leaders. They direct resources, human and material. They oversee personnel. They grant approval and signal change. They can make the difference between isolated examples and widespread renewal. It is hard to imagine a reversal of the current trends without a concerted effort on their part.

What exactly should the bishops do? Anyone can find my own views distilled in the “Afterword” to the 2004 paperback edition of A People Adrift. Occasionally I’ve tried to distill this distillation even further. I have emphasized very concrete, practical items—a quantum leap in the quality of Sunday liturgies, including preaching; a massive, all-out mobilization of talent and treasure to catechize the young, bring adolescents into church life, and engage young adults in ongoing faith formation; and regular, systematic assessments of all these activities—as well as theologically more complex and controversial matters like expanding the pool of those eligible for ordination and revisiting some aspects of the church’s teaching on sexuality.

What matters is not this set of proposals—or any other. What matters is merely some kind of acknowledgement from the hierarchy, or even leading individuals within the hierarchy, of the seriousness of the situation. What matters is a sign of determination to address these losses honestly and openly, to absorb the existing data, to gather more if necessary, and to entertain and evaluate a wide range of views about causes and remedies. Is it possible some bishop might mention this at their November meeting?

 


Read more: Letters, December 3, 2010

Related: Long Goodbye, by Cathleen Kaveny
Catholic Vermont, by Nicholas Clifford
The Missing, by the Editors

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What the future will hold depends on our fidelity to Christ and His Church, for it is through the Holy Spirit that the faithful remain united to The Word of God.

Nancy calls on the HS to hold the faithful. Jesus 'sent out his disciples two by two'. As for the data , the 1990-2009, 50% plummeting in Catholic marriages is easily seen by looking at the Kennedy Directory, This 50% marriage  decline points to a worse problem than the  33% walk aways.. .In business a 50% decline in same store sales would have the board demanding new management. RCC = No Board.

 

The accumulation of the factors influencing the attrition has taken significant time.  For example, in the unravelling of the Church's clergy abuse tradition, the ongoing addition of country after country to the list makes a different kind of impact, more serious, than the first few cases did in the 1980s.  This means that notions of soon resolving a passing crisis are liable not to apply.  Meanwhile, my grieving is for myself, family, ancestors, neighbors, and a grand-daughter who might make a great bishop in 40-50 years if she weren't already forbidden to try.  

 

A few samples of repulsive factors observed in recent decades, not in order:

-  The natural law ploy, invoked when no conceivable justification for a foregone conclusion can be found in Scripture, Tradition, or the ordinary sense of humans  

-  Augustinian biology and earth science in current interpretations of nature

-  The "moment of conception"  ("soul" seems not mentioned much these days) 

-  Contrasting values in sexual standards for theoretical celibates and for laity

-  Antiquarian perceptions and attitudes involving half the human race

-  Promoting and retiring with honor the sanctifiers, teachers, and governors known to have facilitated and concealed serious crimes

 

Vigorous re-evangelization and improved catechesis may have roles to play but aren't likely to refurbish the Church's God-forsaking image that has grown in recent decades, nourished by the leadership vacuum you note. 

In my forty years of teaching mathematics, English, Latin and theology in Catholic schools (1961-2001) I frequently felt that I was struggling for the souls of students who didn't even know they had souls.  They were immersed (baptized?) in the superficiality and a-religious assumptions about the nature of reality held in the culture at large and often even in the Catholic school they were attending.  I meet every week with my former colleagues and hear from them that the struggle has become even more strenuous.  For forty years I gave it my best effort.  Some students did awaken to the inner depths of the good news, but I have to admit to frequent failure and acknowledge my guilt for having been an unprofitable servant.  It will require more than contrition to counter attrition.  I welcome suggestions.

A few days ago, in an informal setting, some of my parishioners and I were discussing this matter and the reasons for it.  I blamed the clergy (myself included) for the failure in proper catechesis that began in the late 60's (which I experienced first-hand).  Besides this, the irreverent manner in which priests who have lost their faith (boy, can I name a few!) has alienated folks.  These priests try to keep themselves going with novelty and attempted showmanship, and devote themselves to intractable social problems.  When they preach, they seldom mention Jesus, and do not try to inspire anyone to love Jesus.  But after I had said all of this to my parishioners, they shook their heads and said, "No, it's us, the laypeople."  It was pointed out to me that there are plenty of books from which to learn the contents of the Faith, that parishioners shop around for a Mass offered with reverence when this is lacking in their own parishes.  They blamed themselves that their kids were leaving the Church because they themselves had failed to give authentic, zealous, loving witness to Christ.  The crux of the matter, literally, is that Jesus is missing in our lives and in our churches.  If he is not the center of our lives, if we do not love him, if we are not excited about him, then Mass becomes an empty, boring ritual, and there is no reason to live the moral life he calls us to.  It has come to this: we have forgotten Jesus, and, whem reminded about him, we are embarrassed of him.  

Regarding reported numbers of Catholics who have left the Church: every week, I reconcile fallen away Catholics with the Church in the Sacrament of Penance.  Sometimes the folks have been away for decades.  Nobody keeps stats on them.

With all due respect, I beg to differ with the comments of 'Rev. Mark Carrier.'

Jesus is very present to my life and the life of my family.  My wife and I struggle each day to cultivate a family life for our sons where the values of the Beatitudes and the corporal works of mercy are acted upon with consistency.

Both my wife and I have dedicated our entire professional education, and all of our working lives to the health and healing of our patients.  We hope that our actions speak louder to our sons than our words.

We struggle to help our sons find meaning and purpose in our parish life especially attending Sunday liturgies (in a parish which is often singled out as an oasis of enlightenment in the SF Bay Area). 

Just this last weekend, my oldest son's teenage "faith formation" group spent the better part of an hour and a half stringing beads to make rosaries.  How could I possibly look my son straight in the eye and tell him that he needs to continue to attend faith formation?

With your house on fire, as is the case for the Catholic Church, is our best response to impose a new missal for the liturgy which further supports a world view of feudal clerical oligarchy and anti-feminism?

Despite everything our family stands for, we know that we are Christians living in a dangerous time.  The Catholic hierarchy and too many clerics have betrayed and abandoned us in their twisted pursuit of power and privilege behind walls of insidious narcissism.  I am ashamed to admit it, but we Catholics in the pews have been too indulgent and tolerant with these men.

Not only have we had to witness the shameful sexual exploitation of the most vulnerable in our communities by priests, but each day the media reminds us that our leaders in the hierarchy are alienated, remote and cut-off from our lives.  And still, they mock our struggles to make sense of the world in which we have to live with denigrating lectures about "moral relativism."

To be perfectly honest: priests, bishops, cardinals and pope are irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of Catholic men and women.  Sadly, they neither add nor subtract from our lives.  No wonder that millions of Catholics have lapsed into apathy. 

In our parish, the priests have always been good ministers - many of them our good family friends.  But, like everywhere else in the Catholic Church, they are aging and dying-off. 

They no longer have the vigor to conduct the ministry that is necessary in this post-modern society.  Priests by and large are exhausted and their energies spent.

An inexorable evolution toward a 'Peoples Church' has already begun.  The evidence is all around us.  The operant question is: can we Catholics hang on long enough to see it come to fruition.

But the cost of this new life for the church may be the dying off of the patriarchal priesthood.

So I disagree:  The people have not forgotten Jesus and he certainly does not embarrass us.  But we know that when the world looks at the church it does not see the "face of Jesus" as Pope John plaintively prayed at the start of Vatican II.

 

@Mr. Jenkins, "Too many clerics have betrayed and abandoned us in their twisted pursuit of power and privilege behind walls of insidious narcissism."  That is quite a sentence, quite a generalization.  Could you be more specific?  As for pursuing power and privilege, all I can say is: Huh?  What kind of "power" are you imagining?  And, "privilege"?  Do the priests in your parish go after these things?  What makes you think the rest of us are interested in them?  If you look at my appointment book you will find it crammed with: Mass, confessions, visits to the parish school classrooms, visits to the nursing homes and hospitals, assorted meetings with individual parishioners, RCIA, marriage preparation, work at the homeless shelter, funerals, baptisms, and -- that's the reality. Based on my life with and conversations with quite a number of priests and also bishops, I think that this is pretty much the norm.  There are a lot of easier ways to obtain power and privilege than the Priesthood. Sure, there are slackers and pervs who have lost their faith and commit monstrous acts against the innocent, just as there are among teachers, cops. coaches, daycare workers, and so on.   You mention Pope John XXIII: He was a hard-core conserveative.  I think a clear sign of what he wanted from the Council is seen by his instruction to seminary rectors throughout the Church that all courses be taught in Latin, whereas many seminaries had been teaching in the vernacular in the preceding decades.  Also, the Missal he promulgated in 1962 is a solid monument to tradition -- he certainly did not intend for there to be a Missal of 1970.  I do think that the world sees the face of Christ in the Church, and the reason the world is so critical of the Church is that the world expects to see Jesus there, and sometimes the sin and scandal of all her members -- not just her clergy -- hides it.     

First, it is sad that the Pew research has not resulted in a 'call to action' among our clergy, religious, and hierarchical leadership. Instead it is mostly dismissed and ignored. What exactly is on the agenda for the November bishops' meeting? Are they seeking input from anyone? The losses we are suffering, the empty pews, the decreased giving, the struggle to even keep our Catholic schools open, the closing and consolidation of parishes, the dismissal of discussion regarding celibacy and women's ordination - do not these issues deserve to be addressed by church leadership? The loyalty of Hispanics to the church is really mostly cultural. I think the church is afraid to measure it in any real terms such as mass attendance, support for Catholic schools or charities, and real religious understanding. In fact it is a whole sub-culture and parallel universe in most parishes. I agree, if this were a for profit enterprise, the management would be fired.

I agree totally with Jim Jenkins' comments above.

"We have been too tolerant with these men," referring to our episcopal leadership.

Actions do speak louder than words and it has been words, words, words that we have been getting from Pope Benedict and the majority of the bishops.

Institutional church leadership has become essentially irrelevant to the majority of the People of God because, to put it bluntly, their actions speak louder than their words, deafening so.

How else explain the mounting interest and participation in preparations for the calling of an American Catholic Council in June of 2011 in Detroit?

www.americancatholiccouncil.org

I just came across a short two part video referring to the St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada report called the "Winter Report" which was done twenty years ago this past July. I was completely unaware of it. It points out once again for those of us who didn't believe it, that the popes, past and present, along with the bishops always knew how widespread the sexual abuse problem was in the Roman Catholic Church and that includes not just children but young women, men and vulnerable adults including women religious around the world.

They knew and they conspired to cover it up. That has been documented time and time again for those who have eyes to see.

Remember those three little monkeys?

These You Tube segments should be watched by all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiPQ-3JTw3k&NR=1

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
maureenpaulturlish@yahoo.com

 

@ Rev. Carrier:  Like most clerics these days, the defensive “crouch” you assume has become all too familiar to any Catholics who are paying attention.

It’s not that we reject or devalue your priestly service. Most Catholics have been on the receiving end of some good ministry from priests at sometime in their lives.

It’s just that priests and hierarchy all too frequently are so remote, so clueless, so alienated from our lives and our sensibilities that many, if not most, clerics have no idea how arrogant and condescending they present themselves.

And if you don’t get it, most Catholics are just tired of trying to explain it to priests anymore.

In your blog response to me, you even try to mitigate the sexual exploitation of children by priests, mimicking pope, cardinals and bishops (see Cardinal George of Chicago, for example), by pointing out that other groups in the culture also abuse children.  As if that in some way is suppose to normalize the rape and sodomy of children by priests?

Of course, John XXIII was a product of the reactionary church hierarchy in which he grew old and eventually would lead.

But more importantly, and more to point, Papa Giovanni was a genius of the human heart.  And he abandoned himself, his own will, to the Spirit.  And that is why he was able to transcend his personal history and was transformed into an apostle of “Pacem in Terris.”

 

The Church needs to renew its focus on fidelity to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and nothing else matters.  When the Apostles were turned down in their ministry, they brushed off their feet and JOYFULLY moved on.  The Church doesn't have to "show that it's concerned" or to "make itself relevant," or any of that.

As for comments like Jim's, is Feminism the Gospel?  No.  Are all of the sensibilities of the post-modern mindset the Gospel?  No.  The Church cannot and should not conform itself to those notions of morality.  Rather, as Catholics, we have to conform OURSELVES to values revealed by God through Christ's Church.  There is no compromise.  Once we begin seeking "enlightenment" in the eyes of the world, our church will serve no purpose.

If that's what we seek, we've never encountered the real Good News.  If we don't know it and treasure it above the respect of our colleagues, no wonder we can't teach it and no wonder people leave.

 

A look at the agenda items for the USCCB November Assembly is revealing.  Two of the top four concern money, understandably.  The sexual abuse coverup problem has disappeared.  The other items all have some relevance, assuming time and effort are available.  Nothing indicates any awareness whatsoever of the sad story Peter Steinfels tells so powerfully above.  Sic transit Gloria.

 

Thank you, Peter, for this thoughtful article. I hope you are right in saying it is only a few bishops who want a smaller, purer, more orthodox church membership.  Is it only rumor that the pope said that?  Cardinal George?  Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of our St. Paul/Minneapolis archdiocese has said it in interviews and written it to many of us who have tried to communicate with him: "...there are other religious denominations where your ideas would receive a ready welcome." Grieving Catholics are told regularly to get out by "simply" Catholics.  Is there a way to find out what the majority of U.S. bishops think about this?  I for one am not leaving voluntarily because I still value the Petrine ministry and the united destiny of the whole human race it could symbolize if we could work together to image it.

I agree with Jack, the agenda is just election of officers and fluff. No serious attempt to address the issues of modern life or any of the horrendous needs of victims worldwide suffering from so-called austerity measures. Nothing indicates either leadership or prophetic action. Gone are the days of pastoral letters such as Economic Justice for All, and no mention at all of any resolutions supporting the plight of immigrants. To our kids and grandkids, the church remains irrelevant and has laryngitus on social issues.

Sigh. I should not even bother reading the comments. Mr. Steinfels, as usual, cuts to issues that transcend the constant descent (illustrated by the comments!) into polarized warfare within the Church. This is a wonderful piece that suggests the magnitude of the problem, and the present inadequacy of anything like a reasonable attention to it, from any significant group, left or right.

I guess I fall in to the category of these young people who are falling away. Here's my two cents.

After graduating with a BA in Theology from Notre Dame (a commencement in which I witnessed the full venom of the, ahem, "Catholic" Right) and I brief stint working for a parish, the problem isn't catechesis. My generation knows what the Church teaches.

The problem also isn't a lack of belief. I still believe in a all-loving and all-forgiving God who would die for us. My guess is the author's nephew who is a "thoughtful nonbeliever" is more of a believer than not.

The problem for a vast number of us is the Church itself. A number of us have become disallusioned with the Church's apparent lack of touch with reality. We know that homosexuals are born that way and that clerical celebicy is something that hasn't been the norm for longer than it has been.

We are also (and this is something I strongly feel) watching as the Church systematically closes the doors on society and adopting the position of "don't let the door hit you in the rear on your way out". The changes in the language of the Mass (side note: has anyone ever received a good grade in a foreign language class for translating words literally?), the increased clericalism, the patriarchal (and slightly mysogenistic) shift and the return to absolute obidience while sacrificing the notion of a well-informed conscience.

We've received the message that not everyone is welcome and that Christ died for the many (sic). That's not who we are and not who we believe God is.

And if that means sacrificing our religion for our faith, than so be it.

This author has got to the heart of my observations, and my grief. For years now, people I love and respect have been wondering why I am still a Catholic. I understand the question. The best answer I can come up with is that over my lifetime I have met my best friends at Church. These friendships have sustained and enriched me, undergirded by a shared value system. But many of these friends became the "disappeared,"...the one out of three who left. After being away myself for years, when I returned, I realized that at least Catholic parishes are aware that the largest "denomination" in America now is that of former Catholics. The Church is now doing more to welcoming former Catholics back, than to winning converts. For the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, this effort included an apology to all those in his Chicago diocese for any harm the Church had inflicted on them, with an invitation to contact him about that matter. Years later, while dying of pancreatic cancer, he was still responding to the flood of letters and calls he got from that offer. It was a magnificent, humble, and unique start, but more than any clergyman can begin to deal with, or wants to try.

I recently began working as a Catholic Lay Chaplain at a non-sectarian hospital in the Bronx, NY.  Each day I get a list of all the patients.  Some persons identify themselves as Catholic, Protestant, etc.  still others say that they are "none" and othes are listed as "unknown".  The "none" persons are  mostly non-denominational.  Some have no faith, some tell me they chose 'none' to hide, and others are sick of the hypocrisy that they see and not just in the Catholic Church.  My feeling is that the growing number of 'none' persons are greiving the loss and see no alternative.  I feel that the Holy Spiritis working and she is calling for a simpler way to be; Love God, Love Yourself, and Love your neighbor.  Could this be a new foundation of a community of believers, a recognition of the wonder of the people of God embued with the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith, reconciliation, and compassion.  I am a cradle Catholic, Vatican II Catholic, and I had the priveledge of serving the people of God in Sao Paulo, Brazil in the Base Christian Communities.  Notice that there is no mention of Church here.

Thank you. What a gift you are to all of us, Mr. Steinfels, who, like you, are mourning, even as we remain. So many dear friends, who deeply desire to follow Christ, and who have found him often in the broken body of the Church, have left and I can't blame them. (For me and for them, it's often over an inability to acknowledge the full humanity of gay Catholics). Another friend, whom I often see at Mass, says "we are in a death moment." And this, for me, is a great hope. Death, okay: when will the new life begin? I pray that it is soon.

I did leave the Church, and went searching the world for years, only to find that, for me, there is no alternative. Now I am active in a parish, perhaps among the group of those most active in our large parish, often serving in some manner at every Mass on many weekends. I say this to share a bit of who I am to shed light on my comments!

Clearly, to me, our Church as a whole is so very badly broken that there are no words to adequately describe us. Yet there is only one person at any point in time who is permitted to make changes. One old man who is more busy, overwhelmed, and probably always exhausted, than we as Church can probably even begin to imagine living through. One old man standing at the wheel of a huge ship responsible for all of humanity: Church and those who were to have been introduced to Jesus, evangelized, had we not gotten so lost as Church. 

Is there anyone out there that can advise our leader?

Is there room in his heart - and schedule - to listen?

Perhaps that is a prayer of the faithful that needs to ring out in every Mass all over the world, before the message of how ready we are for healing can reach the ears and heart of whomever may be in a position to sit down with our Pope and begin to work out some kind of process for creating a plan that addresses our problems of today, and creates a path for the formation of our Church. New beginnings, focused on the Lord!

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

This is a very thoughtful piece that should touch every Catholic who observes friends and relatives drifting away from the Church. Many of the possibly contributing causes are listed by the author, but one that I believe to be a major factor derives from Christ’s observation that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. We are the richest nation in human history. Do the people drifting away from the Church feel any need for God? Do they fear Him? (The beginning of all wisdom is the fear of God.) The old saw that there will always be prayer in schools as long as there are final exams rests on a fundamental truth, viz. that it is those in need who are the ones to seek God out and to rely on Him. To posit this as a major problem does not mean that I have any solution. I am not praying for a depression. Moreover, I don’t think that telling people how well off they are is likely to be successful. It is part of the human condition always to focus on those who have more and what we don’t have as opposed to what we do have. If they don’t feel a need for God, it is hard to create such a need. Yet, it is true that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” How can one successfully convey that to our brothers and sisters?

Why the defections of young and old?

That's like asking why so few don't listen to the music of post-WWII Big Bands.

It's not so much love or hate, this or that, the Church is just not interesting.

Disinterest, no emotional charge, when the topic arises best describes it.

I cannot imagine asking a young catholic about holy days of 'obligation' like

the immaculate conception; we are drained of dogma, that old

deposit of faith rusts away. Catherals now exist for the pleasure curious tourists.

 

 

The people I know who are Catholic and don’t go to church are not well-informed, left-leaning Catholics like those who have posted here, but people who just don’t care, who don’t fear God and couldn’t be bothered to give an hour a week of their lives to go to church. These people consider themselves “good” in that relativist sense, and that is “good enough” for them. They have very little spiritual curiosity and do nothing to increase their understanding of the faith, but they’ll devour a user guide to their new ipod so that they can spend hours every day rolling their fingers and tapping away at Lord knows what. These people—the vast majority of those who have “fallen away”—are not moaning about how unfair priestly celibacy is, but about how David Ortiz’s RBI totals have sagged over the last few years. They don’t hate the devil, they hate the Yankees. The recent basic religion test run by the New York Times reinforces this with a thundering uppercut. Catholics were among the most ignorant, only able to answer simple questions like “Where was Jesus born?” at a rate of 16%. Is this because they just got so disgusted with the leadership of the church in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal? No. Is this because, despite the scriptural basis for the Church’s stance on homosexuality, they feel the church in this, and in any other number of ways, is a big meanie? Pretty much. They don’t want to be told that they’re to give alms to the poor or to not defile themselves in any of the myriad ways available to them today. They simply don’t care. And if they get an inkling it’s all too easy to look away to whatever screen happens to be closest. Most of the people here would like to blow up the church and I can’t fathom that. You are not the collective voice of the fallen away. Allowing priests to marry will not bring them back. A good famine might.

 

Andrew McNabb

Portland, Maine

Further Adrift is a very good atricle.  As a practicing Catholic as are most of my friends, I think several other aspects of the American Church being adrift should be developed.  First, the American Church is struggling in a secular society where most of the media is not only anti Christian but heathenistic.  Advanced education takes a toll on our youth because they eventually accept these values as the norm.  Even our Catholic universities produce few committed Catholics.  Among friends and realatives, I can name at least a dozen graduates from Jesuite universities, none of which are practicing Christians.  The first and most logical place to undertake a serious look at the problems of the American Church is at the University level.  I don't intend to pick on the Jesuite educators any more than schools run by Catholic teaching orders such as, and in particular, Notre Dame.  The Universities need to unravel this mess before punching away at Church teachings.  This is one fault I have with Fr Thomas Reese, SJ and other American Jesuites who are so quick to see the problem residing in Rome rather than in our own back yard.

Another factor that needs to be investigated is the huge and growing gap between the high educational level of parishioners and the woefully marginal educational level of bishops and pastors.  Today, the old addage of pray, pay and obey brings a smile to many that probably masks their embarassment.  Bishops and pastors have lost their ability to sheppard the better educated parishioners.  The pastoral approach consists of more demands for obedience.  The result is friction that sends the non combative types looking for another parish.  My personal experience is that friction between pastor and parishioner accounts for the largest percentage of fallen away Catholics.  We keep looking at conservative Church teaching as the problem but the Evangelical churches they are attracted to are usually more conservative and less compromising towards secular agendas than the Church.  We have to face up to the fact that there are real problems between bishop and laity and between pastor and parishioner.

Further Adrift is a very good article but maybe paints too bleak a picture for a Church committed to education as well as giving a space to worship and growth God's plan.  The answer is to keep assessing the problem areas and for the power structures (Church administration and Universities) to see themselves as the primary means of improvement.

Regarding the New York dinner party where some guests responded in a luke wam manner I thought about what Flannery O'Connor once told her friend when she stated that the Sacred consecrated Host was just a symbol.".to hell with it if is just a symbol" & with this religiously correct answer TRUTH manifested itself!!

The problem that I have observed in intellectual & academic University circles is that  many Catholics are timid & reluctant to express their Catholic faith lest they lose respect of their peers..ie the God of Creation is the the Author of evolution.Heaven forbid if they ever supported such a statment.

THe true Roman Catholic faith is alive & well although it may well be a creative minority as Pope Benedict XVI recently stated, but I do know a place & event where the aauthor of this article would get an almost 100% affirmative response to being being Roman Catholic & that is the annual Pro-life March in Washington..I dare say looking at the happy & smiling faces of the marchers they radiate what our Church stands for ie. Life, Respect & Honor to not only God  but to all their fellow brothers & sisters. Also, I would bet that very few of these people have ever attended a dinner party in their towns or cities..

Finally, rather than grousing about the future of the Church, it is not in our hands but in the Hands of the Holy Spirit who hopefully will unite all Catholics in our Church no matter what their leanings are so we can all go forward & praise Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrement of the Tabernacle after which we can then do what God has destined  us for,namely to love & serve Him..

       Blessings to the Author, Commonweal & all the respondents of this article

 

                         Harry D. Carrozza,MD.,FACS.  Tucson,Az.   Subscriber

 

It all started with promulgation and implementation of the results of Vatican II.  The Catholic Church was in good shape before that, with good catechesis and education and full seminaries.  The great exodus of clergy and laity began about the time that English was adopted for the Mass. You can explain this away all you want but facts is facts.

I was raised by wonderful nuns, and a great pastor, who really took to heart the changes that Vatican II had in store for us. As a child, I thought I would grow-up to see female ordination, and certain types of mechanical contraception accepted, not to mention having the Church just drop its "gay stuff".

Instead, with the death of John Paul I, I began to witness a scary and ugly turn in Church politics and theology. JP II is said to have stocked the College of Cardinals with conservatives, and his appointment of Ratzinger really did affect the dialogue between clergy. The Church's attempt to mimic evangelicals' "physical involvement", through the introduction of odd gestures worthy of a PTL/700 Club broadcast, only served to further alienate me.

I saw the Church "climb into bed" with morons who believe the Earth is less than 6000 years old. It made alliances with groups who kill abortion providers, and support capital punishment. Though, every once in a while, some bishop did make a comment on how the death penalty was morally wrong, I never saw much good come from the Church's leadership, otherwise.

JPII's reneging of Liberation Theology was the deal-killer, for me.

As a Catholic, I was born and schooled by people who told me that my actions mattered. They could make the world a better place, one small act at a time. We could ultimately work together to create the New Jerusalem, though we wouldn't live to see it.

If I could still match my principles to my actions, without the Church, then I could face my creator after death, knowing that I had tried to "do the right thing" day-in, day-out.

Maybe it's a conceit, but it's one with which I'll have to live. I refuse to belong to an organization that spreads AIDS by issuing decrees against condom use, spending money on Churches and not opening them up to the homeless when it rains, taking-up arms against basic human freedom and intellectual curiosity, in a perverse union with evangelicals.

That's why you've lost me. You've also lost many people because of your rightward goose-stepping, poor response to AIDS, and sex scandals. Now, the Church has a former Nazi as its head, and I know I've made the right choice: how about you?

"If these ex-Catholics were to form a single church...."

Well, obviously they don't want to form a single church. Maybe half of them might -- those who are listed under the unaffiliated category; but the other half have already joined other churches (according to Pew study). They are long gone.

According to that same Pew report, 10% of America's Protestants are former Catholics and 8% of America's Catholics are former Protestants.

With that said, the report is tragic for the US church as it is for all churches.

I have these thoughts on the report:

First, if all the the former Catholics stayed, the American church would have 100 million Catholics instead of 72 million (Pew study said 23.9% of all Americans self-identified themselves a Catholics).  Would we have the clergy to minister to 100 million, to the 30 additional former Catholics besides the 72 million? I think now. Does this bother the bishops?

Second, the Catholic retention rate (nearly 70%, including Lationo Catholics) is still fairly high alongside other church communities. Catholics come after Hindus (84%), Jews (76%), Orthodox (73) and almost tie with Mormons (70%). Compare these stats with the retention rates of other churches the Catholic church isn't doing as poorly: Methodists and Pentecostals (47%), Episcopalians (45%) and Presbyterians (40%).

Third, maybe we should study (1) why our retention rate is higher than other churches and (2) why our loss among the unaffliated category is also so high? Catholicism revolves around cognitive, social, and behavioural factors. How can these be measured? Can they be measured? Two years ago, Pope Benedict said "Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy," suggesting Catholicism cannot be reduced to one measurable factor; that there are many measurable factors to Catholicism (likie prayer, community service, giving money to important causes, etc.). Possibly this should be explored.    

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My thoughts as a fallen away Catholic who came back to the Church last year after being an Episcopalian:

 Both the article and many of the comments reveal the true rot within the Catholic church: those people who want to change the faith to suit their personal agendas or ideas about how church should be. Here is the truth of the matter. What you think and how you feel about how things should be does not matter one single bit to God. God made the rules about sexuality, not the Pope. He merely promotes them. The same goes for the rules about other areas of life. The rules are in the Book. All you have to do is read it. If you don’t like them you can live how you like and argue it with Jesus on Judgment Day. See if he listens to your justifications.

The people railing against the state of the Church are always seeking to change it in ways that sound suspiciously like the Episcopalians and Lutherans, churches now built on foundations of sand. Both of those churches are hemorrhaging members because of their capitulation to the pressures of the world; gay marriage, gay and women clergy, tacit support for abortion, etc. The true Church should never capitulate because it stands for truths that are eternal. God's truth. Not man's. The American Catholic Council is a perfect example of one of these groups. I think people like these are the ones Pope Paul VI was talking about when he mentioned the smoke of Satan having entered the church.

My feelings are this: If you don’t want to follow the rules of God as faithfully espoused by the Catholic Church, then leave. Join the Episcopalians or the Lutherans or any of the thousands of non-denominational congregations out there. I’m sure YOU will feel all warm and fuzzy as you rock out to the entertaining services. YOU can feel politically correct because YOU belong to an organization that is politically enlightened, instead of being trapped in a medieval male oligarchy. The problem is that mass isn’t about YOU. It’s about God. Too many so-called Christians have forgotten that. They want a church that fits their concept of the universe and caters to their wants and needs.

The real problem with the decline in church attendance today is narcissism. Our modern society is all about ME, ME, ME! Well it isn’t really about YOU my brothers and sisters. It’s about HIM and HE doesn’t care what you think about His rules. But you go ahead and take the wide road and see where it leads you. It's a lot of fun because you can do whatever you want and you don't have to listen to a boring sermon or hear the old hymns. Me, I’ll pray for you while I stick to the narrow path. It’s harder but the reward is worth the effort.

If people really, truly, honestly believed in God, they wouldn't hesitate to follow his plan. But they don't truly believe and the unbelieving "faithful" are trying to mold the church into some kind of secular club that happens to meet at the chapel. I would rather have a smaller church full of true believers than a full congregation salted with members who are trying to destroy it from within.

 

What an interesting article.  I think many are turned off by the right wing, racist wingnuts who profess to be Catholic Christians, a la Newt Gingrich, Russ Douthat, Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.  The bishops' behavior during the health care law debate was abominable.  How I wish they had raised the same ruckus during the runup to the Iraq invasion.  Think how many lives might have been saved.  I think perhaps we need to let go of the branding and concentrate on living the gospel. 

Thank you for a very thoughtful article. Here are a few comments, both diagnoses and remedies:

One important lack, I find, is adult education in the faith. Whatever the shortcomings in education of children and youth, at least the Catholic Church in the USA invests a lot of time and effort in it. In contrast, adult education is either inadequate or completely lacking in most Catholic parishes. Various official documents stress its importance, for example

“Catechesis for adults, since it deals with persons who are capable of an adherence which is fully responsible, must be considered the chief form of catechesis. All other forms, which are indeed always necessary, are in some way oriented to it.”

General Directory for Catechesis n.59

So if “the chief form of catechesis” is entirely absent, it is not likely that the adults who are deprived of it will spontaneously develop “an adherence which is fully responsible.” They are more likely to end up as we have seen with no adherence at all.

Connected with this I think is the phenomena of disagreement with Church teaching. Often because of their lack of catechesis Catholic adults have little idea what Catholic teaching actually is, and what they reject is an immature distortion of it, and not the real thing. For example I had a conversation several years ago with a Professor of Biology at a local university who was a Catholic, and who said that while she wanted her children educated as Catholics, she could not accept the teaching of the Church that the world was created in six days. So good education is, I believe, the best remedy to “dissent”.

Another lack is that of leadership among the clergy. Many priests seem to think that if they deliver the Mass and the Sacraments all other things necessary will just happen. Few seem to realize that it is necessary to plan and organize. Coming back to the example of adult education, one may wonder how many priests have ever read the General Directory for Catechesis (I would guess few), and how many have read it and then taken steps to ensure that catechesis for adults does in fact become the chief form of catechesis in their parishes (I would guess fewer). That would require planning and leadership, skills the clergy often lack.

The third item on my list is a lack of accountability. Continuing with the same example, how many Bishops would then hold their parish clergy accountable for implementing the General Directory for Catechesis and making catechesis for adults the chief form of catechesis in their parishes? Even if the Bishops sincerely want this to happen, I doubt they would or even could mandate the parish clergy to do so.

There was a comment in the article about the “nondecisions by Catholic leaders” and I think this is the key problem. I imagine few Bishops ever said “I will prohibit all adult catechesis in parishes in my Diocese” but by their nondecision on the issue, the practical effect is the same.

Nondecisions are by their nature invisible, because they are things which never happened, such as the absence of a discussion on the missing third of Catholics on the agenda of the USCCB meeting in November. But nondecisions are the product of inept or fearful leaders, and until the clergy are either chosen for or trained in good leadership, I doubt much will change.

This is my second posting to Further Adrift and I'll make it short.  I've read all 32 postings at least once and enjoyed them all, even the harsher ones.  To me, these folks are the Church reminding me of Cardinal Newman's remark about how silly the Church would be without a laity.

"...of the Episcopal Church...where it is estimated that former Catholics make up nearly half the congregation." Without them, "the Episcopal church would have died along time ago in America.

It might very well continue "to die," as it were, if former Catholics who joined the Episcopal church defect -- on the average -- as ordinary Episcopalians do every year. According to the Pew Report, 55% of those Americans born Episcopalian leave that church in their lifetime (retention rate of Episcopal church is 45%).

Thus the Episcopal church has nothing to brag about -- yet. Maybe former Catholics, who joined their church, will be more loyal than cradle Episcopalians. But maybe those  same former Catholics will defect (from the Episcopal church) as they did from the Catholic church. Who knows! It's too early to tell. But it's nothing to brag about yet!  

Perhaps the rest of you have outgrown your youthful fears, but I still have mine, deep in the gut, formed by the nuns and a Dutch priest (in Cajun country no doubt). I find that Rome's big gun, their threat of nuclear war, boils down to "the loss of one's immortal soul." As the good bishop reminds me, if I leave the faith, I put my soul at risk.

It is a very, very difficult idea with which to live.

Ernie Bernard

Sure, the bishops have noticed & the Vatican II.  They have new programs to invite back "lapsed" Catholics.

However, the problem is that the bishops & the Vatican are unwilling to do anything about the causes of the problem.

They have all the power and are unwilling to share one iota of it.

This implies to me, that reform in the church can only take place outside the sphere of influence of the hierarchy.  I don't see any other way, sad to say.

I think the notion of those millions of Catholic, estimated to be somewhere between 17-30 million, starting their onw church is a GREAT idea.  Where do I sign up?

Jerry, COSF

In my 8:36am post, first line should read "...Vatican too."

Jerry, COSF

It is not an organizational problem. There has been certailny a failure of cathechesis, which is entirely due to the mediocre liberal thological and pastoral culture that has prevailed in the US Church roughly from 1965 to the end of last century. But even improving the cathechesis, in front of a culture drenched with positivism and relativism, is almost a super-human task. At the end of the day the Holy Spirit has to raise saints and give them charisms. The first duty of a bishops is to recognize such charisms and let them operate.

Besides the fact no sane person believes that 14-year old Joseph Ratzinger was really a Nazi, nobody told you that he resigned and there is a new Pope?

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.