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The Future of the Church in the US?

In a review essay in Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw quotes a strikingly pessimistic passage from former Commonweal columnist David Carlin:"Reviewing the evidence of decline in his book The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America (Sophia Institute Press, 2003), David Carlin concludes that the outcome of the crisis will probably be the de facto collapse of the Church in America and the retreat of Catholics into the status of a "minor and relatively insignificant sect." Traditionalists will have won the internal Catholic power struggle, mainly because the progressives will have drifted away. But in the end, the small band of traditionalists will find themselves isolated in "a new Catholic quasi-ghetto," with about as much influence on the culture as the Amish and Hasidic Jews have now."Is Carlin right?And if you read Shaw's review, it seems clear that his solution is more discipline --kicking more people out (or more precisely, telling them that their actions and beliefs have put them outside the Church). But won't this simply hasten the world Carlin predicts?


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David,I wasn't advocating shunning or excommunication. Paul wasn't crazy about it either, and required it in the case I mentioned in order to save the soul of the person he excommunicated! "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (I Cor 5:5) The excommunication seems to have led to a reconciliation (2 Cor. 2:1-11).Excommunication is not the same as damnation. It's strong medicine but nevertheless, medicine.I don't think Bill is being realistic with his paradigm: early Church = pure, non-hierarchical, only concerned with helping the poor vs. 3rd/ 4th century Church = corrupted, authoritarian, power-based.I also think that your paradigm of Paul = shunning vs. Jesus = welcoming is overly simplistic. See, for example, Mt 18:15-17.The Church has a serious responsibility, and I simply don't think that everyone's perfectly normal desires to be treated with kid gloves is anywhere near as important as the deeper human desire, "to gain Christ and be found in him." That's not really business as usual in America, is it? It's a narrow gate. So sometimes there's a good reason to take strong action."...the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before ones eyes." (canon 1752)

I'd like to suggest that part of the divvy line here is based on historical perspective.In general, folks will concede it's part of the Church's job to have a teaching office that the Faithful listen to.I also hope we can agree that grace builds on nature and that the leaders of the Church have human weaknesses in carrying out their functions. Finally, it's clear that Catholics hold defined teaching as unchangeable.The divide became evident shortly after Vatican II and was opened wide by Humanae Vitae. We're pretty much aware of how the old Holy Office/Ottaviani forces fought tooth and nail against reform. When the Bishops and their advisors went home, they regrouped, ultimately under the new more mellilluos CDF title. and saw VII as an abwerration and the need to go back. On the otherhand , many saw a welcome open window.As the Conservative forces gaied strength, many started to pull away which led to an even stronger pull by some to go back.A greater emphasis was placed on the rule of the magisterium and was seen by many as a power tool to get folks back into line, while others saw it as a proper extablishment of authority.If that reading has any merit, what is lacking (I submit again) is balance and Andrew's call for rexamination makes good sense, if we can approach the issues with balance.As to the American Church, my supposisition is that leadership (probably under heavy Roman/curial) direction is urging the identity push and thus the dialogue(there's that word again) needed to imagine what could bring about a hopeful closing of the divide is far more difficult.Hence, I think Gene is right about a questioning attituse being useful, until real dialogue exists acros lines h

Kathy,Thank you for reading my message in spite of the fact that my blockquotes went totally awry!It sounds to me like what both Paul and Jesus were talking about was more akin to social ostracism than what we think of when we think of excommunication today. Jesus certainly couldn't have been advocating cutting someone off from receiving the sacraments.It is interesting in the passage from Matthew you cite that Jesus says, "If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." Of course, Jesus was always being accused of associating with sinners and tax collectors. Perhaps Matthew was elaborating on the words of Jesus there.I am still interested in whether you think a "drunkard" in Paul's time would be an "alcoholic" (or perhaps a substance abuser) today. It seems to me a great deal of analysis and many conclusion are drawn from Paul's use of one word (porneia). What does it mean to us today when he says to "excommunicate" drunkards?

Isn't Russell Shaw, former PR guy for the USCCB, somehow associated with Opus Dei?Why do some folks tend to put so much emphasis on Paul when his writings (as well as writings attributed to him but apparently written by his followers) seem jumbled at times? Where does Jesus revealed in the gospels enter the discussion? Who takes precedence, Jesus or Paul?If the bishops are somehow inspired by the Holy Spirit, what about the rest of us?Did folks "disobey" Humanae Vitae simply out of pure spite, or did concrete human experience and concrete human conditions influence folks to use artificial birth control? Is NFP morally justifiable when it's used to prevent conception?A recent book review about Hoge et al's survey on U.S. Catholics mentioned that mass attendance is returning to its pre-WWII level of around 30% or so (attendance went up during the war and in the years immediately after). Yet, some folks like to point to the laxity of Vatican II vs. the discipline of Trent. Is Jesus really going to give a diddlysquat whether someone obeyed the pope vs. living the gospel message?Did Jesus emphasize love or law? If the Lord came to "fulfill the Law," what's Love got to do with it?Jesus gave the power to bind and loose to Peter, but this same power was also given to the "disciples." Are we not disciples, our human frailties notwithstanding? Do not we as disciples in community have the authority from Jesus to forgive sins, both "venial" and "mortal?" (Doesn't the priest act on behalf of Christ and community?) Is all of this tied in with Jesus' admonition to forgive 70 times 7 (indefinitely)?Who constitutes "the church" or "the Church?" In fact, what is "the church" or "the Church?"Were not the earliest Christian churches/communities "congregational" in setup? If I recall, church historian Roland Bainton said such was the case.

"We can understand a reluctance to focus too much on the content of Jesus' preaching, largely because it is easier to talk about him than it is to talk about what he talked about." - Peter J. Gomes

Hello Joseph (and All),As always, you raise a number of serious and interesting questions. I would like to respond to two:>Did folks disobey Humanae Vitae simply out of pure spite, or did concrete human experience and concrete human conditions influence folks to use artificial birth control? Is NFP morally justifiable when its used to prevent conception?I am especially interested in these questions for a variety of reasons, including that I will be marrying a woman who wants to do NFP. We have had some lively and respectful exchanges about these questions, and I have not had many such exchanges outside this web log that were so fruitful even though we have not changed each others' minds.To the first question, I suspect that the truth lies closer to the second possibility you raise, though my mate tends to believe the first possibility. Perhaps this is a generational difference because I prefer to refer to myself as a "Vatican II Catholic" while my mate would happily be called a "John Paul II" Catholic. My impression is that a large part of a younger generation of Catholics agree with the claims that contraception is intrinsically evil and that Catholics who disobey the teaching reasserted in Humanae Vitae are simply rebels who refuse to obey because they want sex with no consequences. I, being older, found the arguments of Humanae Vitae incomprehensible as a college student and even after more than two decades of serious study and reflection I still don't find these arguments persuasive. So I think I am like many Catholics who were not persuaded by Humanae Vitae that contraception is intrinsically evil, and who also believe that in many cases couples have compelling reasons to use it. (I think in particular of couples whose careers require them to live apart a significant amount of the time.) So that at least is why I tend to favor the latter possibility you raise in your first question.As to your second question, the purpose of NFP is to avoid conception so I suppose the official Church answer has to be "Yes.". But to people who think it is inconsistent to condemn contraception but approve of NFP, I think there is a morally relevant difference. If a couple use contraception, then typically the woman bears all of the physical costs, such as the additional stress on her body if she uses oral contraception. With NFP the woman and the man share the physical costs of avoiding pregnancy. To be honest this is the only reason I am willing to try NFP but I think it is a good reason. After all these years of reflection and study, I am still not convinced that contraception is evil, and I suppose that puts me in the majority of American Catholics. But I think abstaining from contraception can be an ideal to aspire to, similar to abstaining from eating meat.

Hello Again All,My apologies for entering into the discussion late once more. Grading papers is slow work!I have a more general observation that is addressed more the main topic of conversation here. In his article Mr. Shaw suggests that part of the necessary remedy would require priests to preach much more frequently from the pulpit on Church teaching on controversial matters, including contraception. While I don't want to be uncharitable, my impression is that Mr. Shaw thinks Catholics seldom hear homilies on the evils of contraception, gay relationships, and similarly controversial subjects is cowardice on the parts of priests who fear becoming less popular. I wonder if an alternate explanation is possible, namely, that perhaps a great many priests have joined many of the laity in quietly disagreeing with official Church teaching on these matters.Here is a relevant example: My god sister and her now husband, who is Baptist, gave up trying to marry in the Catholic Church in part because they decided the did not want an annulment of his former marriage. They married in a civil ceremony, and when they returned to her church her priest told her she could still receive Holy Communion. Some of my friends have expressed outrage at this story, and have suggested that the priest was afraid of taking an unpopular stand. I suggest an alternate explanation: Perhaps this priest thought that the Church law that denies communion to Catholics who marry outside the Church is unjust.

Hello One More Time All,I'd also like to ask some follow up questions to an observation Bill made here:>By the way, Shaw, quite unjustly and ignorantly condemns the Land of Lakes agreement with Catholic universities whose main architect is the peerless Ted Hesburgh. If it were not for Hesburgh we would all be wallowing in the madness of the Roman Curia. And there is not a person in the last century that is a better Catholic Christian than Ted.I'm afraid I don't know the history here and I don't have the time to look it up. I have heard of this incident a number of times and always portrayed as a terrible example of Catholics simply rebelling against the Church for convenience. I've also seen how certain Roman Catholic institutions such as Ave Maria University and Franciscan University of Stuebenville advertise themselves as faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Presumably leading Catholic institutions such as Georgetown, Boston College and Notre Dame are unfaithful to the magesterium since they do not make the same claim as Ave Maria and Franciscan University.But what does it mean for a university to be faithful to the magisterium? Or to be independent from the magisterium? I have tried for some time without success to learn what institutions like Ave Maria and Franciscan University mean when they claim to be faithful to the magisterium. If, as I suspect, they mean they they will not teach in the classroom any material at odds with the magisterium, then I think they are doing a terrible disservice to their students. As I have argued in pervious threads, Catholic university students need to know the arguments of those who attack Church teaching if they have any hope of defending Church teaching after they graduate. But if they mean that they will teach various positions but advocate only positions taught by the magisterium, I would respond that no instructor should be advocating any political or religious agenda in the classroom.I'm asking honestly, can anyone clear me up here?

For those, such as I, who have not cared enough in the past to do the research, here is info on the LoL Agreement:

Jimmy,Thanks for the link. I couldn't imagine what a butter company had to do with Catholic education.

Peter, You and any professor must familiarize with LOL agreement. Catholic universities flourished after that as the quality accelerated. Gone are the days, sadly, when Ted H would call Paul VI and tell him to get this meddling Curia official off his back.

But if they mean that they will teach various positions but advocate only positions taught by the magisterium, I would respond that no instructor should be advocating any political or religious agenda in the classroom.

Peter, I would have thought that the only purpose for having a Catholic school of any kind would be to advance Catholic positions. Of course, there are subject areas in which would be no relevant Catholic position (e.g., mathematics), but what would be the point of Catholic education if not to advocate Catholic positions in the classroom? It seems to me any good classroom experience should involve all points of view, but when you feel you have the Truth about certain matters, how can you not say, "This is view A, and this is view B, and this is view C--and the Church teaches us that C is the correct view?"

I'm not sure that the future of the Church in the US is mainly influenced by the way the university handles its Catholicism. Tha;s an importanti ssue and we've discussed it at length elsewhere.The issue is the drift away by many (some?0 and what the Church will look like down the road.John Allen's piecve today discusses BXVI's visit in April and what he's looking for from the American Church.Fair enough. But part of the divide and the move away is that many would like hom to know what they expect of him, especially in regard to sex abuse crisis, Eucharistic access, a voice for the laity, transparency, etc.

Indeed, David. Academic freedom is *not* meant to be academic license. Even in the AAUP theory of academic freedom the professor is free to advocate in his/her classroom only about matters the professor is recognized as competent in. This is why Catholic theology professors usully have advanced degrees in theology -- to guarantee their students (and their parents) that the official Church's teachings will be presented competently.The most obvious problem, however, is that some of the official Church's teachings have changed from time to time. So how can we know *which* of those teachings are true interpretations of the facts we have? Furher, just what are the relevants facts of revelation, especially the facts in and concerning Scripture? Because our knoelwedge of those facts is thoroughly dependent on fallible historians, we can never be absolutely sure just what the facts are and what the meanings of those facts are. In other words, though the Holy Spirit's own meanings of revelation are infallible, there are often problems finding just what the Holy Spirit has meant to say to us.I fear that many of the faculty of such institutions as Ave Maria subscribe to a very naive theological epistemology. They seem to assume that the Holy Spirit whispers truth into the ears of individual popes and other official Church teachers.

I"d love feedback on this piece, from a New Jersey paper: seems to me that this is the kind of real life in-the-pews stuff we're talking about. Does anyone here have any problem with this? I would love to see a piece like this hashed out here instead of the easy targets on the Right around which the commentators here can so easily gather about with their stones.

Regarding religious academic freedom at Catholic-affiliated universities:Unless the academician is free to differentiate between the creed, the code and the cult of Catholicism, there is no academic freedom nor should there be a pretense thereof.If Catholic universities exist to only parrot the CCC, God help us all.

Elaine,I thought the CCD teacher was mistaken to discuss the topic of abortion with fourth graders, even so briefly and even though one of the children brought it up. I don't know who teaches CCD classes nowadays, but when my younger brother and sister went (long, long ago) they were taught by volunteers with no teaching experience. I remember in eighth grade (regular Catholic school), in something like geography class, cattle breeding was mentioned in a textbook, which said something about choosing two of the best animals to produce high-quality offspring. One unfortunate boy asked why they didn't choose the one very best cow. Sister M. said, "Well, we'll get to that later." (We never did.) Questions can always be avoided. I thought the mother handled it well, but even though I agree with the her, she seems way too comfortable--even nonchalant--about her disagreements with Church teachings.

Hello David (and All),My apologies for being so sloppy in one of my posts last evening.>I would have thought that the only purpose for having a Catholic school of any kind would be to advance Catholic positions. Of course, there are subject areas in which would be no relevant Catholic position (e.g., mathematics), but what would be the point of Catholic education if not to advocate Catholic positions in the classroom? It seems to me any good classroom experience should involve all points of view, but when you feel you have the Truth about certain matters, how can you not say, This is view A, and this is view B, and this is view Cand the Church teaches us that C is the correct viewYes this makes perfect sense to me. You are right, there might be little point in having a Catholic university that did not have some requirements for students to be exposed to certain subjects where the Church has considered and characteristic positions. Most Catholic universities have some philosophy and theology requirements not typically required in secular universities and I think that is completely appropriate. The kind of advocacy I object to is not the kind you describe. I should have been more clear. What I object to is any instructor using class time to try to persuade students to adopt a particular political position, possibly by intimidation. I have never worked in a Catholic institution (and almost certainly never will) so I have no idea if this takes place often in Catholic institutions. But it does on occasion take place in the secular institutions I have worked in. For example, some students where I have worked have been intimidated by some of their instructors into not writing papers that argue for an anti-abortion position. If I were working in a Catholic institution I would object just as strongly if an instructir were to suggest in the classroom that people who don't agree with Church teaching on abortion are stupid or disordered so that students would be afraid to write or argue in class in favor of a pro abortion rights stance.