23 October, 2010

A remarkable and thought-provoking assessment of the current status of the Roman Catholic Church in North America. BEST ASSESSMENT I've read in many months!! A MUST READ!

 “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 worshipped 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.”



I've been to the same dinner party. At least, I've participated in similar conversations in the past few years. They've been exceedingly painful moments, not at all like unlike the crises that assault us in the wake of a death of a loved one. People's attachment to their parish was of a character that resembled an affection for a cherished friend or family member more than just an enrolment in an institution. In recognizing this early in my priesthood I found the key to assisting many to recover the practice of their faith.

Without being boastful, I can say that throughout my 20+ years as a priest that I have been successful where ever I have ministered. I have taken once moribund parishes, and with the aid of others there, we brought the community back to life. If I were to boast, I would point out that I've once experienced the need to more than double the size of a church to accommodate the numbers of the faithful who returned to the practice of their faith. In every assignment, we experienced a need to at least increase the number of masses needed to serve the community. I know how to 'build a church' in the evangelical sense of the phrase.

I was in the midst of doing so again here in Mattawa when the sex abuse scandal touched our region for the first time with the revelation of a priest who served here who was charged with a number of sex offenses. It was like a 'bunker-busting' bomb went off in the middle of the parish. The drop-off of participation in mass has been precipitous. Worryingly  it has been among individuals heretofore constant in the exercise of their faith for the past number of years.  

MANY have spoken to me on the street, in their homes and in my office to assure me that I am still welcome in their lives. They are appreciative of my efforts, but they are so angry with the 'CHURCH' that they no longer want to be associated with it.

Is my experience here unique? This article would suggest that it is not.

Are we truly past a point of no return and have lost these souls or will the constant effective ministry of individual priests win them back? I know that I am working hard now and making little progress. I very much fear that in this too, I am not unique.

So what are the Church leaders (Bishops, Pastors and laity) going to do about it?

Steinhels offers the following suggestions.  “What exactly should the bishops do? .... 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 acknowledgment 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?

Perhaps the same question can be asked of the Canadian Catholic Bishops who begin their annual plenary sessions together in Cornwall, Ontario this week.

20 comments:

  1. To kick this discussion off, let me say that I agree entirely with Steinfels assessment of the situation.

    Without being boastful I can say that throughout my 20+ years as a priest that I have been successful where ever I have ministered. I have taking previously moribund parishes and with the help of others there, we brought the parish back to life. If I were to boast, I would point out that I've once experienced the need to more than double the size of a church to accommodate the numbers of faithful who returned to the practice of their faith. In every assignment we experienced a need to at least increase the number of masses needed to serve the community. I know how to 'build a church' in the evangelical sense of the phrase.

    I was in the midst of doing so again here in Mattawa when the sex abuse scandal touched our region for the first time with the revelation of a previous priest who served here had been charged with a number of sex offenses. It was like a 'bunker-busting' bomb went off in the middle of the parish. The drop-off of participation in mass has been precipitous, and it has been among heretofore solid in the practice of their faith.

    MANY have spoken to me on the street, in their homes and in my office to assure me that I am still welcome in their lives, but that they are so angry with the 'CHURCH' that they no longer want to be associated with it.

    Is my experience here unique? This article would suggest that it is not.

    Are we truly past a point of no return and have lost these souls or will the consistent effective ministry of individual priests win them back? I know that I am working hard here and making little progress. I very much fear that in this too, I am not unique.

    So what are the Church leaders (Bishops & Pastors) going to do about it?

    Fr. Tim

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  2. "Are we truly past a point of no return and have lost these souls or will the consistent effective ministry of individual priests win them back?"
    No, not past a point of no return.
    Yes, Father, humble, faithful ministry will win souls back. Even more so if the souls receive sound catechesis. Did not Our Blessed Lord, say "Little Flock, fear not".

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  3. From what I have seen, the article is accurate. I think it is facile to blame the decline solely on secularism as has been done in the past. I think there are a number of factors.

    1. We have a more educated population, and for many of them, their religious formation ended at Grade 8.
    2. I saw an exodus after Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, and that was back in the sixties.
    3. I know personally a number of Catholics who have joined the Pentecostal or Baptist churches, probably for emotional fulfillment. They find the Mass sterile.
    4. Time and time again, I encounter women with anger that reaches the depths, and it's not just a frustrated desire for ordination. They feel that they don't have a voice.
    5. The sexual scandals have had a profound effect and will have for several generations. Our moral authority has been compromised. If we don't practice what we preach, then why should we be believed?
    6. I can't comment on mandatory celibacy because I really don't know how much of an issue this is. That being said, why are vocations to the priesthood declining in our society? They seem to be declining in the Anglican and Lutheran churches as well.
    7. Worst of all, I don't see people rebelling against the church, rather, the church has just become irrelevant to them.

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  4. I am not sitting around and waiting for the priests or the Bishops to do anything. I have decided to take the bull by the horns and get to work on teaching Doctrine to all those around me.
    I have a few clubs going on for children and teens where we teach the kids their catechism. I do it for the moms too. I have a bible study using Scott Hahn's materials,a Theology and Tea group where this year we are studying Bioethics, after having been going through the Catechism and the Compendium for many years. I am trying to teach the moms how to teach their children in order to reach more.
    I also write for a few Catholic Magazines as a way of teaching doctrine and I write lots of letters to the editor where what I am actually trying to express to the public is doctrine.
    I also, like Father Tim, blog for the same reason, to teach doctrine in a down to earth way. I spread the good news around on Facebook too.
    We have to get out there and meet people where they are and help bring them back by befriending them and getting them into true discussions and helping them learn.
    We are starting a dessert club too next month where we will have couples come here once a month for a video which we will then discuss and enjoy a great treat.
    I met mother Teresa of Calcutta when she came to Toronto in 1982 and she challenged me to work with the poor around me, not to follow her to India, to work here. The poor around me I have discovered are those who are ignorant of the truth.
    SO I meet people where they are at and through friendship try to bring them to the Truth.
    Why wait for the Bishops. Just get doing it.

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  5. Oh and I am starting a Theology of the Body for teens group for girls 13 and up and one for couples too. I really think this program when taught with Christopher Wests materials is where we are going to truly reach the people.

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  6. Dianne: You go girl! You're having to make up for the deficiencies of many other, but it sounds like you making great headway in the spirit of Catherine Doherty of Combermere of being 'holy' in the everyday acts of life!

    Fr. Tim

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  7. Here are my thoughts Father Tim.

    http://freethroughtruth.blogspot.com/2010/10/commonweal-further-adrift.html

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  8. I have to agree with Dianne. Why wait for the Bishops to act? Our leaders have to lead by lives of holiness, for this is the true magnet that attracts souls. People are tired of hypocrisy, of double lives, especially when those involved are the "supposed" leaders. This is not just in the priesthood-- the recent case of the murderous army commander Williams comes to mind...Why were people so shocked? Because our soldiers are supposed to protect us, not kill us.
    At the same time, being scandalized by the misdeeds of others to the extent that we cease to trust (be it the army or the priesthood), shows a genuine lack of maturity on the part of most people. Why are we so scandalized by the reality of evil, evil in all its forms? As I watched the confession tape of the army officer, I could not help but feel sorry for a man tormented by the horror of his own actions –as well he should be.
    So, rather than just wallow in disgust and disbelief at the evil perpetrated by those who should be our leaders, like Dianne, I choose to take the bull by the horns. My prayer is that I myself, by the grace of God, may not fall into duplicity of life, so that I may help bring souls to Christ --one by one.
    Success is not just in quantity, but rather in quality. Christ in us is the magnet that will bring souls back to the Church... not modernization, not activism, not failure to speak the truth in charity, even if the truth hurts.

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  9. Instead of worrying about the number of followers, perhaps it would be better to be concerned about whether the truth is even taught. John Calvin wisely says those who no longer preach Christ's Word are destitute of the truth and cannot claim to be a part of His church. He further says all assemblies which do not have the word spoken in truth and in spirit cannot be an assembly of believers.

    How is a true church known? By what the Holy Scripture teaches. In one place it says "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;" Ephesians ch2 vs 19,20.

    What is this foundations of the apostles and prophets? There is only one thing we have from the apostles and prophets, that is, God's written revelation to man, the Holy Bible. If a church is not built on this foundation, how can it be considered a true church?

    Further, it says Jesus Christ himself is the chief corner stone. How say some that the church is built on Peter, when the Holy Scripture says Jesus Christ is the corner stone? Can there two foundations?

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  10. Thanks for the article Tim. Here's a few thoughts of mine:

    1. I have heard all of this before and many others have reached his same conclusions. Although statistics are very important things to consider, I believe the problem of people leaving the Church is so multi-layered that no one, two or even three statistics can possibly grasp the situation in its fullness.

    Some of the reasons are universal, some societal, some philosophical, some are particular to a local area, some are sociological, some are the fault of the Church and her hierarchy, some are the fault of the laity.

    Here are some pertinent issues, I believe, have helped to contribute to the exodus, if you will, of Roman Catholics:

    a) They do not know their faith for it was never taught to them. Two generations have received a catechetical formation that taught them nothing, that treated them like idiots, that spoke of flowers instead of redemption.

    b) Local issues. In our diocese, our parishes are shrinking due to urbanization. Urbanization itself results, almost always, in a falling off from faith. The small local community, built around Church and School and the local hockey arena no longer exist. It is a cultural shift in living perhaps. I recently heard a statistic that, in Canada at one time, 80% of the population lived in a rural setting and 20% in cities. The numbers today are totally reversed with 80% in the cities and only 20% rural. The collapse of industries like the forestry are testaments to this shift. There are no jobs in the country anymore.

    c) Inability of Dioceses to come to terms with urbanization. This leaves the priest and much of the remaining laity involved in administration of buildings and properties that are no longer needed. We spent too much time balancing the books and not enough time preaching the gospel.

    con't next comment

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  11. d) Relativism and/or Individualism. The core doctrine of the secular religion is preached effectively from a very early time in a person's life through the mass media - especially TV and now the internet. Relativism is incompatible with any religion.

    e) Wealth. "In his wealth man lacks wisdom, he is like the beasts that are destroyed." Society is becoming increasingly narcissitic. This inward turning is being felt in churches but also in society in general. Volunteerism is declining at such a rate, one wonders what will happen in the next 10 years. Service clubs have less members as people now worship themselves as gods. Relativism and wealth do this to society and scripture warns us about it.

    f) Abusive clergy. Whether justified or not, the issue of the small minority of priests who have abused have caused great problems for the faithful. Rather than getting into why this has happened, we have to realize it is reality and try to deal with it.

    g) Anti-Catholicism. Coupled with the abuse situation, we really see the anti-catholic bias that has been ingrained throughout the history of Canada and the United States. I found it interesting how the Brits were protesting the Pope because his apology for the abusive priests was not personal enough. When will the Brits apologize for the massive crimes they have committed in history, especially during its Empire? Of note, in Canada, the Head of State is forbidden from being a Roman Catholic. Imagine if the prohibition was against Judaism or Islam!

    h) Multi-culturalism: In Canada, this doctrine has worked to secure rights and priveleges for the small miniority, sometimes against the common good. The majority is seen as oppressor and the miniority as oppressed. And so, because of the needs of a very, very small portion of the population, laws will be changed to accommodate. Sharia Law is not that far away - for all I know, it is already here.

    i) Accommodation rather than true ecumenism. Too often, ecumenism has been exercised by the Roman Catholics watering down their faith in order to appeal to the sensibilities of the other Christian churches. Too often we have equated ecumenism with everything being equal. This leads to confusion among the laity - many of whom think that there are no differences between Roman Catholicism and the various Protestant denominations. Indeed, we even make the mistake of calling ourselves a denomination. We are not. Denominations (de nomine = from the name) is a term for the various Protestant sects. Indifference to the faith is rampant.

    j) A breakdown of the sacramental life of the Church. The sacraments, we believe, are necessary for salvation and yet we have worked, perhaps unknowingly, to destroy this necessity. The implementation of General Absolution in the 1980s and so on, effectively destroyed the Sacrament of Reconciliation as did face-to-face confessionals. The Eucharist and its celebration deserve special attention.

    k) The Eucharist. We have voided the true nature of the Mass by rendering it nothing more than a memorial meal and gathering of the community. In total disregard for the immense theology of the Eucharist throughout our tradition, the term sacrifice rarely occurs in the writings of our most prominent liturgists. Mass has become a self-help group wherein the priest is expected to make everyone feel fuzy. A secondary has become a primary. In trying to recapture the need of lay participation, we have effectively voided any mention of sacrifice. We advertize in our bulletins: Sunday Liturgies. Ambiguous to say the least for Vespers is a liturgy. Even the architecture has been transformed into a circle such as one has in group therapy.

    con't next comment

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  12. l) Breakdown in Obedience: I am not talking about blind obedience but rather proper obedience. Too often, as happened in my own home parish, the priests thought themselves local Popes and invented their own liturgies and rules. They would tell people in the confessions (those who still went) that masturbation was not a sin; that it is ok to miss mass on Sunday; etc.... How could we possibly expect the people of God to be obedient when they see the hypocrisy in our disobedience?

    m) Abadonment of tradition. Too quickly we threw the baby out with the bath water. Over the centuries, the Church developed her liturgies according to what worked well - and she refined it. The church was built so as to draw a person into the heavenly realities. As in Chapeau, you see the high altar, the angels painted above, the Trinity, the saints -- The architecture immediately draws you upward and out of yourself. Compare this to Eganville which causes nausea. The refinement of the use of symbols and actions that worked on our senses. Gregorian Chant which has no down beat thus keeping the listener and singer uplifted. The use of smell with incense, the use of symbol like the fish and the pellican. The reception of communion, on your knees with tongue for this is not just ordinary food - not like a candy that you would receive from a clown, but the bread of angels, the body of Christ. All of these things were used to engage the entire person in worship. Even the saints, with they various patrinage appointments, allowed you to attach yourself to someone who went through the same thing. So, for me, St. Dymphna is important as the saint of mental diseases, for others it may be St. Peter, etc.

    Well, I think that is enough although I could go on and on. Celibacy, teachings on homosexuality, etc., are all results to some of the above. They are not the core problems. It does not bother me that the Church is shrinking. I am not surprised that there are many leaving because they know nothing about the Faith to begin with. She may get smaller, but she will be stronger than ever!

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  13. "....that taught them nothing, that treated them like idiots, that spoke of flowers instead of redemption."....ROTFL!!!
    So sad.....so true......

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  14. Hi Fr. Tim,

    I read the article and following are my thoughts:

    1. First off, I don't know why "numbers" is a concern at all. As a matter of fact, what does "numbers" has to do with anything?
    2. Regarding people, especially young ones, leaving the Church in droves: I think what's important is we preach authentic Catholic Faith, remaining faithful to the Magisterium, and more importantly, living the Magisterium. If people want to leave the Church after finding out the Truth and after witnessing the Truth being lived out, so be it. Jesus' disciples left Him too, what's so different now?
    3. Fr. Tim, think about why you didn't leave the Church, nor do you plan on doing so. Why? Maybe because you've found the Truth? Maybe, just maybe, people are leaving the Faith based on what they perceive as the Catholic faith? Maybe all they see is the surface of all the "Thou shalt not"s and seemingly mechanical vocal prayers like the Rosary, without understanding the underlying love beneath that surface?
    4. Problem with Celibacy is another manifestation of problem with marriage. If we don't appreciate marriage (we don't in this age), we can't appreciate celibacy.
    5. On meeting spiritual needs: Is it not hypocritical to say (and believe), on the one hand, that Christ is the ONLY avenue through whom we approach God and Christ alone; and on the other, that they can't find God in the Catholic Church? Am I missing something?
    6. People need excuses to leave the Church. Some "converts" to the Evangelicals claimed that we don't read Scriptures. Maybe these converts never attended a Mass? Lame excuses abound........
    7. Last time I checked, the Church is most vibrant and expanding by leaps and bounds when Christians "witness" their faith. The problem is not in the numbers, it's in the "witness"ing, or more precisely, the lack of.
    8. No witnessing = no converts = no numbers = nothing else matters.

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  15. Another excellent piece on the same question, but coming at it from another perspective: through the lens of 'forgiveness'.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/october/28.40.html

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  16. 1. To forgive is to release the victim from the hell created by the perpetrator, putting a close to it so to speak, as opposed to indulging oneself in an infinite loop (sorry....couldn't come up with a better term than this technie one), looping oneself indefinitely through the same pain.
    2. God is the ultimate judge. He will pass judgement and deliver due punishment in His time. Justice will be served.
    3. When the perpetrator's eyes are opened, and they are made to understand the gravity, nature, and seriousness of their sins, (s)he will want to plunge into the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno himself/herself. God doesn't have to throw them in there. They would NEED to do it to ease their pain.
    4. Sin is a mystery.
    5. Mercy is a mystery, infinitely greater than the mystery of sin.

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  17. One of the new posters on here, EF pastor emeritus, says on one of his postings on his bloq "Why, oh why have we stopped burning heretics?"

    This is sad, especially sad coming from someone who says he is a (RC) pastor emeritus (retired)in Wales. He says also he is a pastor in good standing so far. Seems like he is unsure whether he will continue to be a pastor in good standing. If he believes in questioning why heretics are not being burned, maybe he has good reason to wonder if he will remain in good standing. I can understand why.

    I have thought about how to reply to his comment on his bloq but so far have not been able to find the words to speak to someone of that persuasion. Certainly, this kind of attitude is not something that Christ or the apostles taught.

    Not only did Jesus say thou shalt not kill in more than once place in the Bible, but he even taught we are to love our neighbour and even those we perceive are our enemies.

    Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for sinners, which we all are. By this he showed his love for mankind. This is the opposite of what the Koran teaches, i.e., that infidels should be killed. I would like some comments from Roman Catholics on this. What do you think about this? Is this one subject that we can agree on?

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  18. The charts take a bit of thinking to interpret and it does apply to Britain but this is a fascinating graphic of where a generation's religion changes.

    http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=459

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  19. "Relativism is incompatible with any religion."

    Not so. Relativism is essential in mine!

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  20. It is the dawn of the Laity. The laity has to be the leaven in our society and wake up all those around us.

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