When Do We Become Just Another Protestant Denomination?
The New Oxford Note on Kenneth C. Joness new book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II (Jan., pp. 22-24), raises some serious questions.
The U.S. Catholic Church statistics presented in this book are truly ominous. Virtually every indicator of Church well-being (priests, ordinations, seminarians, religious orders, high schools, grade schools, sacramental life, Mass attendance, etc.) is in precipitous decline. And of those calling themselves Catholics, fewer and fewer follow Church rules or accept Church doctrine. Yet the total number of Catholics in the U.S. continues to rise! Since the mid-1960s, when all these indicators went into freefall, Church membership has actually risen by 43 percent, and continues to rise at a rate of more than 700,000 Catholics each year. With the Church in collapse by almost every measurable standard, her membership continues to increase!
How can such an apparent contradiction take place? If all else were equal, certainly no such contradiction would be possible. But all else is not equal. Our Church has become a different Church!
Rather than standing firm in the face of secularism, the U.S. Church capitulated to it, weakening, if not in effect abandoning, her long-established teachings on birth control, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc. The Church has defined Catholicism down! In so doing she has increased her membership, but at the price of becoming a Church that is something less than Catholic.
Joness book virtually compels us to ask a simple question: If the pre-Vatican II Church was the Catholic Church, and if todays Church has declined to something less than Catholic, at what point do we become just another Protestant denomination?
Or, as I think more likely, have we already passed that critical point in our decline? Have we become one of the fastest growing Protestant denominations in the country?
Please ask your readers to forward copies of Joness book to their priests, to their bishops, and to the Pope. Then perhaps just perhaps they too might begin to ask these same questions.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
No, the U.S. Catholic Church has not become Protestant, but she is in danger of becoming so.
If Church membership has increased by 43 percent, you must remember that most of that is due to immigration from Latin America, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere, for conversions have declined in number and U.S.-born Catholics seldom have large families. Moreover, according to the Jones book, weekly Mass attendance has dropped from 74 percent in 1958 to 25 percent in 2000. So theres a lot of smoke and mirrors in the Church membership increases.
Do the math. For every 100 Catholics before the Second Vatican Council, 74 attended Mass weekly. If today the Catholic population has increased by 43 percent, but if only 25 percent attend Mass weekly, then there are only 36 people at Mass now compared to 74 before Vatican II. Thats a calamitous drop. So if you get rid of the smoke and mirrors, you see that the liberalization of Catholicism has not been good for the U.S. Church.
One great hope for the U.S. Church is Catholic immigrants, whose experience of Catholicism is more traditional. These immigrants could help save the U.S. Church.
Astonished by Your Lack of Perception
I am astonished at the lack of perception in your New Oxford Note on Kenneth Joness book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators (Jan). It is evident that you havent much skill in interpreting facts and figures regarding the progress, since 1965, of the church we all love. You do not understand the Spirit of Vatican II. You simply must begin to understand the wonderful things that have happened because of that council. Let me educate you.
You cry loudly about the decline in the number of priests, but you miss the whole point. Why do we need the same number of priests now, since there are so many lay people willing to do the various jobs of priests? Its a lot less expensive that way. In addition, since almost no one goes to confession now, who needs all those priests to be wasting their time sitting in the box, getting paid for doing nothing?
But if a real shortage of priests should occur, we could always start ordaining women. After all, the popes declaration on the subject cant really be infallible, since he is a man, and an old man at that.
Likewise, your regret over the greatly decreased number of teaching sisters is poorly grounded. After all, with the drop in the number of catholic schools and students, we dont need as many teaching sisters as we once supported. Another point regarding catholic education is obvious, though you didnt see it. With such a shrinking number of students, why should we support a great number of schools?
You deal poorly with the question of declining mass attendance. Do you really expect catholics to be rigid about such things? If a catholic does good christian things during the week, why should he or she have to interrupt his or her weekend by going to church?
The current marriage situation bothers you. Why, of course there are fewer marriages now! If two people truly love each other, it is perfectly proper for them to just live together, for the commitment of marriage puts unbelievable strains on a relationship. Further, why should they submit to a marriage that will only make separation more difficult?
You bemoan the fact that annulments have greatly increased in number. Well, I say thank heaven for bishops who have made annulments simple and virtually automatic. Lets face it, the idea of full consent of the will was applied far too broadly in the old days. I agree with the head of the marriage tribunal in a large diocese who began his every written annulment opinion (he granted 100 percent of the petitions, as far as I know) with this statement by an up-to-date theologian whose work you surely wouldnt know: It is harder to enter a valid marriage than to commit a mortal sin. This theologian had both marriage and mortal sin in the proper perspective, for free will just isnt very free, as any modern psychologist will tell you.
The decline in catholic publications is another subject you mistakenly moan about. It is clear that the churchs people have finally matured to the point where they know that their whole faith is about love and compassion. When this is understood, the intellectual details in catholic publications no longer matter. You should be happy that the faith has gotten beyond the archaic ways of the intellect that hobbled it for so long.
To be a catholic means to be tolerant of all kinds of diversity, to accept others just as they are, and to realize that God loves everyone unconditionally and would never allow anyone to go to hell.
Let us salute the church of today, and hope for further progress. It is finally leaving its ghetto, joining the rest of society. No longer need we stand out as oddities.
I am a subscriber and just came across one of your ads satirically entitled Wanna Design Your Own Religion? In the text of the ad you state: Contrary to Church teaching, evangelization now basically means working for a better world . Do Christians care anymore [about full-blown evangelization]? The Pope does.
Isnt the Pope youre referring to the one who invited the leadership of false religions to Assisi to pray to their false gods for world peace? The same Pope was shown kissing the Koran, which is the law of Islam that provokes discrimination, hatred, and violence toward Christianity. And didnt one of his cardinals (Kasper) recently state that it isnt necessary for the Catholic Church to convert Jews? In light of the obvious scandals mentioned here, how can you make the case that John Paul II cares a wit about evangelization?
Michael F. MacLachlan