Monday, February 19, 2007

What Does the Study Tell Us? Seven Prominent Catholics Respond

Crisis Magazine asked for responses to its state of the Church study.

Russell Shaw noted the criteria used did not measure the general participation of the laity. Of course,
One can only analyze information that’s available, and a lot of important information about the Catholic Church in America either isn’t available or, by design, is available to only a few.

Hence the publication of financial accounts to show the need for (more) money, but not of non-financial accounts which might be used to ask for better results from hierarchy, clergy and staff.

(Update: Here are at least the current Archdiocese of Milwaukee Statistics.)

He notes that Sunday Mass attendance has dropped from 70% to 30%.
At this point, incidentally, Catholic happy-talk used to require saying that there’s far more to being a good Catholic than going to church. Battling for social justice and peace, it usually was said, is vastly more important. But you don’t hear that bit of wisdom so often any more, since even among the happy-talkers it seems to have sunk in that something is seriously wrong when only three Catholics out of ten attend Mass each week—especially when it’s perfectly clear that the other seven aren’t skipping Mass in order to fight for peace and justice.

(Not that this means the "happy-talkers" have rediscovered the distinction between necessary and sufficient.)

He notes that almost all the overall growth in the number of American Catholics is Hispanics.

Smaller dioceses tend to be doing better overall. But they generally are small because they are in smaller communities. If, say, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles does poorly, is that because it's a big diocese or because it's a big city? Thus, it's not known if breaking up large dioceses would produce better results. And ambitious bishops and priests seem attracted to a shot at leading a big diocese, perhaps even if it's a big hollow diocese.

Deal Hudson says the large number of total Catholics is misleading. The number of active Catholics might not be any more than the number of active Southern Baptists.

Bishop Joseph Kurtz of Knoxville, Tennessee, points out one difference in a small diocese.
...we do not have a personnel committee but rather direct contact between bishop and priest in dealing with pastoral assignments.

By contrast, our new pastor will likely be picked by the priest placement board.

David Carlin says much of the variation in diocesan results comes from the demographics of the dioceses' territories. While it's important that the person at the top be accountable, he can't see how the accounting could be done.

Mary Jo Anderson sees the ultimate challenge.
As the article indicates, there is one constant for all American bishops: The "now dominant (and hostile) secular culture" erodes the shared Christian cultural markers that earlier bishops counted upon as part of the American heritage. The fastest-growing self-identified cultural group is adult atheists or agnostics.

That might make a good footnote for the Gaudium et Spes section of a Vatican II failure analysis. But it's an ultimate, not immediate, challenge.
This is the kind of world an American bishop must confront--impossible when the health of his own diocese is on life-support.

Part of that immediate challenge is re-evangelization, including of our own clergy. I'll add re-evangelization of our diocesan and parish staffs.

Amy Welborn "nitpicks" by pointing out other things the selected statistics do not show. For example
a Chicago pastor wrote a forthright note in his parish bulletin about the ordinations in his archdiocese, noting that none of the ordinands was a native of Chicago, none had had his faith formed in a parish in the archdiocese, and all but one were born outside the United States.

George Sim Johnston anticipated my point about our staffs.
There are dedicated, talented Catholics who work in CCD, RCIA, and Pre-Cana programs; but there are also legions of functionaries who somehow got on the payroll and want to turn the Church into yet another Protestant denomination.

Or, as a Comment at Mike's noted,
...there are great tensions and terrible battles over theology within each parish staff.

Johnston says
We need to purge the last vestiges of clericalism, which oddly linger on both the Catholic right and left. The Church is not simply an institution run by the clergy; it is an evangelical movement that should involve everyone.

The Comment at Mike's indicates how our staffs and committees have their own version of clericalism, characterized by what I call minister as an intransitive verb. The satisfaction of ministry isn't being measured by what was accomplished for the people.

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