Disappearing breed: “bad Catholics”

Australia’s Cardinal George Pell observes:

Some decades ago when I was a priest in the country I blessed many marriages and generally attended the wedding reception.

As a priest my presence was acknowledged and welcomed.  I tried to ensure the telegrams and speeches were not too crude; efforts that met with mixed success.

Regularly when tongues were loosened a bit, someone would tell me that he was “a bad Catholic” or “non-practising”.  I don’t attend many weddings today but I fear that the “bad Catholic” species is almost extinct.

I am not talking about the R.Cs, the retired Catholics, who have broken with the Church.  My subjects are those other R.Cs, who are resting or relaxed.

What seems to be new is that so few of the resting or relaxed see themselves as “bad” Catholics.  In fact a growing number seem to believe that as long as you claim the label you are as good as Catholic as the pope!

To begin to understand this development we might run together two truisms.  What is in the cat comes out in the kitten and the anti-religious pressures today, especially in the media and entertainment, are formidably strong.  In other words, if the parents have little idea about faith and moral principles, then their children will be carried further away by the culture.

Recently a brother priest recounted a conversation he had with a couple who came along for a Catholic marriage.  “Where are you religiously”, he asked.  “What about your relationship with God?”  It is terrific, was the answer.  They explained that they never prayed or went to Mass and claimed emphatically that they were not worried by any guilt about sins or wrong doing.

The priest was flabbergasted.  “How could they square this circle?  What about Christ’s command to repent and believe?”  They were sure there was no need to worry on that score because God loved them as they were!  The priest could make no progress against that conviction.

Not one of us is completely logical, but ours is an age of profound religious confusion.  One Pew Research Center US finding informed us that half the sample of agnostics and one fifth of the atheists believed in some sort of deity or Supreme Intelligence.  Anything is possible.

However the conviction that God and Jesus are not interested in whether we are good, bad or indifferent is new and it is not the Christian faith.


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