Make Catholicism Cool Again

Make Catholicism Cool Again October 7, 2016


I’ve written about the decline of Catholicism and the church’s attempts to stay relevant. The latest such attempt is playing out in Brooklyn, as you can see in this puff piece:

The two Franciscan friars, complete with floor-length robes, stood behind the bar outside the 100-year-old church taking cash and slinging cans of Coors and Lime-A-Ritas in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

The diocese of Brooklyn called in the friars to revitalize the Holy Family Slovak Church in Greenpoint, which was on the brink of extinction due to low attendance. They set about making a raft of cosmetic changes, including renaming it to the San Damiano Mission (catchy!), replacing the old wooden doors with glass so passersby can see inside, and holding late-night R&B concerts in the building, complete with a fog machine. They have yoga classes and pet blessings. They want to bring in a food truck and turn the church into a community art hub. It’s all very cool and bohemian, very Brooklyn.

It’s too soon to tell if these changes will make any lasting difference, or if people are just temporarily attracted by the novelty. Still, according to one of the friars, there’s been a modest uptick in attendance:

On a good Sunday, as many as 50 people now attend Mass. It is not a huge number, “but it is a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Poland:

Thousands of women in Poland have gone on strike in protest against proposals for a total ban on abortions.

They marched through the streets wearing black as a sign of mourning for their reproductive rights.

…The Catholic Church is among those who support the total ban. The Polish Bishops’ Conference asked Catholics to pray for “the conscience and the light of the Holy Spirit on all Poles who protect human life from conception to natural death”.

This week, the Black Monday protests saw huge numbers of women marching against a proposed change to Poland’s abortion laws. Those laws are already among the strictest in Europe, permitting abortion only in cases of danger to the mother’s life, serious birth defects, or pregnancy from rape or incest. But a conservative government, with the church’s vocal support, wants to remove those exceptions and ban abortion under all circumstances. If a woman obtained an illegal abortion, both her and the doctor could go to prison. One ob-gyn said that if the changes pass, “If I have a patient with pre-eclampsia, who is 32 weeks pregnant, I will have to let her and her child die.”

In many cities, the protests filled the streets:

This is the face of the Catholic church that they’re less eager to display. No matter what public-relations gestures the church engages in to seem hip and with-it, there’s a medieval mentality hiding beneath the mask. Their ideal world is one where women are breeding stock, abortion is banned even when the lack of it kills women, people dying in agony are kept alive to suffer as long as possible, gay and lesbian people are condemned to lives of lonely celibacy or subjected to torture to “fix” them, and as for atheists… well, suffice to say that we don’t fare well in this scenario either.

Take a look at another quote from a neighborhood resident about that Brooklyn church:

Sabrina Tamar, 27, has lived near the mission for 10 years.

“Most people weren’t aware of this at first, but there’s definitely a sense of community I feel hasn’t been in this neighborhood in a while,” she said before taking her seat at the concert. “It’s wonderful. The friars are so tolerant and welcoming.”

Are they now? Pray tell, what are some examples of this welcoming and tolerant attitude?

Have these cool friars rejected the Pope’s edict against same-sex marriage? Do they think women should be ordained, or that divorce and cohabitation are permissible, or that contraception is OK to use? Or, more likely, are they just emphasizing the stuff that plays better with the crowd, while downplaying the parts of Catholic dogma that they know would make them look bad?

This is how it always works. Where religion is weakened and in the minority, it strives to project an image of harmlessness, affability and sophistication. But when they’re not afraid of public opinion, the mask comes off quickly. Whenever and wherever they get their hands on power*, the church authorities rule with an iron fist.

Like all the others, this attempt to prettify Catholic dogma changes nothing about what the church actually believes. It’s all about outward trappings, surface details. These friars, and the diocese that sent them, are hoping they can lure young people back by tweaking their style without changing the substance. But the church is still what it always was – a patriarchal, rigidly intolerant medieval relic – and all the fog machines in the world can’t conceal that.

* Or whenever they think they have power. I’m happy to report that, taken aback by the size of the protests, Poland’s governing party hastily backed off its draconian anti-abortion plan.

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