Three items from my twitter feed.
Item 1: the Pope.
On CNN the other day, “Pope admits the Church has lost credibility over sex abuse scandal.”
Pope Francis told a crowd of young people in the Estonian capital Tallinn on Tuesday that he understood that many of them were “upset” by the sexual abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church and that the institution had lost credibility as a result.
It was his first reference to the sex abuse crisis since arriving in the Baltic region on Saturday, and came on the same day as bishops in Germany released a damning report into abuse by Catholic priests in the country over the past seven decades.
“We know — and you have told us — that many young people do not turn to us for anything because they don’t feel we have anything meaningful to say to them,” the Pope said in Tallinn on the final day of his four-day Baltic tour.
“In fact, some of them expressly ask us to leave them alone, because they feel the Church’s presence as bothersome or even irritating. They are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young.” . . .
“When we adults refuse to acknowledge some evident reality, you tell us frankly: ‘Can’t you see this?’ Some of you who are a bit more forthright might even say to us: ‘Don’t you see that nobody is listening to you any more, or believes what you have to say?'”
He acknowledged that the Church must change if young people are to regain trust in the institution.
“We have to realize that in order to stand by your side we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off,” the Pope said.
So good for him! Except that I wonder whether CNN was being a bit generous in seeing this as an acknowledgment that he and the bishops had a lot of housecleaning to do. After all, what does he mean by “economic scandals?”, and in what way does the bishops’ cover-ups have any connection to their “unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young”? — as if the rooting out of abuse and cover-up has to do with making young adults happy vs. bringing about justice.
Rod Dreher also characterizes the subsequent press conference as a matter of “stonewalling” since, in the section of the press conference devoted to these questions he quickly shifts from the topic at hand to a more generalized observation that certain things now perceived as wrong, were accepted in the past, and raises the example that the Vatican had the death penalty until 1870 (which was — side note — when the Papal States ceased to exist, not when the Pope became enlightened regarding the death penalty, which in principle existed until 1969 for the crime of an attempted papal assassination), and other journalists who would have wanted to ask questions about Vigano or McCarrick were not able to, and the press conference itself was short.
Separately, in Chicago, the case of the banner-burner in hiding. Again, Rod Dreher has details here with a follow-up here. For secular reporting, here’s the Chicago Tribune. The core of the story is that Resurrection Church in Chicago, in the early/mid-90s was a “gay church” — that is, with an actively-gay pastor who wore rainbow vestments and had a banner with a rainbow and a cross that hung in the church sanctuary. The vestments were burned some time ago after a change of leadership, but the banner was found recently, and the parishioners, along with Father Paul Kalchik, burned it (which is, apparently, the proper method of disposing of liturgical items, rather than simply placing them in the dumpster) — an act which produced protests by those proclaiming this was an “act of hate.” Then, last Saturday, Kalchik was removed by the archdiocese and told to seek counseling; Kalchick and his supporters state that the archdiocese planned to involuntarily commit him to a psychiatric hospital and that, to protect himself, he is now “in hiding.” (The second Dreher link contains an interview from his “secure location.”) In the meantime, the archdiocese said, in a statement, that he had ongoing mental health issues and that his removal was unrelated to the banner-burning, and, according to an article yesterday at the Catholic News Agency, the archdiocese further claimed that “Fr. Kalchik left willingly to receive pastoral support” and he is now “working with the vicar for clergy to get the support he needs.”
Item 3: where is the church headed?
America is rapidly secularizing, so the Catholic Church is bound to lose people. A priest who ministers in a predominantly Hispanic community told me recently that the US bishops are counting on the Latino influx to keep their numbers high, but it’s a false hope. He said that the children of immigrants are no different than any other Americans, in terms of what they believe and how they behave. Those kids are acculturated by American pop culture as thoroughly as their Anglo peers. In this priest’s view, the Hispanic surge is going to prove illusory in subsequent generations.
I think it’s fair, however, to blame the institutional Church for failing to take seriously the situation, and to respond appropriately. In my view, it is unreasonable to expect the institutional Church to understand the moment, because understanding the moment requires most of its bishops and pastors to regard the world in a way they find deeply disagreeable, and to change their policies and behavior in kind. They would much, much prefer to manage decline than to repent.
But – the original article makes the claim that
Arguably, the collapse is under way. There are 70 million Catholics in the United States, representing 20 percent of the American population. But that is down from 24 percent six to seven years ago, a 20 percent decline. And that number actually would be 14 percent (nearly a 50 percent decline) if it weren’t for the dramatic inflow of Hispanic immigrants over the past 10 years.
How correct are these numbers? According to the General Social Survey, in 2000, 25% of Americans identified as Catholic, in 2016, 23% did. Among non-Hispanics, there was a drop from 21% to 18%. (Among Hispanics themselves, from 71% to 54%.)
These changes are actually smaller than I expected, and I’d like to see the non-Hispanic trend over a longer period of time, but the survey doesn’t make this distinction for earlier years, so all we can say is that from 1972 to 2016, there was a total decline from 27% to 23%. Fundamentalists started this time period at 28%, peaked at 36% in the 80s, and are now down to 26%. Mainline Protestants went from 35% to 23%, recovering modestly from a low of 20% in 2014.
So, readers, what should we expect for the future?
Image: from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/113018453@N05/14037472464