The National Catholic Review

Almost 27 years ago I attended a debate between Rowan Williams and Graham Leonard in Christ Church, Oxford. It was on the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. Of course, Pope John Paul had ruled that the Catholic Church was not competent to change the tradition and moreover had forbidden any further discussion of the question at least in the Catholic Church. But sometimes questions cannot be settled prematurely even by papal or episcopal fiat. There is a sense in which the community itself comes to a decision about “ripeness” and takes its time to arrive at a deeper understanding and peace. This, too, can be the work of the Holy Spirit.

Invariably the debate in Christ Church was polite. At no time did I feel there was any danger to my blood pressure: it was a very Anglican debate. I don’t recall either side developing an irrefutable argument, but I do remember it dawning on me, perhaps a little late, that whatever the theological issues, it was debate about the identity of Anglicanism itself: was it a reformed church or was it a Catholic Church? Could it be both?

Several years later an Anglican friend and priest rang me to tell me that, at last, the synod had voted in favor of women’s ordination. He observed that although it had been a painful process, the decision had been arrived at in a very legitimate Anglican way—through the houses of Bishops, Clergy and laity. It had not been unanimous but it had been a process of discernment that involved the whole body of the church. I was glad that it was a decision that obviously brought him consolation, and especially glad for his wife and my other friends who then went on to be ordained. Although, on this occasion I did not share their theological position, I never doubted their integrity and desire to serve the church, the sacrifices they had made and continue to make, and the power and grace of their ministry. They have kept before me the deep and consoling challenge of the priesthood of Christ, which ultimately must transcend gender as it belongs to the whole People of God. Of course, both theologically and culturally having accepted the ordination of women to the priesthood it would have been incoherent not to accept that women could become bishops. 

I do not know if there is one theology of priesthood in the Anglican tradition. In any dealings I have had with Anglicans—whether “high” or “low”—I have been impressed by their cultural and evangelical commitment, but I have been conscious of the wide variation in their understanding of what their priesthood is and entails. So, we have a church that is in the process of redefining itself and part of that seems to be the search for a functional ecclesiology of tolerance, a recognized theology of plurality within the one body that is allowed to express itself in different forms and disciplines. It seems to be a neat line to walk here between plurality and what some would see as a tolerated structural schism.

I wonder if the desire to accommodate different theologies in expressly different forms of office achieves a real ecclesial communion, or whether it represents a strained compromise in which people, at their best, have deep charitable dispositions towards each other, but live with a sort of quiet desolation at a divided body.Structural accommodations do not necessarily mean reconciliations as we know from our own ecclesial experience.

I also wonder what it would be like to be a bishop in such circumstances. How does one have a real sense of being a focus of ecclesial unity and exercise a deep pastoral solicitude for the whole Body of Christ when a significant proportion of that Body rejects one’s ministry? The metaphor most used in the post-decision conversation is that of family—a family in which there can be differences of commitments and lifestyles but one that still wants to remain a family with obligations to each other. Is that metaphor now a nostalgic memory from an earlier settlement or is it the beginning of a genuinely renewed ecclesiology that Anglicanism needs if it is to avoid a series of ad hoc arrangements that ultimately entrench division rather than resolve it?

The Church of England is undergoing a profound transformation—culturally as well as theologically and spiritually. Around its theological questions are also national and cultural ones. Can it remain an established church? Does that really serve the nation and the other Christian communities as is often claimed? Does it allow the church a real freedom or does it subtlety force it into accommodations with the zeitgeist of the secular state? Whose head is really on the coin?

There is no doubt that the failure of the Anglican Church to agree upon women bishops last year drew considerable pressure from the government and parliament to change. Indeed, the risk of assimilationism can emerge from unexpected quarters: the question of women bishops was almost overshadowed by Lord Carey’s support to legalize assisted dying. It raised a deep but unaddressed question about the witness of a “national” church—although the question of women bishops and the church’s defense of life can seem far apart in the public mind, they are theologically related to the very nature of the church’s fidelity to Christ in history: not only how it lives that fidelity but how it comes to discern it in each age.

Of course, our own church cannot simply be a member of the audience as the Anglican drama unfolds. The Catholic Church, by virtue of its own nature, has a deep effective and affective solicitude for the whole Body of Christ. Over the years I have felt privileged to watch the Anglican Church develop and evolve not just in response to the pressures of demographics and cultural change but with a profound and costly search for ways of embodying the gospel. For all of us, there is a sense that what emerges contains both a lasting truth and the contingency with which it must be given shape in history. That can be confusing, containing grief and hope, and the struggle between the siren voices of integralism and assimilationism and the different sort of secular politics that they both represent.

But I have been conscious also of Karl Barth’s teaching on the patience of God, who not only waits for us but accompanies us and, in every sense, makes time for us. This is far from a political process of change; it is about how we live and give shape to our salvation history so as to make Christ visible and available in our age. Patience is more than pragmatism or even a virtue, it is a grace born out of our trust in Christ’s faithfulness to us. Every Christian community, especially our own, needs this patience as an ecclesial gift.  

Since I listened to the debate in Christ Church all those years ago, the words of Rowan Williams remained with me. If I remember them correctly, he said that as a church we needed to remove all that impedes us living and witnessing to the Gospel of Christ. Yes! That surely is the primary task of a bishop whatever the gender or whatever the confession. It is the hard work of love for the great church about which none of us can be complacent.   

James Hanvey, S.J., is master of Campion Hall, Oxford.


Martin Eble | 3/12/2015 - 8:43am

The author refers to an "Anglican Church".

There is no "Anglican Church".

The fact that he seems to either not understand that or gloss over it fairly undercuts any point(s) he tries to make.

There is an Anglican Communion, a loose association of national churches whose only required common bond is being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some ordain women, some do not. Some oppose homosexuality, some do not. Some practice open communion, some do not. Interpretations of the Nicene Creed vary amongst them, and within individual national churches, from DC to infinity.

This is one of the reasons that the Anglican-Catholic attempts to reach doctrinal agreement have gone nowhere; there isn't even doctrinal agreement within the Anglican Communion,

And that is the lesson we can learn from the "Anglican drama" - without a doctrinal center, chaos reigns.

Tim O'Leary | 7/19/2014 - 9:43pm

Fr. Harvey states "The Catholic Church, by virtue of its own nature, has a deep effective and affective solicitude for the whole Body of Christ." I agree. However, does the "Body of Christ" mean the people in the churches or does it also include their institutions. I think the former. I cannot see anything wrong with the institutions of the various Protestant Churches (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) passing out of history like the Donatists or the Cathars. Apart from a rather short historical tradition, they do not as institutions seem particularly important, and in fact are probably giving false comfort to their members. The Masonic Lodges also have some history and ceremony but it would hardly matter if they too closed down.

The commandment to love one's neighbor should make us want the fullness of the faith for everyone, and not want others to settle for partial truths, false ceremony or a life without access to the sacraments. We would not want our family members to be separated from the grace of the real sacraments, the fullness of the faith that only exists in the Catholic Church, and the only Church founded by Christ. Of course, this only makes sense if one believes the Catholic Church has the fullness of the faith, and the dissidents probably do not believe that.

Some argue below that "millions" of Catholics have left the Church precisely because Popes JPII and BXVI have not made the doctrinal compromises the Anglicans are making. But, there is no evidence that these "disaffected" millions are flocking to the doors of the Anglican Churches. A few, perhaps, but, by and large, the Anglicans are experiencing a real and rapid decline, whereas the statistics say the RCC is holding its own and actually growing on a worldwide scale (758 million Catholics in 1978 and over 1.2 billion today; 63,882 seminarians in 1978, 120,616 in 2011). Yes, European Catholicism has lost a lot of people, but that is because they have chosen an anti-life culture over a Catholic culture. Their bigger problem is demographic. But the declines of the non-evangelical Protestant churches are even worse, and they have adopted the very changes clamored for by the retro-progressives. So, it seems the hard data brings no support to departing from true doctrine, even for a utilitarian motive. And a Catholic in Asia or Africa is just as valuable as a European Catholic. The North African Catholics of the early Church that succumbed to the Muslim jihad were easily replaced by the new converts in Northern Europe. And the numbers lost in the Reformation were easily replaced by the new converts in the Americas. (see this from the Anglican historian Macaulay

The New Evangelization is directed to those who have left the Church in the West. But, it would be pointless to try to bring them back by subterfuge, with a watered-down doctrine, a politically correct media campaign or partial truths. It seems to me the key in this effort is for faithful Catholics to witness to them on why the fullness of the faith is true and lovable, why their anti-life choices are hurting them and why some of their pet ideas and lifestyles are based on a false anthropology. It may not convince some, or many, but our obligation is to witness honestly, and let God's grace work where He wills. And, faithful Catholics need to have lots of children. Demographics always wins in the end, statistically speaking.

Carlos Orozco | 7/20/2014 - 12:09am

"And, faithful Catholics need to have lots of children. Demographics always wins in the end, statistically speaking."

That's hilarious and true, Tim. One can have a lot of fun and expand the mystical Body of Christ in the process.

Sandi Sinor | 7/21/2014 - 12:24pm

The exhortation to have more children was written by a man who has no children, as I recall from some of Tim's previous posts.

Tim O'Leary | 7/21/2014 - 2:45pm

My wife and I have 4 children (plus 3 more conceived) Sandi. We would have loved to have more.

Sandi Sinor | 7/21/2014 - 11:14pm

I stand corrected. I had a memory of a long exchange mostly involving you and Michal B and perhaps me - I don't remember anymore - about contraception. Someone directly asked you about your experience as a parent and you said that you and your wife had not been "blessed with children".

Vince Killoran | 7/18/2014 - 3:12pm

What disappointing responses to Fr. Hanvey's essay, i.e., one person writes to claim that the Anglican priesthood is fake, the second to assert that the debate about assisted suicide is proof of Anglicanism corrupted morality, and the third to remind us that the illegitimate origins of the Church of England.

Talk about parochial. This is a missed opportunity to think seriously about the role of women in our own church.

Carlos Orozco | 7/19/2014 - 2:03pm

Vince, we parochial Catholics can only dream of the strong number of conversions towards Anglicanism that began with the ordination of priestesses some years ago. Talk about "discerning" the will of the Holy Spirit.

Vince Killoran | 7/19/2014 - 6:02pm

How many exactly?But I do welcome married, formerly Episcopal priests at the altar (talk about "unintended consequences!). Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in the US is hemorrhaging not just the descendants of white ethnics but Hispanics. JPII's long papacy failed to reverse that.

Carlos Orozco | 7/19/2014 - 11:58pm

Why take as model a collapsing church, Vince?

According to CofE statistics found in

"1.7 million people take part in a Church of England service each month".
Translation: Doing the math, that's 3.2% of England's population.

"The Church of England has the largest following of any denomination or faith in Britain today. More than 4 in 10 in England regard themselves as belonging to the Church of England, while 6 in 10 consider themselves Christian."
Translation: CofE no longer represents the majority of self-denominated Christians in England. Unfortunately, the 2011 census did not distinguish between Christian denominations.

"Seven in ten (72%) of the population agree that Church of England schools help young people to grow into responsible members of society and 8 in 10 (80%) agree that they promote good behaviour and positive attitudes."
Translation: You could change the text "Church of England" for some private school's name and it would read less silly. No need to get confrontational over that Jesus figure. What's important is "good behavior" and "positive attitudes".

Vince Killoran | 7/20/2014 - 12:31am

Carlos, My question was--how many Anglicans are actually making the move to the RCC?

Sandi Sinor | 7/21/2014 - 12:29pm

About 1300 in the UK have joined the Ordinariate. Most joined the first year, with a couple of hundred since. The Catholics in the UK are a bit miffed because they are having to spend so much money to support the group, because it hasn't attracted enough of the anti-woman priests Anglicans to be able to support itself. They may get a slight bump again because of the approval for women bishops.

Tim O'Leary | 7/22/2014 - 4:24pm

Most Anglican converts are joining the Catholic Church directly, rather than through the Personal Ordinariates (2500 in the US Chair of St. Peter, began 2012) and there are several active in the blogosphere (e.g. Fr. Oddie at CatholicHerald, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and recently Greg Griffiths of Standfirm). The Episcopalian Church lost a quarter of its membership in 10 years (2003-2013). Similarly, the Lutheran ELCA lost a half million after it elected an openly gay bishop in 2010-11, but that was mostly due to churches departing en bloc. So, it is certainly not just or principally because of women clergy. Some articles say the decline is due to a double-hit of demographic winter plus walkaways.

See this NYT article from 2012:

Carlos Orozco | 7/20/2014 - 7:33am

As I pointed out in my last comment, Vince, the 2011 census in England did not differentiate between Christian denominations. Therefore, I cannot answer your question accurately with recent statistics.

However, by the way the Church of England joggles with its numbers in their official web site, you can infer that the situation is dire for the denomination that once had almost a monopoly in the country.

Maybe, in turn, you can use their own statistics and tell me how the Holy Spirit is hard at work in their recent (historically speaking) heretical proclamations.

Anne Chapman | 7/22/2014 - 12:18am

How do you explain the tens of millions of Catholics who have left the Catholic church in Europe, the United States and Latin America? How do you explain the reality that the second and third generation of immigrants from Latin America are now leaving the church just as their euro-catholic counterparts are doing? It has been immigration that allowed the US Catholic church to continue to grow in absolute numbers. What do you think the future holds, though? How do you explain that countries in Europe that were as Catholic as England was Anglican, have seen participation fall to levels of 10% or less?

I picked this information up from a comment on the C of E decision at NCRonline. It sounds as though recent statistics for the C of E are quite encouraging.

From the Christian Post
.... more than 36 percent of those who worship within the Church of England are under the age of 45. ...weekly services in Church of England cathedrals in 2011 is at 1.7 million people each month, a level that has been maintained since the turn of the millennium... since the turn of the millennium, the Church of England has steadily grown by a total of 37 percent, which is about four percent on average each year.
... Baptisms of young people, over 13 years of age, and the number of child baptisms have almost doubled since the turn of the millennium. ...Overall church attendance in Britain show that 36 percent are under 45 years of age, 39 percent between 45 and 64, and just 21 percent are 65 and over."

Vince Killoran | 7/20/2014 - 10:03am

I wouldn't infer anything about "joggling" and I can't pretend to explain the Holy Spirit. I do note that too many raw assertions are made by bloggers on this site. A little more modesty would be great.

Jim McCrea | 7/18/2014 - 5:53pm

Vince: you are to be commend for your persistence ... albeit naivete ... on this site. You are the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

And, yes, it is definitely clear that the readership/commentariat of this site has swung wayyyyyyy to the right.

But don't stop with your evangelization!

Tim O'Leary | 7/19/2014 - 1:13am

Jim - I used to think I was the voice crying in the wilderness on this site (Sandi chided me about it) but I am glad to see more of a balance in the articles and readership/comments now. I estimate the comments are now about 50:50 orthodox to dissident voices. I think it might be the work of the Holy Spirit in the blogosphere - part of the new evangelization.

Tim Reidy | 7/21/2014 - 1:00pm

Tim, can we avoid the opposition of "orthodox and dissident"? Those terms are not very helpful.

Sandi Sinor | 7/19/2014 - 11:09am

No, Tim. It's just the opposite. The "new" evangelization is supposed to "bring home" disaffected Catholics. As progressive Catholics find fewer and fewer voices in the blogosphere with whom they can identify, more and more are giving up and are leaving the church. The hard tilt right at America (with an occasional sop to progressives) pushes more out rather than brings people back or convinces them to stay. But you should be delighted - fewer people that you have to "correct" on this site as you charge ahead looking for windmills to fight, as most of the progressives here have disappeared, leaving the site to Catholics whose views are characterized by a banned word that begins with a C.....

Jim Wu | 7/24/2014 - 9:49pm

It's very sad that progressive Catholics are so easily discouraged and forsake the sacraments. Their roots in the church and their need for the grace of God that the sacraments confer must be rather shallow indeed if mere comments in a magazine or the blagosphere cause them to give up.

Sandi Sinor | 7/19/2014 - 3:55pm

Goodness - are you a who actually wants the "dissenters" to stay in the church?

I need to clarify something in my earlier post. Progressives are not leaving the church because of comments in the blogosphere. They are leaving because of what JPII and B16 did to the church in trying to keep the church firmly in the control of a handful of men in Rome and in gutting the reforms of VII. The Catholic blogosphere and most Catholic publications these days simply reflect what those two popes have brought about. It is what the popes did and not the blogosphere that has caused tens of millions to walk away. America used to straddle the center, offering a bit to both "sides". Now the site is tilting heavily to one side. So many no longer bother reading or commenting here anymore.

One thing progressives realize that the C... Catholics do not is that God is not found exclusively in the Roman Catholic church. That said, nobody leaves because of Tim and others like him who are constantly trying to push "dissenters" out the door. Of course Catholics who leave don't leave because they are so "shallow" that a few insults from other Catholics would drive them out.

Catholics leave because they have lost faith in the institution - not in God. Not in the gospels or the teachings of Jesus. They simply no longer find much of Jesus and the gospel in the Catholic church.

Catholics leave because they feel the official Catholic church has lost its way and has become an obstacle to their relationship with God instead of a help. They believe that staying enables the perpetuation of a clerical culture that has caused a lot of harm to real people and continues to do so. They know that John XXIII tried to get the church back on track, but this was an attempt that failed because he died too soon and the C...forces in Rome immediately began undoing VII. Catholics look at Francis, and applaud that at least he is doing away with some of the embarrassing imperial trappings of wealth and power that had been so dominant in recent years, and applaud that he is emphasizing the gospel again instead of self-referential papal publications, but, sadly, he too is a product of male, patriarchal culture. It is sad, because he perhaps might have turned the tide. He can't do it, though because he is also a member in good standing of the boys' club, headquartered in Rome. and truly doesn't understand the harm that is done by Rome's patriarchal teachings and celibate-male dominated culture.

Older progressive Catholics have hung in there for the most part even though tens of millions have left and more are leaving every day. But the future is even more bleak given that the younger adult generation is leaving in even greater numbers than their elders. Young women are leaving in numbers never before seen and they aren't coming back to get married or baptize their kids as the older generations of women did. Young adult Catholics did not experience the brief Camelot of Vatican II, they did not experience the joy and hope of that time. So they have nothing to hang on to at all.

Jim Wu | 7/19/2014 - 5:35pm

Sandi, if one actually believes that the sacraments of the Church confer God's grace, that the Catholic Church (yep, Big C) offers the best hope for sharing in the resurrection, then one does not show other Catholics to the door. To do that is unkind to say the very least and certainly undercuts any claim to be Christian.

You seem to have a checklist of things the Church must be in order for you to love it, and given the scornful portrait you paint of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, it's clear you find them lacking. The Church is not the hierarchy, it's the people sitting in the pew next to you. It's the priest who administers to you. Don't you love them, and love them enough to act in a faith-filled and positive way? Parents don't say to their children, "I will love you if you are smart, athletic, attractive, have high SAT scores, and your views agree with mine." No, like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they love them for who they are. If you believe in the Catholic Church, you recognize that God never promised that it would be perfect. But God did offer it as a means through which we can hope for salvation. You go on at length about how the Church has disappointed you; what about your fidelity? Is the Church for you a one-way street, a vending machine of grace to whom you owe nothing?

As to the many who have left the Church, each departure is a tragedy for both the individual who is leaving and the Church itself. Each leaves for his or her own reasons but disagreement with a particularly doctrine or set of doctrines is pretty low on the list (there is fairly extensive literature on this subject). For those who have left because the Church has not been "progressive" enough for them, communion administered by an Episcopal priest, a Presbyterian minister, or a mega-church minister seems to be good enough. Clergy and liturgy interchangeable. To me, the tragedy in their departure is that it seems that they never particularly valued what they had in the first place.

Sandi Sinor | 7/21/2014 - 12:33pm

Those individuals who leave the RCC are not experiencing a "tragedy", In many cases, probably most, it comes about as part of their personal spiritual journey. Something neither you nor I can judge. God is generous - God does not limit the "means of salvation" to the Roman Catholic church, nor even to christianity. We should all give thanks that God is not as small-minded as are so many 'religious" christians, who choose to make God in their own image.

THE CHRISTOFFERSONS | 8/23/2014 - 1:35pm

Well put, Sandi. We look back on the Pharisees through the lens that Jesus provided. Yet perhaps the Pharisees are us. Jesus picked two of the 613 laws of the Torah, and said "these are all the law and the prophets." Love of God and one another are more important to Christianity than this or that "teaching" of the Church. We are called to love and justice. The Pharisees were insistent upon upholding all the teachings of the Torah, to which Jesus responded with Luke 11:46.

How are we to evaluate a particular teaching? If the teaching is not grounded in love and justice, is it worthy to be called a teaching of the Church? The rule against ordination of women has no basis in love or justice. But it has been a long practice. The Anglicans as a community are slowly coming to grips with this contrast between the traditional culture of the Church and the priority which Jesus gave to love and justice. It is doubly ironic to be countercultural about a secular society moving toward greater justice towards women and, at the same time, to stand blind and mute about an unloving and unjust practice embedded in Church culture.

In 1975 the Anglicans invited the Roman Catholic Church to join them in this dialogue, but Pope Paul VI felt bound by the tradition and rejected the invitation. I wonder how Paul VI responded when he entered the Pearly Gates. "Why did you not undertake this dialogue, which addresses discrimination against women?" Perhaps he would have responded, "I was simply following your example in choosing the twelve." "But did I not leave you with the Spirit?" And the response might have been, "Yes, and we have listened and for two thousand years the Spirit's answer has been consistent -- you chose the twelve and there were no women. There were no gentiles either, but Paul took care of that question early on."

So it all comes back to Christ's example, and an interpretation of that example that elevates an invidious discrimination over love and justice. Are we party to a hidebound tradition that ignores what the Master taught about love and justice? If so, we are like the servant who buried the talents, for fear of risking what had been given.

God is patient. It is never too late to make amends. To interpret the example of Jesus with the twelve as a divine command to exclude women from priestly ministry is nothing short of idolatry. How did we get into this blind alley? More importantly, how do we get out? The first step is to recognize that there is no shred of love or justice in the traditional practice against ordination of women. What, then, can the Church do "to love more tenderly, to act more justly, and to walk more humbly with our God"?

I am thankful that James Hanvey, S.J., has written his article in a manner that prompts these kinds of questions.

Tim O'Leary | 8/23/2014 - 9:17pm

At least both sides can agree that it comes down to a clear choice for every Anglican and Catholic. Either the Anglicans are right about listening to the signs of the times about women priests, abortion and gay marriage (and gay divorce), the Real Presence, Our Lady, etc., etc... and will grow and prosper - OR - the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox are right, and will endure while the Anglicans will go the way of the Donatists or Pelagians. I note that the Catholic Church has doubled since VCII while the Anglicans have gone the other way.

Anne Chapman | 8/25/2014 - 8:21am

Your comment lacks nuance, so let's parse the figures.

You state that the Catholic church has "doubled" since Vatican II while the "Anglicans have gone the other way." That's an imprecise statement, however I will work with it as best I can. If you check the Vatican's statistics on global growth of Catholicism, you will see that since 1970, the population of the Catholic church in the world has almost doubled (653 million to 1.2 billion), with most of the growth in the third world countries which have high fertility rates. The Anglican communion has two sets of figures - one counts "active" members only. Using those figures, the Anglican communion grew by about 67% during the last 30 years, to about 76.6 million today. However, the Anglicans only include "active" members (regular churchgoers) in their headcount. The Roman Catholics include all baptized Catholics, active and inactive in their count. If the Anglicans did the same - counted both active and what they call "latent" Anglicans - their membership would have more than doubled in the last 30 years, coming up with roughly the same growth rate as the Catholic church has experienced. The world population has also grown, of course, from about 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.2 billion today. Catholics were 18% of world population in 1970 and are 17% today - which has been very steady for most of the last 30 years. Islam has seen the largest growth.

In the US, the ECUSA has lost about 1/3 of active members in the last 30 or so years - much of this is due to fertility decline. However, they have lost many adult cradle Episcopalians also. The US Catholic church has lost about the same - 1/3 - during the same time period who aren't even "latent" as they no longer self-identify as Catholic but as "former" Catholics in the various polls. It has been repeated ad nauseum, but some refuse to look at the realities - the fall in numbers of cradle Catholics in the US has been made up for by immigration. Immigrants make up about 1/3 of active Catholics in the US now, and in the near future, will most likely represent more than 50% of active Catholics, because more than 50% of Catholics younger than 25 in the US are members of Latino-first or second generation Catholic families. But even that does not assure the future, as studies show that second and third generation Latino Catholics are leaving the Catholic church at roughly the same rates as the euro--descended Catholics in the same age cohort.

The decline is across the board - even the "conservative" traditions such as Baptist and the evangelical churches in general are seeing a significant decline. The Barna group focuses on evangelical Protestantism and you will find good data there along with Pew, which is an excellent source of statistically sound information. For the Catholic church, CARA provides a great deal of more detailed information. CARA records Catholic statistics and you will find some of the global data also on their website. The CARA blog recently noted that marriages in the Catholic church have plummeted dramatically in the last decade (well below the societal marriage rate), and that for the first time ever, so have the numbers of infant baptisms. The Catholic church is losing their young, with the exception of a small but vocal group of neo-traditionalists. The real numbers show that not only are young adult Catholics leaving in droves (as happened to a lesser degree with older generations), far fewer are returning to marry and baptise their kids as was the pattern with their parents and grandparents. The statistics also show that for every adult convert who joins the Catholic church (most due to marriage), four adult Catholics leave the church.

Tim O'Leary | 8/25/2014 - 4:34pm

Anne - thanks for the excellent detail. I think you make some good points regarding how the different faiths count their people, and the difference between sacramental counts (baptism, confirmation, marriage, etc.), regular attendance and actual adherence to the doctrinal beliefs. I also agree that declines in fertility have a big effect, and this is not completely unconnected to the contraceptive mentality that was first introduced by the Anglicans (1930, Lambeth Conference). Then, there are the millions of children who have been aborted before Baptism. I do not think we have a sufficiently exact statistical record on how a belief in abortion, contraception, divorce and sterile sex in general might diminish the demographic pool but it is hard to see how this could not have a massive effect, especially on Europe (and China re abortion). Rather than repeat the statistics and references, see my earlier comments above, that provide more detail and nuance.

But, I would also say that the Islamic numbers are similarly affected by adherence to their doctrine, both Shia and Sunni. It is hard to be sure what people believe when beheading is a real risk for those who want to leave the faith. But, there are also hard numbers regarding some things: The Catholic Church is seeing an absolute increase in seminarians, year-after-year, since the middle of Pope JPII's pontificate. And the more orthodox Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) are having more children. These are more solid statistics. So, I think more work by CARA and others on adherence will help inform the demographic analysis.

More fundamentally, I should concede that demographic numbers do not guarantee doctrinal truth. And there are probably still some Christians with Pelagian or Donatists tendencies, even if the organizations are defunct. So, I should have stayed on more solid ground, emphasizing Jesus's promise to Peter regarding the permanence of His Church and the Holy Spirit's protection from error on faith and morals.

Anne Chapman | 7/18/2014 - 10:26pm

The new editor has taken this publication very far to the right. I seldom bother reading it anymore. Since the magazine/website is, as others have mentioned, now very much a predictable echo of the USCCB, it is not surprising that those who read and comment now align with that view. The balance that once was found here is pretty much gone. It has become totallly predictable, so is now also boring.

The comments Vince refers to about this article reflect an ignorance of the Church of England and Anglicanism that is embarrassing - or it should be anyway.

Jim Wu | 7/22/2014 - 11:51pm

If my characterization of the CofE as essentially a reformed church that places little emphasis on the sacraments is incorrect, please enlighten me.

Vince Killoran | 7/19/2014 - 9:41am

No Jim, one must not only offer praise. But one should not, in a knee-jerk fashion, use news about other Christian churches as an opportunity to denounce their faith.

A little ambivalence, some pondering, maybe even some introspection about where we fall short is not a bad thing. The triumphant march around the computer gets tiring to read.

Re. Tim's wide smile over the increasing "orthodox" comments on IAT: far fewer people post responses on this site than they did just a couple of years ago. Anne nailed it: AMERICA reads more and more like a USCCB publication.

Tim Reidy | 7/21/2014 - 1:04pm

Anne/Vince, I disagree here. We are still publishing articles from a variety of perspectives in IAT and elsewhere. See the vigorous response to John Whitney's article on the idolatry of corporate personhood. Or Lisa Fullam's response to the working document on the synod on the family.  Or our interview with Mary Gordon. I could go on...

Anne Chapman | 7/22/2014 - 12:00am

Tim, the interview with Mary Gordon was a pleasant surprise, especially after the one with the "Catholic Tim Hayes". I researched both authors, and will pick up a couple of Mary Gordon's books as I am not familiar with her work. I will not be looking for any of the other author's books. ;)

And since I am old, I did enjoy the interview with John Michael Talbot - I didn't know he was still around. I am not a charismatic, so perhaps that is why I lost track of him. I still can remember some of his early songs and agree with him that church music needs to be simple and singable. I have never had tears go down my face singing some of the old hymns (some of the Marian hymns are atrocious), nor of the old Latin hymns and chants, even if esthetically lovely. But I have had tears run down my face singing some of the psalms in plain English, with simple music, in singing some of the old John Michae Talbot songs also.

Lisa Fullam was the only one of the four in the response to Instrumentum Laboris to clearly say what needed to be said - the elephant in the room - "What is required now is more than merely restating current doctrine—the church needs its leaders to rethink teaching on sex, marriage, and family from the ground up, beginning with the affirmation of "Gaudium et Spes" that marriage is a community of life and love, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ. Then the laity—who are living that life and love in many and beautiful forms—must be heard.

Ms. Alvare said next to nothing of value - pretty much a fluff piece - carefully and mildy endorsing the document. Both she and Ms.Rubio agreed that at least the working group has acknowledged that many teachings are not received (which has been clear to almost everyone outside of chanceries and Rome for decades now), and then went on to say that obviously communication of the teachings needs improvement. They did not seem to understand what Ms. Fullam understands - the teachings need rethinking and the bishops should sit back and listen to the experts - married laity.

I would feel better about America's pledge to add women to the staff if they would hire Ms. Fullam or someone else who generally shares her theological viewpoints and insights as a balance to Ms. Alvare and Sr. Walsh.

I admit that I view many things through the lens of a married woman of more than four decades, mother of three adults, and grandmother of one very young child. As a woman who disagrees with many church teachings, especially those related to women, including those on marriage, women's "roles", contraception and women's ordination, I confess that the recent imbalance I have seen here is largely related to those issues. I believe that the church's teachings on women are not only wrong, they have caused and still cause a great deal of real harm. My main concern is the male-centric, celibate clericalism that underlies so many church teachings is the root cause of a great deal of harm to women and their husbands, to families and is among the root causes of the sexual abuse tragedy.The entire church is hurt by the teaching that denies the sacrament of Holy Orders to women. The ongoing tragedy of bishops enabling sexual abuse of kids is/was largely caused by clericalism - by a church hierarchy that is exclusively composed of male celibates who enabled the sexual abuse of thousands and thousands of young people. God, forgive them, they know not what they do. (or did they?) But parents, would have known and most would have stopped it instead of protecting serial sexual predators. So the priesthood must be open to ALL - single men who have the charism of celibacy, but also married men, married women and single women. Teachings must be informed by all of God's people and not defined exclusively by a tiny group of men.

I have seen more articles here promoting/defending Humanae Vitae and NFP in the last year than I had seen in the previous five years, without a single article by a theologian or similarly qualified writer (that I am aware of - please point me to any that I have missed) that states the case against that teaching. One letter to the editor was printed as I recall, from a woman who also felt that since around 95% of all Catholic women have used/use modern birth control methods to plan their families and support their marital relationships (giving thanks to God for this incredible gift that is such a blessing to so many), the tilt to pushing NFP with no counterweight seemed a bit odd. I think that previously America had pretty much adopted a "say nothing at all about it" policy, but don't know for sure.

As a woman I was happy that America planned to add women to its staff. But it has so far only chosen two women, both of whom faithfully reflect the views of the bishops in their writings, and who do not reflect the views of the vast majority of Catholic women as described in numerous very reliable studies, including those done by the team at Catholic University. America seems quite empathetic/sympathetic to the gay community, however, which is a good thing. I suppose they can't go so far as to publish some of the Catholic theologians who have a different take on the subject of gay civil marriage than the bishops, but perhaps America's staff still fears Rome's heavy hand. Perhaps you might take a risk though, and go back to Thomas Reese's model of juxtaposing different views on subjects in the same issue. I doubt Francis would hammer you in the way that was done in previous papacies.

I still read this site, but since most of the articles reflect the USCCB positions (whether immigration reform, or economics, or gay marriage or birth control or the bishops' distorted understanding of "religious freedom" etc) it is of far less interest than it used to be. At this point, I mostly read the articles that focus more on spirituality than on politics - church or state. As I am tired of arguing, and now sit in an Episcopal pew on Sundays even though I am still Catholic, I skipped commenting on the other article about the decision in the C of E to allow women priests to hold all episcopal offices. But I am very interested in the decisions of the Church of England, and hope that someday the Catholic church will follow their lead on women priests and bishops. I believe that Anglicanism is currently the major christian group which is open to listening to the Holy Spirit and that they are leading the way. So when browsing the site, this article caught my attention. I am trying to stay away from commenting these days. But, clearly I have to work on this resolution!

You have a writer whose name slips me now - a priest - I think he teaches philosophy, and I like his articles, but they are very hard to find. I wish I could remember the name because previously I put it in the search box to find his articles.

Thank you for mentioning John Whitney's article. I had missed it since I no longer read the site as "faithfully" as I once did.

Jim Wu | 7/20/2014 - 4:08pm

Vince, if there are any knees jerking, they are Sandi's, Anne's, Jim McCrea's, and yours. I have merely pointed out that a very large segment of the CofE (certainly the majority) is in the reformed tradition, which essentially rejects the notion of a priesthood. Additionally, notwithstanding the 39 Articles, for large segments of the CofE, the consecration of bread and wine at a Eucharistic service is a mere commemoration. Once women were ordained in the CofE, it was only a matter of time before the CofE changed its rules to allow them to be bishops. That has left me baffled as to why (except for the Anglo-Catholic wing of the CofE, which is pretty much a rump body, many having left), there has been all this sturm und drang over the CofE over allowing women clergy to be bishops. I found the earlier vote rejecting women bishops absolutely astonishing, the threats by certain members of Parliament to legislate women bishops both thuggish and alarming, and this year's process irregular and outcome-determinative. Many Anglicans share my views. But it's their church, they can do whatever they wish.

Vince Killoran | 7/19/2014 - 5:54pm

Poor NPR! Or did you mean public radio in general?

JIm, for the record, I don't think you need to "practice being indirect and elliptical." Rather, you might consider constructing an argument. In fact, I didn't think that you had engaged in Fr. Hanvey's posting. It was more of a proclamation. Yours, along with the other two, struck me as missing an opportunity to engage with fellow Christians. I'm sure Anglicans all over the world appreciate for your generous allowance that "it's their church, they can do whatever they wish." I was intrigued, however, by one thing you wrote, i.e., "many Anglicans share my views." I had absolutely no idea that you had your finger on the pulse of so many Anglicans.

Jim Wu | 7/19/2014 - 6:42pm

Well, now you do know.

Jim Wu | 7/20/2014 - 4:05pm

The Anglican Church has a thin layer of Catholicism spread over a reformed church majoriy. To the reformed majority, it seems that there is little significance (beyond status) of the office of bishop. Accordingly, what's so surprising to me is that it took so long to approve women bishops, because so little appears to be at stake.

William Rydberg | 7/17/2014 - 2:18pm

Its usually a prudent practice to look for other statements or reported comments that happen contemporaneously, they tend to tell one a lot more about the true situation than the "marquee story". In this case, a number of articles I have read have been mentioning the fact that Anglican luminaries including former Anglican Archbishops Carey and Tutu have come out in strong support of assisted suicide. Interesting...

Thomas Piatak | 7/17/2014 - 11:35am

The Anglican Church was created to bless Henry VIII's "marriage" to Ann Boleyn, and it is has been conforming to the demands of British society ever since. This is just the latest iteration of a very familiar pattern.

Recently by James Hanvey

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