Post-Clerical Catholics

When my fellow columnist Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., stirred up a hornet’s nest with his column on clericalism a few months back, I followed the conversation with great interest. To be fair, my curiosity had little to do with Father Horan’s assertion that there is a cultivated sense of separateness among some young clergy (an observation I agree with). Nor was I particularly focused on the many comments criticizing or defending clerical wardrobe choices, issues of Catholic identity and so on.

What struck me was how disconnected I felt from the entire conversation surrounding clericalism. It felt as if an intramural discussion was taking place in an arena whose attendance numbers continue to dwindle. Who were these people with such passionate, high expectations or bitter disappointments regarding their parish priests? The sad reality for me and countless others I know who remain connected to Catholicism is that, for better or worse, our expectations of the clergy are much more modest. The bar is set pretty low.

In my experience, the issues many Catholics face at the parish level have little to do with whether the preaching is inspired or the liturgies are beautifully executed. They aren’t particularly exercised over clerical attire either. “For my family and friends who want to raise their kids Catholic,” a woman who works in church circles told me, “clericalism isn’t even on their radar. Gen-Xers and millennials don’t have the deference for clergy—or the expectations—our parents did.” She told me her own expectations were low. People feel it’s a nice bonus to have simply a reasonably healthy and balanced priest with some pastoral gifts.

It’s a sad state of affairs that I’ve heard echoed over and over even among young clergy. “It continues to surprise me,” a recently ordained Carmelite told me. “If you are real, relatable and make an effort to be relevant to parishioners’ lives, you are a rock star.” Another priest who has filled in at numerous parishes for 10 years told me, “People seem to be so hungry for something more. If you can offer them anything that connects their personal lives to the Gospel, they are incredibly appreciative.”

To be sure, this is not an ideal situation. Those of us who hope that Pope Francis’ popularity will inspire a younger generation to enter our doors or lapsed Catholics to return would do well to ask ourselves difficult questions: What are we inviting them to? Are we simply welcoming them back to a church that reminds them why they left in the first place?

Given the circumstances, it might appear to church outsiders that those of us still inside are suffering from some form of ecclesiastical Stockholm syndrome. I would argue that we are a sign of hope.

We are still here because we know, at some fundamental level, that we long for something sacred beyond ourselves and our lives. We might not entirely understand that sacredness, but we believe that approaching it in community and participating in it sacramentally is important. We are “remnant Catholics” of a different sort. When, at times, we are faced with clergy who fall short of our expectations, we are forced to be—in a twisted nod to Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”—a Holy Church in Spite of the Church.

Of course, we need good priests as leaders and pastors. Make no mistake; there are still plenty of priests who are real, relatable and relevant, and our love for them is familial and fierce. In fact, a growing number of us are part of a nascent “pilgrim church” that journeys far outside our local parish boundaries to attend Mass and find spiritual nourishment with them and the communities they lead.

As the pope said regarding clericalism, we need more “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” For those who are waiting for these shepherds to arrive, it will be important to remind ourselves that the sheep, ultimately, don’t exist for the sake of the shepherd.

It also helps to remember that this challenge isn’t new. Back in 1959, Flannery O’Connor described an exchange with a relative’s non-Catholic husband, who entered the church after years of attending Mass with his wife. When asked what finally changed his mind, he said, “The sermons were so horrible, [I] knew there must be something else there to make the people come.”

Tom Helwick
3 years 4 months ago
I am one of those 'pilgrims' that journeys from our local parish to another which provides the spiritual food that so many of us hunger for but can't find close to home. I travel 50 miles round trip to a parish that refreshes and is warm and inclusive rather than the berating young pastor who insulates himself in his rigorous liturgical rubrics.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Hi Tom. 50 miles round trip is a long haul. It's a testament to your commitment to getting nourished spiritually that you do that. I can't help but think that there are countless others who fall between the cracks.

Tom Helwick
3 years 4 months ago
Bill, Since the imposition of the 'New Roman Missal' I am increasingly finding the liturgy empty with meaning as it reverts to a time when as altar boy I recited Latin responses to a priest with his back to the congregation. This retro movement by the Vatican is both discouraging and demoralizing as we in the pews try find ways to connect with words and rubrics that seen the have seen their day.
Roy Van Brunt
3 years 4 months ago
Tom - your comments about trying to pray using the words of the New Roman Missal are spot on. I believe it will go down in history as being one of the poorest decisions of the USCCB to cave in to this change. Two years and we are not yet comfortable. Asking the assembly to wander through a creed that is indiscriminately both singular and plural in voice is the moral equivalent of anarchy - "don't think; just recite," Are we a praying congregation,... or just a lonesome voice, reading aloud? Distracting to anyone with a mind who thinks what is being "prayed".
Stanley Kopacz
3 years 4 months ago
Since the imposition of the recent missal, I find myself listening and joining in intermittently, like a bad cell phone connection. I can't bring myself to say that horrid word "consubstantial". For the most part, I find myself enduring the mass like I do my weightlifting sessions at the gym, by tapping into my ability to fugue out when required. I guess, like weightlifting, I perceive some good from it. Perhaps I'm just stubborn, waiting for things to get better. Then there are those good, struggling, inspiring voices still in the boat. I like Pope Francis, but I don't see things getting better during the remainder of my lifetime.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
This Sunday my parish's regular visiting presider was on for the 10 am mass. This being the Feast of the Holy Family, that’s what he touched on, painting a picture of how they survived together during the flight into Egypt and supported each other. Then he did a “fast forward” to 2013 and talked about all kinds of holy families: nuclear, single parent and same-sex couples w/ and w/o children. He painted an excellent picture of the holiness of all models of families in this day and age. I doubt that this kind of reflection on the Holy Family would be found in too many Catholic parishes throughout this world. That’s one of the reasons why I remain a parishioner at that San Francisco parish.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
For more than 20 years I attended a parish in New Jersey. I never felt at home there, but I continued with the practicing of my faith inclusive of weekly Mass, sacrament and a few men's retreats. The sermons were more about what we are expected to do, and if we don't we are somehow indirectly or directly not living up to our potential. I found this type of orientation devoid of the work of the Holy Spirit and the good news that leaving things in God's hands, we can be joyful and confident in our journey, with its imperfections. Since this was a period representing my first 20 years of marriage, the issue of birth control was important, but after a private counseling session with my parish priest, he said, after I had two children and wanted no more for good reasons, that I should not worry about the use of contraception (e.,g., the anovulant pill), if I prayed and had a good conscience and continued seeking God. Fast forward to the last few years in San Diego, I find the sermons and the spiritual advice of the one parish priest uplifting. In private counseling session on various issues from contraception to same-sex unions, he did not read me the official Catholic doctrine but a pastoral theology that was refreshing, welcoming while in tension with the Church's teachings. I am most comfortable in this parish and have joined a ministry to the poor. Clericalism, for me, is a much larger issue and it reflects a top-down authority in the Church where bishops, priests, theologians and the non-theologian laity do not have a effective voice in decisions concerning a re-thinking about any teaching and/or the ecclesial governing structure. Save for a few priests that do not adhere to a silent pulpit, most Catholics do not allow their disagreements to preclude them from worshiping Christ. Most priests do a remarkable job and I thank them for helping us to live our lives according to the Spirit, not necessarily the letter, of the Law of the Gospels and the virtue of love Jesus has taught us.
Mike Evans
3 years 4 months ago
Basic seminary training seems deficient in the pastoral skills needed by today's priests. Our experience with seminarians in their pastoral year indicates a woeful lack of even basic understanding of liturgy, homiletics, processes, and stewardship. And we are making pastors out of these recently ordained too soon, before they have been able to find a good grounding under several older pastors and laity. Then to complicate things, we are importing foreign clergy whose only response to their impenetrable accents and lack of understanding of American culture is to preach longer and louder. If priest shopping wasn't rampant before, it sure is now. Unfortunately those in the hinterlands will be stuck with whomever their bishop sends them.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Good points, Mike. But to be fair regarding seminary training, my sense is that the disposition of the men they are attracting also has something to do with it. I spoke to a sociologist friend a few years back who does a lot of work on issues of Catholicism in America and she made a comment that has stuck with me. Essentially she said that we are living through a unique moment in the US where--unlike in the past--the men in priestly formation are fundamentally different in terms of attitudes, experiences, values etc than the people in the pews. Training can help in that regard but I don't think it will solve the issue.

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 years 4 months ago
Your friend's observation about seminarians reminds me of sociologist of religion Dean Hoge's conclusions about the newer clergy: "When Hoge and Wenger examined surveys carried out in 1970, 1985, 1993, and 2001, they found that younger priests in both 1993 and 2001 were more likely than older priests to say that 'ordination confers on the priest a new status or permanent character which makes him essentially different from the laity.' Younger priests were also less likely to say that 'the idea that the priest as a man set apart is a barrier to the full realization of a true Christian community.' Other researchers have reached similar conclusions. "Today, the church in the United States faces a serious problem, and not simply because of demographics, the priest shortage, secularism, or the sexual-abuse crisis. There is a further disjunction. Laypeople are increasingly committed to an active role in the church while more and more of their priests prefer a limited role for them, coupled with a more cultic model of priesthood. These important cultural differences are the product of generational changes among both the laity and the clergy. Whereas the two groups seemed to converge in the 1960s and ’70s, they have diverged since the ’80s. As a result, there are sharp differences between young adult laypeople who expect the clergy to welcome their participation, and young priests who believe the responsibility for parish decisions is theirs. "Laypeople in the post-Vatican II and millennial generations are going in one direction while 'John Paul II priests' are going in another. The full effect of this division is not yet felt or discernible, but that will change in coming years. In a decade or two, today’s older generation of priests and laypeople will be gone, leaving all the decisions to today’s younger priests and laity, precisely where the expectation gap is widest" (Dean R. Hoge, "Mind the gap: the return of the lay-clerical divide", COMMONWEAL, November 19, 2007). The Pew Survey tells us that one in three persons raised Catholic is ex-Catholic and that each convert to the church is matched by four departures from Catholicism. Hispanics and Latinos, furthermore, are not necessarily remaining within the Catholic fold. The 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported a .44 percent drop in membership for the Catholic Church for CY2010. Although Francis is a big improvement over JPII and B16, I don't think his example will bring most former Catholics back to the church. The gospel message and papal example are important, but there are too many substantive internal issues that are not going to go away: women's ordination, the awful liturgical translation imposed by Rome, gay/lesbian civil marriage, bishops like Robert W. Finn in KC-St Joe still in office, etc.
John Corr
3 years 4 months ago
I have lived in a number of parishes around the country and often have found that that secular priests live in a world of their own. This world does not require in-depth knowledge of contemporary issues, even the ones that are in conflict with our beliefs. Frankly, it seemed to me many times that in-depth knowledge of Catholicism was not required. This is not to forget that there are many secular priests who labor heroically. Nevertheless. in my experience, I have come across too many priests who lack a sense of spirituality and seem to think they are special people who have made their mark by continuing to breathe. Judging from what I have heard from the pulpit, with some exceptions, secular seminary education seems to be post-high school study. The secular-priest system lacks internal review mechanisms designed to find were improvement is needed and to take measures to insure improvement. This would go against the implicit and explicit values of a system that has its roots in the early Middle Ages, when the feudal society incorporated the Church hierarchy into its system. The values of Lordship Clericalism live on, perhaps now under some review, in today's Church. However, there is much hope, as always. We will always have the Christian Message, no matter how we, or others, fail to carry it.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 4 months ago
I just would like to share some wisdom from our Servant of the Servants of God. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says no to clericalism, but he is also concerned that lay people are not doing a good job in applying the Gospel to the transformation of the world, which is really the first and most important role of the laity: 102. Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. […] Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge. 104. […] The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”.[73] The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.[74] Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.[75] Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life. In addition, Pope Francis is very clear in stating that evangelization is a responsibility of everyone in the Church: 120. In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for? 121. Of course, all of us are called to mature in our work as evangelizers. We want to have better training, a deepening love and a clearer witness to the Gospel.[…]
Stephen Murray
3 years 4 months ago
Priests have no sacramental power. What they have is sacramental authority. "For the kingdom, the glory, and the power are yours.............." Power and authority appear to be identical but they are not.
Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Those of us who hope that Pope Francis’ popularity will inspire a younger generation to enter our doors or lapsed Catholics to return would do well to ask ourselves difficult questions: What are we inviting them to? Are we simply welcoming them back to a church that reminds them why they left in the first place? Let's begin with terminology - "lapsed" Catholic is not much better than "fallen away" Catholic. The definitions for "lapse" in the Free Dictionary are almost all negative - To fall from a previous level or standard,...b. To deviate from a prescribed or accepted way: lapse into heresy.c. To pass gradually or smoothly Most formerly active Catholics that I know - I am one and I know many others - did not "fall away" nor did they "lapse". The choice to leave active participation in the Catholic church was deliberate. The young, once on their own, have mostly opted out from ever participating in the church as adults. They are increasingly refusing to return to the church to marry, even if it makes the grandparents sad. Tens of millions of other Catholics decided to leave the church at some point in adulthood. I was 58 when I made that decision after being a very "active" Catholic for most of my adult life. So the real question for the majority who did NOT "lapse" - but walked away after a great deal of thought and struggle and prayer and reflection - is this one: Are we simply welcoming them back to a church that reminds them why they left in the first place? And, one might add, is it the church that young adults rejected as soon as they left home? Pope Francis is wildly popular - even with former Catholics such as I am. He is popular with the young, with atheists, with members of other religions, and, of course, with the poor and outcast. But will it be enough if the teachings that have driven so many out of the church are not revisited - and changed. Yes - changed. Because until the church begins to treat women, divorced and remarried (without annulment), and homosexuals as full members of the church with access to all seven sacraments, then the church remains what it is - a patriarchal institution ruled in an autocratic manner by male celibates who wish to even deny modern birth control methods to everyone who happens to work for a Catholic employer. The meaning of primacy of conscience was gutted under John Paul II and Benedict. The hierarchy who define doctrine continue to ignore Newman's counsel to "consult the faithful". Until the tiny group of men who define doctrine and govern the church recognize that THE church (all 1.1. billion) must share in both doctrinal development and governance, there will be no real reason for most former Catholics to return to being active Catholics. Those Catholics I know who stay, stay because of emotional ties - the Catholic church is their extended family, it is their culture, their history, the customs are warmly familiar, from Advent wreaths to First Communions. They do not stay because they believe that women are second-class members who must be ruled by men and denied a sacrament due to gender or because they believe that gay people are "intrinsically disordered" and should be denied the right to marry. They stay in spite of official teachings, not because of them. The tired old argument that "the church is not a democracy" doesn't fly with most former Catholics. They understand what most of those who prefer an imperial church do not - they are the church that Jesus promised would have the Holy Spirit for guidance - THE church - not a tiny handful of celibate males - the hierarchy are only a tiny part of THE church, yet they hold all the power and "authority". Those who made the (often very hard) decision to leave cannot return unless the reasons they left are addressed.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks for your comments, Anne. Your point is well taken regarding lapsed and fallen away vs. walked away. I think it's pretty clear from the tone of my column though that my point in using the term wasn't to judge these people in a negative light at all. I think most people understand that the term includes a broad range of people who are no longer Catholic for any number of reasons.

Your statement "Those Catholics I know who stay, stay because of emotional ties..." is very much in harmony with the point I was trying to make. Though I think the term "emotional ties" could be construed as the church simply having some vestigal emotional pull that keeps us there despite our better judgment--which I think is far too reductive. As I said, I believe many of us who remain are sometimes in a position of being a "Holy church in Spite of the Church." We aren't there as the "loyal opposition" but because we long for the sacred mystery at the heart of the Catholic faith whether we believe the clergy we deal with are pastorally gifted or not. 

I have no doubt that there are enormous numbers of Catholics who have walked away because of very real issues they have regarding the Church's position on any number of subjects. There is certainly some overlap with younger generations in those areas of disaffection as well but the fundamental issue with younger generations regarding religion is one of relevance. Why bother belonging to an institutional faith community at all? They aren't "joiners" in the same way their parents and grandparents were. This is statistically true across the board for Jews and Christians in the US and is even more dire in mainline protestant denominations--some of whom would appear to be more welcoming in terms of the issues you mentioned.

Pope Francis' enormous popularity is grounded in the tone of what he says and--most importantly--what he does. He has not altered doctrines but emphases. His simplicity is transformative for many because it appears so authentic and Christ-like. That is all to the good but it hasn't resulted in a mass return in the US among young people yet. For that to happen I think  even more fundamental hurdles of "why bother joining anything" need to be overcome.

Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Fr. McGarvey, I can attest that many young people in my immediate family have fallen away. Many of them went to Catholic elementary and high schools and had parents who attended weekly Mass each week with them. As adults, many of them have drifted away from the Church. When confronted with questions about their "falling away" they give essentially the same answers that Anne Chapman mentioned. In my own family, my children have gone from being Catholic to spiritual by not religious. I notice that they are not ready to return to the RCC. Most are impacted by certain teachings and they feel unwelcome and disenfranchised. Even some older family adults believe that the hierarchy has lost touch with the problems and concerns of the laity and the reality of circumstances that put them in moral dilemma. They are turned off by answers that are a repeat of abstract rules and norms without a convincing moral theory. As such, the authority of the Church has become almost irrelevant to them. This does not mean that priests are not respected. Nor does it mean that the advice of many priests in private counseling sessions are ineffective and irrelevant. However, much pastoral advice is in tension with official teachings. I can attest to that personally. This inconsistency and contradiction fuels non-reception. Some do not allow disagreement with teachings or pastoral inconsistency to prevent them from worshiping Christ and attending Mass. However, many feel turned off by it. JP II once said that that older priests who are dissenters will die and be replaced by younger ones properly trained. They will transform the Church and eliminate the inconsistency between the law (doctrine) and practices (pastoral advice). However, this does not seem to be the case. In a 2002 LA Times Poll of U.S. Priests, consider the percentage of all priest and younger priests who say it is seldom or never a sin: 1. 43% (of all priests) to use condoms as a protection against AIDS. 38% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief. 2. 40% to use artificial methods of birth control for married couples. 31% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief. 3. 42% to masturbate. 39% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief. 58% believe that Catholics can disagree with some teachings and be faithful. 57% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same opinion. Pope Francis's emphasis on evangelization and ministry to the poor is most welcomed and the right message. His call for a Synod on the Family is also a very positive step. However, it will take much more than words and emphasis on others to bring back young people and others who have fallen away from the Church. How can you expect people to return to the Church when some of the reasons they stay away is still with us? I wish that I had the answers. In the meantime, I can only set the rights example for my own family, provide some fatherly advice and pray.
Joseph Jaglowicz
3 years 4 months ago
Anne, you speak for me. Thank you. At nearly 59 years of age at the time, this life-long Catholic left the church in late 2006. I'm not "lapsed" or "fallen away". I made a conscious, deliberate decision to depart Rome. Pope Ratzinger was too much for me. He personified toxic religion, Catholic-style. I hope Francis will become a transitional pope and that his successors will put the Church of Rome back on track with Vatican II's agenda of renewal. Not holding my breath, however. I'll believe it when/if I see it.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
“There are many people who the church has but God does not have; and there are many people who God has which the Church does not have.” St. Augustine, ca 4th century And Mark Twain, talking about something else, had this to say: "It's easier to stay out than to get out."
John Corr
3 years 4 months ago
Pope Francis shows that the church has a powerful voice. He has something to say. How many of our bishops have something to say? When they appear, infrequently, in the media, there are polite hellos and polite goodbyes with bland comments in between. They don't appear to have anything to say. Additionally, have you noticed the daily barrage of commentary online from secular relativism? Have you noticed that there is very little or no reply from Catholics?
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
John, I wanted to pick up on your points regarding secular relativism and the little, if any, responses from Catholics. I think the proclamations about secular relativism, as they are argued by the Church, are intellectually unpersuasive. For example, relativism holds that there are no universal truths and moral truths are defined either socially or individually. Social relativism claims that moral judgments are nothing more than descriptions of customer or practices of a society or culture. Personal relativism argues that moral judgments are nothing more than judgments about one's personal emotions or feelings. Hence, while there is some truth to the claim that many people adhere to personal and/or social relativism, it is an exaggeration to proclaim that most faithful Catholics subscribe to this philosophy merely because they disagree with certain Church teachings. This distinction between "some and most" whereby some Catholics may adhere to some type of relativism is not sufficiently nuanced; nor is there any attempt to accurately describe reality. One only has to read the works of JP II and Benedict XVI to understand how a war has been waged that in part has divided the Church. We are in a crisis in truth. It is: the Church versus the world; assenters versus dissenters; the faithful versus the unfaithful; good versus evil; the enlighten few versus those that are invincibly ignorant; traditionalists versus revisionists; the list goes on. Most faithful Catholics find the statements about relativism incredulous. In particular, that secular individualism and relativism are the causes of non-reception. Somehow these Catholics are misguided by some type of diabolical cancer that prevents them from recognizing, understanding and living the truth. Such claims are in tension with the practical reason and human experience of most faithful Catholics. They lack a convincing moral argument and the existential examples used by the Church about the high rates of divorce and contraception use (caused by secular relativism) lack responsible context and accuracy. The truth is often found in agreement and disagreement. However, the truth is not persuasive if the argument is one sided, not nuanced, and devoid of an adequate answer to responsible counter-arguments and evidence in existential reality. One can have a different and legitimate perspective based on sound moral philosophical and theological arguments, and remain faithful Catholics. Not all disagreements are caused by relativism.
Paul Leddy
3 years 4 months ago
I'm going to out myself here - but I'm an old man now and I don't care anymore. I'm gay. I'm a church going Catholic. I don't feel rejected by my Church, by my bishop, by the priests, by my fellow parishioners. So the claims, at least where they pertain to me particularly, that I'm somehow marginalized, just aren't true. And, I think I'll make it a point from now on whenever someone writes something to the contrary, to refute it. As the Olympia Dukakis character said in "La Bella Luna," 'I know who I am', and I do not want anyone else speaking for me. I'm more than quite happy in the Church. Paul Leddy Washington, DC
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Paul, As a gay person, I am glad you don't feel disenfranchised by the church, your bishop or parish priest. I can attest personally to many of my loved ones who are gay that they don't feel the same way that you do. Hence, any remarks that I may have made should not be interpreted that all gay people feel rejected by the Catholic Church. You say you are a church going Catholic. If you are in a same sex relationship, are you granted the Eucharist by your parish priest who knows you? My parish priest has no problem with same sex civil unions but does have a problem with same sex marriages. For those with a same sex attraction that are in a committed, loving, faithful and long-term relationship, civil union or civil marriage, and are accepted by their local Catholic parish priest and can receive Eucharist, then there would be no so-called rejection or problem. However, for those that don't have a parish priest that accepts the intimate sexual behavior of same sex couples, they deny the Eucharist to them. They are not treated with the same human dignity as heterosexual couples but are considered habitual sinners. For the overwhelming majority of these gay people, they do feel rejected.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
Amen to that.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
As a gay man partnered for 41 years, I DO feel disenfranchised by this church, but not by my parish, fellow parishioners and my family and friends. How you cannot feel disenfranchised is beyond me, but good luck to you nonetheless.
Rita Balcom
3 years 4 months ago
Thank you for your insightful article. Our inter-cultural community of 58 zip codes, continually searching for experiences of the sacred, is held together by a deep level of compassionate care, strong lay leadership, powerful liturgy. active peace and justice commission, etc. New members are not showing up in droves, but for those who come more than once, they usually stay and they become involved.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
There are many such as I who have "lapsed in place." I do not consider myself to be a Roman or an American Catholic, but, rather a "Most Holy Redeemer" Catholic. My loyalty is to my parish. My faith is bound up in my parish membership. If it disappears tomorrow I most likely will look elsewhere, probably within the Episcopal Church. I am 73, a former seminarian and Jesuit and Dominican educated. I have had a good grounding in "the faith" and have discovered that that faith is no longer represented by the organized church in the United States today. Francis is a breath of fresh air, but I do not expect that he will change or meaningfully address those issues that I and so many find foundational in our withdrawing from Roman and American Catholicism.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Another quote from Flannery O'Connor is relevant here, regarding the Real Presence of a God in the Eucharist: "‘Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” The only possible reason a sane person could leave behind the sacramental gifts of eternal life is that they have ceased to believe those gifts are necessary for their salvation. In the end, whether lapsed, collapsed, or prolapsed, the issue is fundamentally a loss of faith. All the rest - the quality of sermons, of singing, of priests or community - is beside the point, window dressing. The key question for our post Vatican II generation is: how did so many Catholics come to lose the faith, to somehow think they can survive without it, all of it? I have no interest in a Country Club Church that accepts me for who I am, or validates me in my personal opinions. I want one that calls me to conversion, and has the divine sustenance to protect me from a final death. If it's not all true, and not essential for avoiding eternal damnation, then 'to hell with it.'
Joseph Jaglowicz
3 years 4 months ago
I left the church because of B16; in fact, I *had* to leave it (and this was before the liturgical translation fiasco dumped on the U.S. church). I'm still Christian by faith and Catholic by upbringing and orientation. Jesus saved us --- from ourselves and each other. Luke 15 and similar passages say it all.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
So, we are agreed Joe & Jim, that it is a loss of the Catholic faith that is the fundamental cause of those leaving the Church. One first has to stop believing before walking. Joe (and Anne) are already gone and Jim said he will move to a Protestant Church if his Catholic parish dares to teach the orthodox Catholic faith. Good to have some clarity in our discussion. I think we can all agree that the Catholic Church will never change its moral teaching either, because it can't without the whole thing collapsing. Yet, you all still hang around the old shrines and the old blogs? Something or Someone keeps pulling you back - "The Twitch Upon the Thread" (as in Brideshead Revisited). God Bless.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
You presume that my parish doesn't teach and preach orthodox (we will most likely disagree as to what that means) Catholicism. You presume much about that which you do not know.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Tim, it sounds as if you'd like to bait some of the commenters ...good luck with that but I don't really think that's the tone of the conversation people are having here. 

Joseph Jaglowicz
3 years 4 months ago
No, we are not agreed, Mr. O'Leary, about a supposed loss of my "Catholic faith". For your benefit, allow me, please, to correct you on two points: (a) Catholicism is not a "faith"; it is, rather, one tradition/expression of the one and only "Christian" faith shared by all the baptized regardless of particular Christian denomination/affiliation, and (b) the Catholic Church has, indeed, "change[d] its moral teaching...without collapsing." Please see (again?) my extended comments on Rome's acceptance of human slavery over the centuries in Daniel Horan's "Slavery and the Shock of the Old" on this website. It was only at Vatican II that the church finally condemned the practice. I'm not into "Brideshead Revisited", but thank you just the same.
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
" ... think they can survive without it, all of it?" The world of Christianity is full of people who have learned and/or believe exactly that.
Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Tim, I am going to attempt a response here - in good faith and hope you will receive it in the same way. You ask: ...how did so many Catholics come to lose the faith, to somehow think they can survive without it, all of it? As usual, I am going to discuss the use of words - in this case, "faith". Many who have left the Catholic church have not lost faith - they believe in God, they believe in what the gospels teach, they believe in christianity. However, many no longer believe ALL that the Roman Catholic church insists are 'must believes". Among these are the understanding of "real presence". Most believe that Christ is "present" in the eucharist. Most do not believe in transubstantiation however. And very few believe that active membership in the Roman Catholic church is required to avoid "eternal damnation". The official church itself condemns that particular belief (EENS). Why has this happened you ask? It is not possible to give a short answer as it is really the result of a convergence of multiple changes in western society that accelerated during the last century, but started around the time of the Reformation (and contributed to the success of the Reformation). But if you wanted to pick one as being the most important, it would be education, along with the revolution in communications that started with the printing press. For most of Catholic/christian history, most people were uneducated. Most were illiterate. They had to depend on the clerics for all that they knew of Jesus, of scripture. Over the centuries, that began to change, along with advances in communication and education. The printing press meant that ordinary people could afford to own a book, and the best seller was the bible. For the first time in history, those who were literate could read it for themselves. They could read what other people thought about it also, not just the priest. Some of these people became Protestant christians. When I was young, before Vatican II, Catholics were actively discouraged from reading the bible themselves as it was thought that the "simple" faithful would not necessarily understand it the way the church wanted them to understand it. It might raise questions in their minds. The church attempted to control access to all kinds of information - to books (the Index didn't officially disappear until the 1960s), to movies, even to the ideas of other christians. I was taught in parochial school that Catholics could never attend another christian church except for weddings and funerals - it was a sin. Fortunately, Vatican II changed some of this. But as universal education became the norm in developed economies, and access to higher education also become common in western Catholic families, things began to change. People could now read for themselves, access educational resources previously unavailable to them. They went to college and university where they learned to read critically, to think, to analyze for themselves instead of depend on others to do it for them. They learned to trust their own minds and consciences. Threats of hell no longer held enough power to convince people that they must always defer to the clerics in their moral decision-making and in their spiritual lives. In the last 20 years, the information revolution has brought the whole world to our fingertips. Then came Google and in seconds people could bring up stories and resources never before known to them - you can get an advanced degree in theology online if you want. Thus it has becme harder and harder for the clerical part of the church to maintain control. At this point, in the west, it is impossible. Every study done of Americans - including of the growing group called "nones" or "spiritual but not religious" - indicates that the vast majority believe in God. However, disenchantment with organized religion as it has been most commonly experienced up until now is reaching a point where something will have to change or membership in churches (and temples) will end up as a very small part of the population. What needs to be done? I would suggest that all of those who think that it is important for people to participate actively in organized religion (the Roman Catholic church included) must learn to listen. Really listen.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks Anne, that's a very nice distillation of the revolution in information that began with the printing press and is now marching forward with the web. I especially liked your emphasis at the end on listening. In a lot of the talks I give to Catholic groups that is the message I invariably end on. The monologue paradigm that exists in all areas of human community is shifting slowly (and sometimes painfully) to dialogue (or to coin a term, omnilogue, where all voices are being heard). Of course the challenge becomes to resist cacophony. The difficult challenge in this world is to be able to listen and synthesize as well as speak. Without that we become the Tower of Babel. 

Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Anne, Thanks again for your thoughts. The emphasize indeed must be on "listening" because if one does not listen, one does not learn, and if one does not learn, one cannot teach. Thus, the RCC needs to be a listening, learning and teaching Church. When there is no mechanism for the voices of the laity to be heard, or if such voices are dismissed because they are in tension with a teaching, or because the voices are claimed to be a distortion of the truth because they are professed to be the result of a personal or social relativism as in the evil of the secular world, then the laity does not receive certain teachings and sometimes these Catholics become spiritual but not religious. The message is to love God by loving neighbor, not only the poor but all those who are heavily burdened and want salvation. I ask: Who is listening to the divorced and remarried, those with a same-sex orientation or a woman whose life is immediately threatened with certainty by a pregnancy and a non-viable fetus? The list of those who are morally burdened is a long one. When the message for these Catholics are: you are living in a constant state of mortal sin; you must abstain from sex for a lifetime even in a committed, loving, faithful and life-long marriage or union; and you must resist the temptation to save your life but practice heroic virtue and die along with your non-viable fetus despite the harm to your life, marriage, husband and existing children….then the issue of "clericalism" that thwarts "listening" becomes a major problem of the RCC. My loved ones are directly burdened by these and other issues to the point that they have become spiritual but not religious. They hear the Church say "we can only speak and teach the truth", then offer answers that are reflective of someone who is not "listening". The answers are not only received as impractical, but also irresponsible and unreasonable. There is always some truth in every teaching, but when certain teachings are claimed to be a moral absolute, then there is no two-way dialogue with the hierarchy and no listening.
Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Michael, thank you also for your thoughtful posts. Just a couple of comments - I understand those (like your adult children) who are "spiritual but not religious" as that is pretty much how I would describe myself at this stage of my life. I am still and always "Catholic" in the same way Joseph describes - this church formed me and the way I think and the way I form my conscience. I now go to an Episcopal church on Sunday because formal Sunday church-going is important to my husband, but I will never be an Episcopolian formally.. For most of my life I was both religious and spiritual - very active in my parish and in "formal" religion but also actively seeking something that seems to be hard to find in the average Catholic parish - spirituality rather than simply "religion". At its best, religion guides the spiritual journey and helps people to develop a true spirituality (which is relationship with the Divine). At its worst, religion becomes self-serving, an object in itself replacing true spirituality, and an actual obstacle on the journey. Too often that is what the Roman Catholic church has become in the minds of many, - an obstacle on the journey to God - and this is true across the spectrum of organized religion, as Mr. McGarvey has noted. You note that to learn, one must listen. During the 35 years that preceded Francis' election to the papacy, many were absolutely dismayed and dumbfounded at the Vatican's efforts to silence all discussion - to shut down thinking, to turn some of the church's most brilliant theologians into parrots. The list of theologians, priests and religious sisters who were investigated, disciplined, silenced, and even excommunicated during those years is appalling. The Catholic church claims to be the only trustworthy teacher of "Truth" with an upper case T. But how does one find Truth but by seeking it - that means being open to discovery, open to learning. That means listening. That means having the humility to realize that what one "always" believed is not necessarily Truth simply because it was believed for a long time (the Catholic church, along with most of society, did not condemn the moral evil called slavery for almost 1900 years after Jesus died). Rather than trying to silence those who "think out of the box", the Vatican should encourage them. If there is great dissent on an issue (birth control, for example), don't silence the dissenters, but invite them to participate openly in discussion and debate. As you know more than most (having made an exhaustive and scholarly study of this issue), the attempts by the conservative forces in the Vatican to "stack" the deck in favor of the church's traditional ban on birth control failed after the bishops heard the testimony of those who actually live the sacrament of marriage. The bishops were open to listening. And because they were, and because they were humble enough to be willing to listen to the laity, they learned. Yet the dark forces of power and control won out in the end, Paul VI discarded the testimony, the overwhelming vote of the bishops. and stood by what "we have always taught", a huge mistake which marked the beginning of Rome's loss of credibility with the laity.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
Anne, I just read the Woodstock commentary and I really enjoyed the voices of the young people in expressing the problems they have with the Church, e.g., mostly sexual ethics and a focus on rules and obligations, but also what they believe in…namely service to the poor, etc. It also helped me crystalize my own experiences. The part about the two cultures among priests was also telling and this is where there was a connection to clericalism. The two cultures of among the laity was also important, but I knew about this issue from the results of Hoge's study, e.g., the statistics, but reading the real comments from young people gave the results a real context that statistics often miss. I was much more appreciative of your comment "that the Church is moving in one direction and the laity are moving in the opposite direction." Despite all the theological arguments and the Church's unpersuasive drum-beating that the secular culture is the excuse for non-reception of teachings and low Mass attendance, the real problem, pure and simple, is the polarized misdirection between young clergy (the Church) and young adults. While an emphasis on service to the poor is most important, and the right direction, many of the small-minded rules and negative injunctions must be responsibly reformed as well if the Church wants to become relevant to young Catholics (and some older folks like myself). This also includes eliminating clericalism.
Michael Barberi
3 years 4 months ago
There is a fundamental theological difference between the articles of faith and moral norms. There is also a wide chasm between personal and social relativism and disagreements concerning moral norms based on legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. While I cannot prove it, my experience tells me that the majority of faithful Catholics are not holding to the evil extremes of individualism, relativism, materialism and liberalism merely because they disagree with some moral teachings. Far too many Catholics are in-name-only and have fallen away from the Church….some for good reasons. We need to follow Pope Francis's proclamation and go out to met them, to welcome them into the Church of Christ and not denigrate them, but treat them with human dignity and offer them a reasonable way to their salvation. This includes the divorce and remarried and those with a same-sex orientation.
THOMAS KIEFER
3 years 4 months ago
I strongly disagree that quality of sermons, music,etc. are all "window dressing". I think they are more likely a reflection of the overall health and engagement of a particular parish. I have been a part of parishes with strong preaching, outstanding ministries that serve the parish and community beyond the parish, and music that stirs the soul. Conversely, I've also been in parishes with sermons that were consistently rudimentary and uninspiring, few opportunities for ministries that extend beyond raising money for the parish, and music that fails to express the true glory of our faith. As Catholic Christians we are supposed to be transformed and motivated to serve others. Of course we are each individually responsible to accept God's grace and to allow ourselves to be transformed and to give freely of our gifts. This of course is no small task and is our great challenge. How much harder does this become when the parish "community" is really no community at all? I believe it starts at the top with the Bishops and parish priests. They should not be an impediment to a devout and inspired faith community; rather they should provide an environment in which we live and grow in faith together. Going to Mass every week and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist are vitally important to me. No matter how uninspired the liturgy, I will not give up. On the other hand, I will continue to hope that the better experiences I have had will become more the norm rather than the exception.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Going to Mass every week and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist are vitally important to me. No matter how uninspired the liturgy, I will not give up. On the other hand, I will continue to hope that the better experiences I have had will become more the norm rather than the exception.

Thomas I think your quote pretty well sums up what my column states. We're are sometimes here in spite of uninspired liturgy etc. But if we remain through that then we must ultimately be here for the sacaments which are central to Catholic life.

Anne Chapman
3 years 4 months ago
Bill, I was away from home for a couple of weeks over the holidays and am just catching up. First, I would like to thank you for responding to my post. Generally, comments go one way. An author posts an article, readers respond, but only to one another, without getting any response from the author. You are an exception and your willingness to respond to your readers and engage with them is very welcome. I have copied most of this from a response given to the "Pope: Warns that Poorly Trained Priests Can Become ‘Little Monsters’" page at the suggestion of Mr. McGarvey. The statements in italics are quoted from Mr. McGarvey's blog and from the report of a conference on young adult Catholics that was held at the Woodstock Theological Center in June 2007 (Young Adult Catholics: Believing, Belonging, and Serving). The non-italicized comments are my own. The Woodstock conference report is relevant to the discussions to your articles as well as to Fr. Horan's recent articles on clericalism. Your statement "Those Catholics I know who stay, stay because of emotional ties..." is very much in harmony with the point I was trying to make. Though I think the term "emotional ties" could be construed as the church simply having some vestigal emotional pull that keeps us there despite our better judgment--which I think is far too reductive. ....We aren't there as the "loyal opposition" but because we long for the sacred mystery at the heart of the Catholic faith whether we believe the clergy we deal with are pastorally gifted or not. I agree with you - if this were not true, then Joe and I would no longer be reading America and dotCommonweal and other Catholic sites. We are still "Catholic" but we are no longer able to participate in the church without a voice - because some of us believe that some teachings and some actions of the church hierarchy have been so damaging, so harmful to so many that we can no longer enable this harm by supporting the institutional church. But.....the fundamental issue with younger generations regarding religion is one of relevance. Why bother belonging to an institutional faith community at all? ..... This is statistically true across the board for Jews and Christians in the US and is even more dire in mainline protestant denominations--some of whom would appear to be more welcoming in terms of the issues you mentioned.? Also very true - and this is a challenging reality to all institutional religion. But, this discussion is focused on Catholics. The Woodstock Center at Georgetown (which recently closed, unfortunately) had a conference a few years ago on young adults and the church. The entire report is well worth reading - although I'm sure Pope Francis "speaks" to these young adults, it may not be enough as you note, especially given the growing discomfort with so many for the younger generation of "John Paul II" and "Benedict" priests. http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/resources/papers/young-adult-catholics-b... James Davidson related an anecdote …. where he explained how sociologists measure religious commitment by such indicators as church attendance. .... a young man stood up and asked, “Why would you ever use Mass attendance as a measure of religious commitment?” Davidson…related that older members of the Detroit audience gasped when they heard this. But as Davidson understood him, the young man was really saying his way of practicing the Catholic faith was different from that of earlier generations, particularly preVatican II Catholics. “And we have to understand that difference,” the sociologist said, noting that many young Catholics place higher importance on service to the poor and social justice than they do on the conventional markers of religious identity” Francis surely speaks to this!. Mr. Davidson continued - I think of a continuum ranging from what …Eugene Kennedy called Culture One Catholicism to Culture Two Catholicism. At the Culture One end, there’s an emphasis on Catholic identity, attachment to the Church, the teaching authority, the Magisterium, compliance with Church teaching. At the Culture Two end, there’s still an emphasis on identity, but the emphasis is more on the individual’s responsibility for his or her own faith; the integrity of the person’s own conscience; and the person’s responsibility to make up his or her own mind in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong.The way I read the surveys (not only the ones we have done, but earlier research as well) is that in the preVatican II Church in the 1930s and the ‘40s, probably 80 percent of Catholics were Culture One. And ...maybe 20 percent who were Culture Twos ... When you look at the surveys we have of today’s young adults, it looks like only about 20 percent ... are Culture Ones and about 80 percent ... are Culture Twos, … Colleen Carroll suggests that the number of Culture One young adults is growing. We … would disagree … We can’t find any such trend in … the national data … Culture One young adults are not growing, but they’re more visible than Culture Twos ….… there have been two shifts in the self understanding of [America] priests since Vatican II. … The first ...occurred about the time of Vatican II and it was ...well underway by 1970....a shift from the cultic model, the earlier model of the priest, to what was called the servant leader model… The cultic model ...is a more traditional one which emphasizes that the priest is a man set apart. ….he should emphasize his separate status; his main job is sacraments and preaching and teaching; it is not a high priority to work with the laity as equals or to collaborate; and he should, if possible, have special clothes so he’s always visible that he is different. This finding is relevant to Fr. Horan’s articles as well as yours. The servant leader model …emphasized continuity ...and working collaboratively with the laity. …. They ...emphasize that they were spiritual leaders of the flock. This was quite a shift at that time. … the people who bought into the servant leader model after Vatican II hoped this would be a permanent shift, but it was not. It has shifted back again. So now, especially among younger diocesan priests, some version of the cultic model is predominant in the seminaries and also among the young diocesan priests. . ...we have just heard that the trends among the laity are towards greater individualism, greater feeling that authority lies with the laity as well as with the hierarchy, and a greater wish for greater involvement in the Church at all levels. … But among the priests, the trend is different. My point is a very simple. The young people are moving in one direction; the priesthood, at least the diocesan priesthood, in another
Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
I tried to open Anne's Woodstock link and didn't get anything. This one might work better: http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/resources/papers/young-adult-catholics-believing-belonging-serving.pdf
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks Jim.

Jim McCrea
3 years 4 months ago
"I believe it starts at the top with the Bishops and parish priests." Maybe so, but parishioners need to express their dissatisfaction to their pastor and their bishop with mediocrity. There comes a point where advocates of tolerance don't have to be tolerant. No one ever said tolerance required putting up with anything and everything. Chancery offices constantly view the faithful as so befuddled that, without unctuous instruction, they would confuse the holy water fountain with a birdbath. And a silent, complacent, moribund laity prove them right!
Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Several responses to my fellow pilgrims' comments below. Anne - thanks for your response. I agree that education (and miseducation) has played a role in distancing Catholics from their Church. But you might also agree that although our present population is much better educated in some areas (science, sports, sex, etc), they are also far less educated in church history, theology and philosophy and many do not know the faith they have walked away from. Moreover, many have absorbed unsubstantiated prejudices about Catholicism from the more dominant Protestant (now secular) worldview. I realize that on this blog we are talking about differences in opinion and understanding among more educated Catholics (however defined). Francis Bacon said way back, meaning education more broadly, "a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." It is held by many that Benedict XVI might have been the most erudite pope in history. So, education can move one to the fullness of the Catholic faith (as it did Augustine and Newman) or away. I think we must look beyond education to explain why some of the most educated people today fall more and more in love with the whole faith and other educated people go the opposite way. Maybe, it has something to do with grace. I can well agree with Anne and Michael that listening is vital to a healthy community though I would distinguish listening from agreeing. For example, I assume you both consider you listen to the Magisterium's teaching. You just are not convinced by their arguments. Similarly, the Magisterium listens to many dissenting theologians and lay people. They just don't agree in their hearts with the "new" teaching that is proposed. But, if you can't be persuaded by the Magisterium, why would you suppose the Magisterium should be persuaded by your (or Charles Curren's, or Hans Kung's) arguments. The real objection is not being ignored. It is not being persuaded. As to a loss of faith, I agree it could be partial (the sexual morality bits, or some of the dogmatic parts) and not total. And, maybe, lost is not the right word, especially if one never held it fully in the first place. I also agree one could stop practicing and participating in the faith, and yet still believe in it, although that separation would normally create a tension within oneself. One might even project that tension outside of oneself onto the clergy or the Magisterium. Even Jim uses the phrase "moribund laity" because they lack his sense of outrage. And to Joe's version of mere christianity, there is the problem of doctrinal contradiction here. When two "traditions/expressions" teach opposite things, they cannot both be right. This is not faith, but logic. One position has to be right and the others wrong. As regards Anne's example of the Eucharist, there are indeed different doctrinal opinions on what is exactly happening. But, they certainly cannot all be right or equivalent. Either the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence is the correct one (meaning all the others are false) or another one is correct (say Luther or Zwingli or Calvin) and all the rest are false. Truth is one or it has lost its meaning. Finally, to my use of the term 'window dressing' below, and Thomas's response to it, I meant to say that we often complain most vehemently about secondary issues, such as the quality of community or clergy, or the music at mass or a new translation of the prayers. If we were on our deathbed tomorrow, what would most concern us - the quality of a sermon, a particular translation or whether the bedside priest had a good turn of phrase. Wouldn't access to the sacraments of penance and communion and our preparedness for Judgement Day be our top concern? And might not today be our last day?
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Tim , There are some things I would challenge with regarding your comment above..."It is held by many that Benedict XVI might have been the most erudite pope in history." Not sure I've come across this "many" who "might" consider him the most erudite...not to denigrate his abilities as a theologian that's just not a statement I've heard/seen many make. As to a loss of faith, it's interesting that in a discussion where people are sharing their, very real and personal experiences about church that you turn it into a conversation about losing faith wholly or partially (the sexual morality bits, or some of the dogmatic parts) and disagreeing with the Magisterium.   

If we're talking about the Catholic faith, I suggest we start with the Nicene Creed (below). I wouldn't be so sure to assume that the people expressing problems with the church here couldn't still profess the creed in good conscience and agree with every word.

 

Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Tim O'Leary
3 years 4 months ago
Bill. I haven't taken a poll or a detailed analysis but some of the following phrases influenced my statement: From George Weigel's article: "Pope Benedict XVI - The Master Teacher: "Recognized by even his critics as one of the premier Catholic theologians of the 20th century, he had also attracted the respect of his fellow intellectuals throughout Europe, many of them, like the influential German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, of a decidedly secular cast of mind." Or from Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute (himself an author of over a dozen books): "But we need to remember that Benedict XVI is arguably the most intellectual pope to sit in Peter’s Chair for centuries—even more so than his saintly predecessor, who was certainly no slouch in the world of ideas." Others who have commented on Pope Benedict's unique intellectual prowess include Fr. Robert Barron and John Allen. In any case, I cannot think of a pope with an academic biography like Pope Benedict XVI: Author of 66 books, a long career at the highest echelons of German academia, (including Vice President of the university of Regensburg), co-founder of Concilium and Communio, 2 highly influential intellectual journals, a VCII participant (a Pariti) a leader of the CDF and Dean of the College of Cardinals, His erudition is very evident in one major theological work - the Jesus Trilogy - by the wide range of patristic and secular sources he weaves into his writings. There is also his expertise in playing classical music, languages, etc. I am open to hearing arguments for other candidates of most intellectual pope. For example, Pope John Paul II the Great wrote more and influenced more as a pope, but I think he did not match BXVI's academic career. CNS reported that the German publishing giant Herder and the Pope Benedict XVI Institute of Regensburg, Germany, will offer the public "The Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger" in a 16 tome series. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0805385.htm As regards the beautiful Creed, I think most Protestants would adhere to it, without in any way considering themselves Catholic. I agree it is a starting point, but a minimalist one (no mention of the sacraments, the works of mercy, the virtues, prayer, the moral life, etc., etc.). The Catholic faith is so much more. The Catechism (CCC) would be a much better description of the fullness of Catholic faith.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks Tim for the background on your comment. I had no doubt that BXVI is renowned as a theologian but I had never heard it said he was the most erudite pope in history. I was hoping a church history expert on here might be able to pick up on that and give us a better sense of the scholarly reputation of different popes down through the ages.

In terms of your comment about the creed as 'a starting point, but a minimalist one' and that 'The Catechism (CCC) would be a much better description of the fullness of Catholic faith.' I found this from the catechism on the USCCB site (all in bold):

"Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works."

---the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 198

Catholic belief is succinctly expressed in the profession of faith or credo called the Nicene Creed:

Clearly the history, tradition and practice of Catholicism is rich, but it seems to me if we are judging the nature of other people's faith commitment (which, for the record, I believe is not really what we are called to do), we could do much worse than the credo that has existed since the 4th century that we profess at mass every Sunday.

Stephen Benson
3 years 4 months ago
I’ve been watching this conversation unfold with great interest, especially the discussion that’s now developing between Tim, Bill and Michael. I believe that part of the reason we have difficulty explaining what Faith is is because we use one word, “Faith”, to describe a multi-layered object. It seems to me that the point of agreement between everyone is that the starting point of Faith is an external Fact, an external fact called Jesus of Nazareth that loves me and wants to be my friend. So, it seems to me, the first characteristic of the Christian Faith is that it has a fact-based character because we are not the starting point of Faith! I would, consequently, suggest that paragraphs 150 – 152 might be a better starting point for a look at a vital question: What is the foundation of Faith? To believe in God alone 150 Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to His truth, Christian Faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what He says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God 151 For a Christian, believing in God cannot be separated from believing in the One He sent, His “beloved Son”, in whom the Father is “well pleased”; God tells us to listen to Him. The Lord Himself said to His disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” We can believe in Jesus Christ because He is Himself God, the Word made flesh: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.” Because He “has seen the Father”, Jesus Christ is the only One who knows Him and can reveal Him. To believe in the Holy Spirit 152 One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in His Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. For “no one can say “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit”, who “searches everything, even the depths of God. No one comprehends the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God.” Only God knows God completely: we believe in the Holy Spirit because He is God. The Church never ceases to proclaim her Faith in one only God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am, however, puzzled by your opinion that we are not called to judge “the nature of other people's faith commitment”, and I would appreciate some clarification and/or context for your opinion. For example, when I am someone’s sponsor in the RCIA program, I am called to judge the nature of their faith commitment and I must share my judgment with the pastor. So I am not clear about what you mean by “faith commitment” because there are objective facts that have been revealed after the Nicene Creed was written that those that call themselves Catholics are called to believe (for example, the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and if a Catholic says that they do not believe it I can make a judgment on how committed they are to the Faith.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The data and facts are clear: If you care about working families and sound economic policy, SNAP is the program for you.
Meghan J. ClarkMay 26, 2017
Discussions that lead to cooperative compliance are better than banning speech.
Ellen K. BoegelMay 26, 2017
Pope Francis talks with U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24 (CNS photo/Paul Haring).
I am praying that Pope Francis’ words have a lasting impact on the president.
Zac DavisMay 26, 2017
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos shakes hands with Alexis Stratton, a freshman at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, during the secretary's May 23 visit to the school. (CNS photo/John Shaughnessy, The Criterion)
The secretary of education arrived in Indiana's capital to address the national policy summit of the American Federation for Children, a national advocacy organization for school choice.