Gone forever?

Today in The New York Times a story on the fluid religious life of Americans reports that "roughly 10 per cent of all Americans are former Catholics." The Roman Catholic Church has lost more adherents than any other group. Only the influx of Catholic immigrants have kept the over all numbers of church membership the same. Every Catholic family knows this problem firsthand. Relatives and friends have defected in droves, or should we say more neutrally, "they have moved on." But to what? No one is sure what is believed by the large group of no longer self-identifying Catholics. An older optimism might claim that "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic," but I don’t think this is true any more. Returnees and later life reconciliations seem rare these days. The sex abuse crises seems to be a lethal blow to the Catholic allegiance of those who have left. It seems pretty clear that an older institutional model of the Roman Catholic Church is dying. Those of us still "hanging in" have to take solace in our resurrection faith: dying leads to new life. And now there is a new analogy to help in this period of travail and rebirth. I have just heard of "hospice theology." This image points to the need to give up false hopes, nostalgia and denial in order to help a dying patient. In a hospice approach to death you reject hostile anger over loss and charitably, patiently work to ease the pain and suffering of the transition for all. Yes, this sounds like what we need right now. I wonder if others agree? Sidney Callahan
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10 years ago
I like this analogy of "hospice theology" because it is apparent that the institution is dying what seems to be a slow and painful death. However, we must not let adoption of this theology cause us to become lax in reform efforts. Besides offering comfort measures for a church which seems to be in a terminal stage, we must assume a "midwifery theology" and be ready to assist the rising of a new life.
10 years ago
Interesting concept - "hospice theology". So much talk and division around the liberal vs. conservative or kingdom vs. mission stances. Vatican II laid the foundation that the Church must change to address the times. Scripture basically are stories of change. And yet, we are a people that struggle with this concept. People like change; they just don't like to be changed. So, your hospice approach is appealing. As John XXIII said well - "we need a message of mercy and not of severity." As dioceses close churches & schools; confront sexual abuse & financial crises; continue to see vocations decrease we all need to reject anger and work together with patience and charity.
10 years ago
I don't know, Sidney. It seems that the illness is incurable, which is the underlying meaning of corruption. It ought to be clear to everyone by now that males alone are incapable of administering the Gospel in an institutional setting. I have no doubt that the Church will soldier on into the future, and yet is destined to go through this agony time and again.
10 years ago
Hmmm. Very interesting post. How do people define "Catholic?" As a college student (and student leader of our catholic group), I encounter a lot of my peers who were raised Catholic (baptized, eucharized, and confirmized!) but have largely rejected the Church since what I would consider the "age of reason," around 13 or 14 years old. This is one of the reasons I'm opposed to having first communion around 2nd grade. When you're 7, you don't really "know" what the concept of transubstantiation entails. In fact, a lot of the college students in our group remain ignorant of the Church's teachings on the subject. Even if it IS the body and blood without their acknowledgement, I think a better appreciation of the Eucharist should be instilled before reception. Then you have folks like my parents. They're both cradle Catholics, and have generally supported my work at UNC Asheville, but they have felt shut out of the Church because of 1) the abuse crisis and 2) the support of the bishops for denying certain Catholic politicians the Eucharist, effectively taking sides in a political election. In regards to the latter, they're not put off by the church's opposition to abortion, but they ARE disturbed by the clumsy and heavy-handed nature with which the bishops (esp. Rev. Burke) handled that scenario. It would probably take my being ordained to have them come back to the Church (and that's not happening, so don't bother emailing me). whew, I needed that. - Harry


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