Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage

Over at Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen Kochivar-Baker offers an insightful reflection on the recent news that membership in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. is on the decline.

Following is an excerpt:

. . . If the analysts are right . . . then John Paul’s purposeful decision to ignore the boomers and evangelize the younger generations is patently failing, and this spells real trouble for the future of Catholicism. As the older generations die off, there won’t be anyone taking their place. It may very well be that the church attending population reflects the demographics of the aging priesthood. That is not a good sign for the long term viability of the Church.

. . . It seems to me that Roman Catholicism is opting for a form of Church which is generations removed from the very people they need to attract to remain viable. These younger generations are marching to a different drummer, a different consciousness. Expecting them to conform to a Church which is more and more resembling the Church of their grandparents and great grandparents is folly. It may appeal to a small segment, but that segment cannot sustain a global enterprise on the scale the current Church operates.

For thirty years I’ve sat back and watched the Vatican hierarchy attempt to stop the forward movement of the Church and return it to the Church of their youth. In this process it became evident that the Vatican had decided that the future of their Church did not lie in the Western generations which embraced Vatican II. They not only wrote off those generations, they worked diligently to stop their voices from being heard. Why anyone ever thought that the children of those parents would ever embrace a regressive form of Catholicism boggles my mind.

The official excuse for this is that our children were poorly evangelized. The reality is they were evangelized into a different form of Church. The regression to sin and Satan and hell and guilt and a God up there with his sin computer makes no sense. They weren’t taught an adversarial relationship with God. They were taught that God is love. They were taught that faith is a progression in a relationship with God. It’s not that they don’t understand sin, it’s that they understand sin differently and use different terms for it. Sin is an attitudinal thing, not so much an acting bad thing. Social justice sins trump sexual sins every time. Pretty much what Jesus actually taught and the Church isn’t.

Does it surprise me that younger generations support gay marriage? Not at all. It is the prime example of the difference in their notion of sin. For them it’s not a sexual sin issue, it’s an equal rights and social justice issue. They don’t buy into the hypocrisy of certain sexual acts being permissible in marriage between heterosexuals, but not for anyone else. Or that homosexual sex is somehow more reprehensible than marital adultery which really does effect the family. These generations have very good bull shit meters and they don’t cut much slack. Good for them. It’s a lesson the hierarchy itself could learn.

To read Colleen’s reflection in its entirety, click here.

Without doubt, many view the sad and sorry state of the institutional church as a crisis. Yet I maintain a broader perspective and see the current situation more as an opportunity. Accordingly, I resonate with Catholic theologian Mary Hunt’s take on the current state of the Church. In a 2007 interview, for instance, she says:

I am reluctant to describe the current situation as a crisis. I think it is a logical, if unintended consequence, of a system in urgent need of deep change. Frankly, I am not in crisis and most Catholic feminists I know are not in crisis.

I think it is a time when the North American Catholic Church is learning in the hardest possible way that it must become a faith community led by women such as Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and by men not bound up in clerical knots.

It is an opportunity, not a crisis, to re-think the basis and repair the damage. I am confident our faith can survive such scrutiny.

As am I, Mary! As am I.

Also, I feel very fortunate to be part of numerous Catholic communities, organizations, and projects that are actively involved in the type of re-thinking and repairing that Mary Hunt refers to. (The latest of these projects is a series of Lay Archdiocesan Synods planned for 2010 and 2011.)

I don’t believe we’re witnessing the demise of the Church - only a certain and limited expression of it. But a new one is emerging in places all across the globe - from the Netherlands to Australia, and right here in Minnesota.

As I’ve noted previously: the center may be in a state of stasis and decay, but at the periphery of our living tradition we can readily observe (sprouting and flourishing like mustard seeds) invigorating (and, for some, pesky) ways of being Catholic that are truer to the life and message of Jesus, and thus the true mission of the Church.

Without doubt, it’s a fascinating and exciting time to be Catholic and, as Simon Rosser says, “part of the change” that is coming.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Fall of Rome? - Michael in Norfolk, March 3, 2009.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
“We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
Clearing Away the Debris
Here Comes Everybody!
An Intriguing Thought
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
A Catholic “Crisis and Opportunity” in South Minneapolis
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
Dispatches from the Periphery
Alive and Well . . . and Flourishing
A Declaration of Renewal and Reform


Terence said...

These are inspiring ideas - thanks for the links on the "laity synods" and the Netherlands story. In modern society, organisations of all kinds are finding that the old hierarchical power structures no longer work, and have given way to flatter, lattice like structures.

In moveing in the opposite direction, attempting to impose greater control on thought, the institutional church is not only resisitng V2, they are also fighting against the nature of modern knowledge and communications technology,and contradicting the very meaning of the word "catholic".

As they seek to define themselves into irrelevance, the resst of us need to be aggressive in new ways to build the real Church. The initiatives you name are some examples - the expanding progressive blogosphere is another.

Mary E. Hunt said...

All the best, Michael. We're moving forward. Mary E. Hunt

kevin57 said...

A key to the post-Vatican II change from which there really cannot be any change is the Council's call to rediscover the Scriptures, especially the gospels. Christ's message is one of reconciliation, inclusivity, and the centrality of the kingdom. Entire generations actually learned this (I believe led by the Spirit) and I can assure you as a high school teacher that the Church of the future does not accept the teaching on homosexuality. They are not radicals when it comes to Church leadership, and that is the saddest thing. Leadership only paints itself into a bad corner.