Jul 8, 2007

Where I Think We Are...

WolfTracker left an interesting comment on the previous post re Bishops' Scorecard:
...even after all of the evidence you show to the contrary, you state that things [in the Church] are not "significantly improving." Surely, things are improving drastically, even if not all is all right. Perhaps, I misread your summation. Please help me out.
WT, I think we are now on the upside curve of the 'decline and resurgence' graph of strength within the Catholic Church in the U.S. The graphed line is intended to represent the precipitous fall when so much was lost in the past 40 years. My estimate of where we are now is marked at slightly beyond the low point and climbing.

We are a long way from climbing as fast as we fell, and we are likely to never reach the opposite of that severe decline rate in church strength. For example, weekend (Sunday) Mass attendance fell from approximately 70 percent attendance to 30 percent in 40 years--averaging about 1 percent decline per year for approximately 40 million Catholics (400,000 less Mass attendees per year). It is hard for me to imagine that we can gain 400,000 more regular Mass attendees per year over the next 40 years (but I do believe in God's miracles, especially when inspired by saintly lives and preaching!)

I cannot yet say that things are "significantly improving," although we seem to be advancing to that point. I will use the word "significantly" only when there is at least a sizable increase from the lowest value on the chart. I don't think we have yet reached that point--for example, in number of regular Mass-going Catholics, or in sacramental confessions and marriages.

Good Bishops are now coming on the scene, and one of the most optimistic reports I've seen is the news reported by Sandro Magister that Pope Benedict XVI is very carefully reviewing candidates for Bishops.
Much more than curia appointments, Benedict XVI has at heart the appointment of bishops.

He dedicates much greater attention to these than John Paul II did. Before giving his permission, the pope keeps the dossiers of the designates on his desk for up to two or three weeks. And sometimes he rejects them, without giving an explanation to the competent curia dicastery presided over by cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

Pope Ratzinger is very demanding; he wants bishops of quality, and doesn’t always find them. The pace of episcopal appointments has fallen by a quarter with him, in comparison with the previous pontificate.
However, even a good Pope and good Bishops will have an extremely difficult job to restore and rebuild the Church to the point where most Catholics regularly attend Mass, get married before living together, and understand the importance of frequent confession. Moreover, the technologically adept secularists and pagans oppose the teachings of Christ and have a great deal more power in society than 40 years ago.


wolftracker said...


Thanks for pulling my comment out of your recent post and giving it a fuller explanation in a new one.

I recently said on my blog that you were my favorite local blogger because you bring, given your long presence and observance of Holy Mother Church in our area, a historical view that the rest of us cannot. I see now, once again, that I was right to say so. I also see that my earlier comment was made by someone who is personally incapable reflecting on the way things once were (when, for instance, Mass attendance was much higher, sacramental marriages were frequent, etc.).

I was raised in what one might call, given your graph, "The Church in Steepest Decline." So, to me (someone who wishes for a strong, ascendant Church--but has never experienced one), any upsurge is a moment of "significant improvement."

I see here that, when I left my comment suggesting that recent evidence suggested significant improvement, I was speaking as someone who is happy with a great many things that you detailed admirably in your post. I was not, since I cannot, speak as someone who recalls a Church whose influence in the lives of those that claim to be faithful was substantial and ongoing.

We both pray that day is forthcoming soon. I know how hard you work for that. Lest anyone think that there is a disagreement between us, I do not think there is. We wish for the same thing. I was not around before the decline, even if I was around for the "fruits" of that decline (once it was fully achieved).

We both agree that improvement is at hand (at least locally) and hope that the lowest points (universally) are behind us all. If I am unable to have the longer view that you are able to take, it is because of my relative youth, giving evidence, once again, that you are my favorite local blogger.

Also, a quibbling point, I left my earlier comment in regard to the state of affairs in regard to the local Church--as I think Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn (and Archbishop Burke down I-70) deserve our support and praise for the changes they have made. I did not realize it at the time I read your original post on the subject, but you seemed to have more in mind the effects of the decline on the national Church.

In any event, there is much work and praying to be done. And blogging. There went my break from it!

Dust I Am said...

Dear Wolfie,

I've always wanted another son, and I've decided to adopt you! What a wonderful comment, and you do have a way with words that make this old lady choke up with pride (uh-oh).

Seriously, you see things in the way the younger generation should see them--with a hope and dreams beyond raw reality. Your hope and enthusiastic efforts are absolutely necessary to restore and extend the Church. I see your enthusiasm and commitment to the Catholic Church every time I read your excellent blog.

The times are quickly changing from our being walled up and defending the fort, to making a big impact OUTSIDE the fort. This happened in prior resurgences of the Church, when young builders replaced older militant Catholics who had no opportunity to build, only to fight for what often seemed like a losing cause.

I expect great things from Wolftracker, Curmudgeon, and many other young Catholic activists (a goodly number of whom are becoming priests!). You will necessarily change your focus as Modernism will become disorganized and mostly muted. Your joy will be to strengthen the Church for the new battles of the Church against Satan--whether secularism and the New Paganism, or the familiar seven deadly sins.

I'm sure your mind and your hands will be full of generous commitments to this new restoration and extension of the Body of Christ.

By the end of your life, the times may be very similar to the late 16th and early 17th centuries when Catholic music, art, literature, and especially missionary activity flourished in the Counter- Reformation, and when Islam attempted to take over Europe, only to be defeated at the battle of Lepanto.

Anonymous said...

Most of the decline in Mass attendance took place by the early 70's, at least in the US. The indications are that Mass attendance was in decline in Europe before the 60's.

Pinning the blame on Vatican II and its aftermath is a comfortable convenience for conservatives. Sociological studies showed that the single most responsible factor for declining American Mass attendance was Humanae Vitae. More recently, it's hard not to overlook the aggressive efforts of evanglicals to fatten their congregations with inactive Catholics.

It's not clear to me why you would think people in search of the sacred would abandon Catholicism for the megachurch of God in the arena down the road.

The reasons for Christian disaffection with Sunday worship are many and far more complex than a simple graph. If we have a reasonable hope of reversing the trend, it strikes me that we need more accurate scientific information on why people are leaving, and less of the subjective experiences.


Dust I Am said...

I've added comments to wolftracker's blog [reprinted below] that describe my own judgement for the primary causes of the decline over the past 40 years:

"The loss of the sacred was certainly paramount, and add to that increasing wealth, leisure, and other distractions of the Western World.

"My own opinion is that Catholic practice declined significantly when the Church began to lower its standards and diminish its requirements for membership. An old post describes tactics to be followed to destroy the Catholic Church in Cuba.

"The most important paragraph of Communist Li Wei-Han's document relates to making optional the practices that were formerly considered mandatory for good Catholics. Li Wei Han claimed that

"It is notorious that when the practice of religion becomes simply a matter left to the individual's sense of responsibility, it is gradually forgotten." The post is a long one, but may be helpful in understanding one of the major reasons for the decline in Catholic practice over the past 40 years."