Friday, February 9, 2007

Crisis Magazine: What Does the Study Tell Us? Seven Prominent Catholics Respond

Russell Shaw: [snip] Suppose someone were to try to measure what’s not covered in this report—what would he look at? Research in a number of areas of Catholic life not discussed here is needed to determine whether there are significant variations from diocese to diocese and also among groups within particular dioceses. Knowing that, we might be able to do something about the problems. Here are a few thoughts on areas that should be examined that way.Mass attendance and sacramental participation would be a central part of it.
Mass attendance isn’t the only problem. The sacrament of reconciliation—”going to confession,” it used to be called—pretty well disappeared in many parishes years ago.
How about matters of belief and practice? For years polls have showed that huge numbers of American Catholics reject key elements of Catholic faith and morality.
Another factor to crank into the equation when rating dioceses concerns the explosion of the Hispanic population in the United States over the past 40 years.
As the crisisstudy notes, many American dioceses are just too big to be pastorally effective units. [snip]

Deal Hudson: [snip] Numbers never tell the whole story: Renewal may well be underway in a diocese, the fruits of which are not yet seen in the statistics present here. The survey is, no doubt, simply a snapshot, but a valuable one. What we see in the various rankings is attributable to many factors, not just to bishops. Bishops can be appointed to places where the deterioration is so serious that it will take a lifetime to rebuild. And, as was pointed out to me by an insurance man, this particular snapshot may have caught a diocese in its growth years and is not necessarily predicative of the years to come. [snip]

Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. [snip] Three factors, though difficult to determine their precise interrelation, clearly affect one another: unity of the bishop and priests, attraction of priestly vocations, and active participation of the faithful. [snip]

David R. Carlin [snip] It so happens that I am one of those who enjoy examining tables full of numbers, so I liked the study. But do these tables tell us anything about which bishops are good and which not so good? I’m afraid not. The study is a pleasant thing, but it proves nothing.
Likewise it is doubtful that you can find two dioceses that are sufficiently similar to one another for you to conclude that any differences you discover are due to the qualities of their respective bishops. And it is more than merely probable—it is absolutely certain—that the dissimilarities in the 176 Catholic dioceses in the United States are so great that it is impossible to conclude that the differential achievements of these dioceses must be the result of the goodness or badness of their bishops. [snip]

Mary Jo Anderson [snip] The bishop has the charism of governing. Strong governance in the matter of proper liturgical practice is imperative for the health of a diocese. Where reverent Masses, Eucharistic adoration, and devotions like the Stations of the Cross and the rosary are offered, grace is abundant and the vitality of the diocese increases. This is the grace Catholics desperately need; they gain strength against secular influences and wisdom that overflows into their families, neighborhoods, and work. The bishop’s flock becomes salt and light to the surrounding community. When Catholics are known for their joyful, confident hope in God, their lives evangelize those whom they encounter.

Bishops see the signs of the times: Despite abundant freedoms and prosperity, many Americans report suffering from depression, alienation, and confusion. People are searching for meaning that secularism cannot provide. Secularism is a tool for evangelization, for as the pressures of secular culture increase, more people will be open to the gospel message of hope.

This is especially true as family life comes under greater assault. The Church must be the bastion of healthy family life. The bishop who fosters authentic Catholic family life cannot fail to build a healthy diocese. Family-friendly programs and Catholic schools are a major contribution to a healthy diocese. Furthermore, it is within solid Catholic family life that vocations are born. [snip]

Amy Welborn [Amy is a mom of four, a former religion teacher, an author and blogs at Open Book and doesn't "gossip" about her projects. Right now is the first I knew that she was involved in the review of the study.] As the study notes, the presence of non-native priests has sustained the Church in the United States and probably will continue to do so. They function as a marvelous witness to what catholicity really means. But there are questions raised by the declining proportion of priests native to their dioceses or even this country, and they are not questions that hint of xenophobia or prejudice. They are questions, as the Chicago pastor said, of “spiritual leukemia”—why is it that settled generations of American Catholics produce so few vocations to the religious life? Can one really assess the health of a diocese by ordinations if large numbers of the ordinands didn’t live in that diocese until they considered seminary?
Secondly, the “adherents” measure seems reasonable on the surface, but I wonder if it comes with qualifications as well. Many parishes and dioceses put returning Catholics through RCIA. In the RCIA programs in which I have been involved, invariably a third to one-half of the participants have been returning Catholics. One could argue that a person baptized Catholic and finally returning to practice is just as much the “fruit” of evangelization as a Methodist coming into full communion, but that is questionable.

The historical strength of Catholicism in the Northeast has been intimately tied to ethnic groups with a Catholic identity: primarily French-Canadians, Irish, Italians, and Portuguese. What seems almost invariably to happen in these communities is that religion evolves into just one more aspect of ethnic identity, something of which members are proud and protective, but the meaning of which tends to diminish over time as Catholic identity becomes just that—identity—not faith.

This is a point to remember in terms of our past, and also—as we look to the impact that many of us hope the presence of Hispanic Catholics will have on the Church in the United States—in terms of our future, as well.

Read the whole analysis in Crisis Magazine Here

Post a Comment