Tuesday, February 26, 2008

U.S. Catholicism in Decline

A new survey has just been released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Entitled the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, it is a compilation of telephone interviews with over 35,000 adults conducted between May and August of last year.

There is an awful lot of data to digest here (the online report is in excess of 140 pages) but at first glance it is evident that the Catholic Church in the United States has some serious problems with which to contend. A quick scan of the report turned up the following:

--- While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic (page 6).

--- Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic (page 7).

--- Roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics (page 7), while only 2,6% of all Americans are converts to Catholicism (page 25).

--- Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group (page 19).

--- Of those claiming no church affiliation, 27% were raised Catholic (page 29).

--- 26% of Jehovah's Witnesses were raised Catholic (page 29).

--- 11% of Evangelical Protestants were raised Catholic (page 29).

If there is anyone left who still doubts the effects of the abysmal Catholic catechesis that was standard fare in far too many dioceses for far too many years, this report should make them believers.

It should also point to the need to make Catholic school education the highest priority in every diocese, including the Diocese of Rochester. If there is even one child who wants a Catholic education and cannot get it as the result of his closing 13 Catholic schools, our bishop should be more than ashamed. He should be down on his knees begging the Lord for forgiveness.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Two-thirds of Our Priests Come from Large Families

A previous post dealt with some of the results of a nationwide survey of over 2,100 recently ordained priests. The same survey also revealed a strong correlation between vocations and family size.

Less than 3% of the priests surveyed were only children, while about 14% had 1 sibling and 18% had 2. The vast majority (65.4%) of those 2,100 priests, however, came from families with at least 4 children!

The Holy Spirit seems to be sending us a message here: Larger families - families which have demonstrated an openness to new life - are the seedbed of vocations to the priesthood.

This should be disturbing news to all those in DOR and elsewhere who hold Fr. Charles Curran and other dissident moral theologians in such high esteem. It would seem that the results of artificial contraception reach far beyond the home, affecting the entire Church in ways that no one would have predicted.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The French Road Heresy Factory

Sr. Patricia Schoelles is the President of St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry, located along the French Road side of the Nazareth College campus. In addition to her administrative duties she also teaches a course entitled Contemporary Moral Theology.

Until a little over 4 years ago Sr. Pat also had a regular column in the Catholic Courier. Many of her columns were controversial and sparked a number of critical Letters to the Editor.

Homosexual Sex Isn't Sinful?

For example, in Debate on sexual behavior needs thoughtful approach (July 3, 2003), Sr. Pat wrote,

"My experience indicates that for some, the need is to condemn sex between couples of the same sex, even if the relationship is one of commitment and fidelity. For others, the need is for everyone, churches included, to overcome homophobia, the fear and hatred of gays and lesbians."

Later on she added,

"Some theologians recently have suggested that for [the Catholic Church] ... there may be a need to recognize not one norm governing sexual behavior, but two ... It may be that a set of standards for gay sex needs to be developed."

She concluded with,

"We can become a polarized, absolutist society, or, in my terms, we can 'get real.' The choice is ours."

Without actually coming out and saying it, Sr. Pat's point here seems to be that the Church needs to radically rethink her teaching on homosexual sex. Sr. Pat would seem to have us believe that the Church is merely putting her own homophobia on public display when she teaches that "'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."

And when the Church adds, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity," Sr. Pat would have us merely see another example of the Church refusing to "get real."

Finally, when Jesus tells us, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)," Sr. Pat would most likely tell us that he didn't intend for his term “anyone” to apply to those with homosexual orientations.

Just What Is Sin, Anyway?

A few weeks later Sr. Pat published Sin reflects a state of life, not an act (September 4, 2003). Here her target was not one particular sin, but the whole concept of sin itself. She wrote,

"One of the flaws of Catholic catechetical teaching has been that we tend to reduce sin to a matter of externals. We associate sin with breaking a rule, violating a law, transgressing some taboo against particular acts or actions. In truth, however, the Catholic tradition has always taught that 'sin' involves God ... sin involves a destruction of our relationship with God. God is at the core of sin, not rule violations."

For the life of me I just cannot see how one destroys one's relationship with God without "rule violations." Doesn't the Church tell us that sin is "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law," and that sin "is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become 'like gods?'" That sure sounds like rule-breaking to me.

But Sr. Pat really grabbed my attention when she wrote,

"Sin is less about individual pieces of behavior, individual acts, as it is a matter of 'being,' or a condition of the whole person."

She went on to speak in glowing terms of the claim by Protestant theologian Dorothee Solle that

"When the tradition says that sin is the destruction of our relationship with God, it doesn't mean individual 'sins' but rather a general condition, the destruction of our capacity for relatedness."

This is, of course, totally contrary to Church teaching: "To choose deliberately - that is, both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death."

As at least one critic has pointed out, this is nothing more that a rehash of a false theory of sin called "Fundamental Option." It was condemned in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. More recently (1984) Pope John Paul II wrote, "care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of 'fundamental option' ... For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered."

The pope concluded his teaching on the subject by stating that "[T]he church ... has a duty to remind all scholars ... of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world."


Sr. Pat retired her column shortly after these two pieces appeared. She continues to teach her Contemporary Moral Theology course, however, and a friend who took that course during the 2006-07 academic year tells me that Sr. Pat is still promoting the Fundamental Option theory of sin. On hearing this, a second friend "renamed" St. Bernard's and I have borrowed his new name for the title of this post.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Catholic Grammer Schools Produce 2/3 of Our Priests


Bishop Matthew Clark has decided that 13 of the 24 Catholic elementary schools in Monroe County must close. Since he obstinately refuses to release any of the data used to arrive at that decision, one is left to wonder just what factors were considered and how much weight each received.

One factor that seems to have received little weight is the role that Catholic Elementary Schools play in shaping vocations.

The Data

A few years ago the USCCB and Our Sunday Visitor joined efforts to sponsor a survey of recently ordained priests. The survey was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University and the results may be found here. Over 2,100 priests participated, giving the results a very low margin of error.

Question 46 (click on the Codebook tab and scroll down) asked if the priest attended a Catholic elementary school. Almost two-thirds (66.4%) answered yes. The next question asked about attendance at a Catholic high school. Just over half (51.4%) responded in the affirmative.


Whether or not a young man attends a Catholic high school seems to play no role in his becoming a priest. Attendance at a Catholic elementary school, however, plays a huge role in nurturing his vocation.

Since the Diocese of Rochester assumed control of all Monroe County Catholic schools, policy blunders and other mismanagement have driven thousands of children from a system that should serve as the incubator for the vast majority of our vocations. Now our bishop assures us that closing another 13 schools and packing the remaining 11 with as many children as will fit is the only way to save what's left.

I sure wish he had some credibility on this issue.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Family News and Travelogues

Earlier this afternoon an email arrived telling me that the latest edition of the Catholic Courier's eNews was available online. On checking it out I found the newest version of Bishop Clark's “Along The Way” column (see here). It's a lovely little piece of some 600 words completely devoted to his 13 year-old grandniece.

I was reminded of the time about 2 years ago now when I was preparing to teach a 6th grade religious ed class. One of the definitions I had to cover was that of bishop. Our textbook told us ...

Bishops are the chief teachers of the Catholic Church.”

... and that's what I taught my kids. I even had one of them read the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel so that they could see exactly from where that teaching authority and responsibility had come.

Throughout that class I successfully fought off the temptation to tell my kids that, while this definition might apply to the rest of the Church, it seems to have been lost on Matthew Clark.

For years now our good bishop has been primarily using his regular column in the diocesan newspaper, not as the wonderful opportunity to instruct the faithful that it is, but as an outlet for his family news and travelogues.

This latest effort continues that sad tradition.