November showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture.
Two days ago the Gallup organization released the results of a poll that shows just how far this trend has progressed in those two score years.
According to Gallup, Catholics in general seem slightly more liberal in their acceptance or approval of various behaviors the Church either condemns or about which the Church expresses strong reservations.
Many committed Catholics disagree with the Church
Gallup identified committed Catholics as "those who attend church weekly or almost every week." It turns out, sadly, that even a large proportion of these regular church-goers reject the Church's teaching on a variety of issues. These rejection rates vary from 24% for abortion to 67% for gambling (which, of course, isn't always sinful).
Most disturbing are the facts that over half of these regular church-going Catholics see nothing wrong with heterosexual relations outside of marriage, divorce, and using human embryos for stem cell research, while 4 out of 9 approve of homosexual relations.
According to the Gallup report,
The data show that regular churchgoing non-Catholics also have very conservative positions on moral issues. In fact, on most of the issues tested, regular churchgoers who are not Catholic are more conservative (i.e., less likely to find a given practice morally acceptable) than Catholic churchgoers.
Most adult Catholics receive the totality of their ongoing moral formation in those 10 to 15 minutes reserved for the homily at weekend Mass. Their bishops may write pastoral letters, the USCCB may issue statements and the pope may even write an occasional encyclical, but if those things aren't mentioned on Sunday morning they might just as well have taken place on another planet.
For the last 40 years we have been the victims of far too many homilies whose moral content could be reduced to "Jesus loves you. Don't litter." Most homilists, somewhat understandably, want to be seen as "nice guys" and preaching sin as sin is not a recipe for popularity, at least not in the short run.
Our priests and deacons - with the support and encouragement of their bishops - are going to have to overcome their aversion to preaching on the "hard sayings" if they are to lead us out of this mess. And, since they are the only points of contact between the Church and most of its members, they are the only ones in a position to do the leading.
It ain't gonna happen here
This is going to be well neigh impossible here in DOR, at least for the next 3+ years. There is absolutely no support and encouragement coming out of Buffalo Rd. for homilies clearly and forcefully laying out the Church's teaching on a variety of "sensitive" issues.
In fact, just the opposite is true. As one commenter on Rich Leonardi's blog wrote,
any homily that forcefully sets forth traditional Church teachings on homosexuality (i.e., the idea of loving the sinner but acknowledging and calling the acts involved "sin" vs. total inclusion up to and including marriage), morality, modesty in behavior and Sunday dress, explaining why there will be no nuptial Masses for "mixed" (Catholic/non-Catholic or second (non-annulled) marriages, supporting the Church's stance on female ordinations [is] inherently suspect.
Any homilist who dares to bring up these issues risks an invitation to Buffalo Rd. for a counseling session on how to be a more "pastoral" clergyman.
There is hope
But we do have hope. Our wandering in this arid desert should come to a close in another 3 years or so when the bishop turns 75 and has to submit his resignation to Rome. I pray that His Holiness then sends us a bishop who preaches the entirety of the Catholic faith and encourages his priests and deacons to do the same. Then the healing can begin.