Leadership caused Catholic downturnI'm afraid I have to disagree with my friend Tim. While I do believe that DOR has failed its people, that failure involves something far more fundamental than a possibly ill-advised approval of a Church renovation project.
We keep reading story after story about possible Catholic Church closings, declining attendance and the priest shortage. Earlier this year, a committee was formed in the eastern Greece-Charlotte area to decide what parish was no longer "viable." The committee concluded that Our Lady of Mercy, with the lowest attendance and lack of money, should be the first to close. The other churches in the area face the same problems and will be reviewed on a yearly basis.
When will we read a story about how the diocese has failed the people? They approved over a million dollars to build a brand-new Our Lady of Mercy in 2001, now the church is closing? How is that being responsible? The diocese has known for years about the low number of priests being ordained. How many have we lost to sex abuse? If the priesthood had been willing to give up some power, perhaps we would be in better shape today.
The schools thrived when the nuns ran them.
When those renovations of which Tim writes were approved in the late 1990s, weekend Mass attendance at OLM was averaging almost 800. Within 10 years it had fallen to 275. The loss of over 500 parishioners - and the money those people used to put in the collection basket - is the primary cause of OLM's problems.
The real question here is why did roughly 2/3 of its parishioners abandon OLM in just 10 years? Where did they go and why? Have they, for example, transferred to one of the surrounding Catholic parishes? Or did they perhaps join one of the nearby Protestant churches? Or maybe they just gave up on "organized religion" and decided to sleep in on Sunday morning?
It is difficult to give a precise answer to these questions, but it is possible to glimpse the outline of a solution. For example, an analysis of the Eastern Greece/Charlotte Planning Group's Mass attendance numbers indicate that very few of OLM's former members have gone to nearby parishes. This data, coupled with the growth of nearby Protestant congregations and some purely anecdotal evidence suggest that many of these people are now former Catholics.
What this all ultimately points to is a massive failure of catechesis on the part of Bishop Clark and many of his pastors. People who truly believe in the Real Presence, people who truly believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, simply do not leave the Church for a Protestant denomination. And they simply do not decide to sleep in on Sunday.
That is how DOR "has failed the people."
Update: Some further examples of DOR's catechetical failures can be seen in the following statistics gleaned from various editions of the Official Catholic Directory:
- From 1977 through 1994 DOR was baptizing about 19 infants per year per 1,000 Catholics. That number has now fallen to a shade over 10.
- 20 years ago 14.8 Catholics out of every 1,000 were getting married in various DOR parishes every year. That number is now 6.6.
- 20 years ago 207 out of every 1,000 DOR Catholics were either in Catholic schools or religious ed programs. Today that number is 104.
Taken together, these data portend a bleak future for Catholicism in DOR.